A girl hopes to replicate her mother’s favorite birthday cake, made for the mother years ago by her grandmother: (yep!) the High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake of the title. Unfortunately, that cake was made with a secret ingredient that only the long since deceased (great-)grandmother knew. Fortunately, the (great-) grandmother left not only her thirty-two notebooks, in which she wrote many recipes, but also a grand piano to her great-granddaughter. In that combination, with the aid of an awkward uncle and a dish of Jello, lies the secret to the High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake: write ‘Evol’ three times in the sugar before mixing it into the batter.
The girl does make the cake, creeping down to the kitchen at midnight to do some baking by moonlight. The cake is a success aromatic enough to bring three angels flying down to the “mortal girl’s” kitchen for some of that heavenly cake. They eat up all the cake–how does one say no to a visitation of a flight of angels?–and only after the cake has been enjoyed, does the little girl cry out that she’d used up all the eggs in the cake just now eaten. How will she make another for her mother’s birthday the next morning?
With a bit of angelic intervention, the mother does get her cake, and best of all it’s an exact replica of that long-ago phantasm perfect birthday cake, complete with golden thimble for luck. Even better, the father’s present is a fluffy white terrycloth bathrobe, fluffy as a cloud; he having a long history of inept presents–a dress the wrong size, a large red purse quickly exchanged for a small green purse, a teapot shaped like a cat which cracked around the bottom when filled with tea for the first time. (Sense a little more angelic intervention for that present as well? Yep, that’s how I’d bet too.)
Definitely kudos for Richard Watson’s including angels of different ethnicity in his illustrations, and one with (gasp) laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. (Willard’s text doesn’t specify the angels’ physical appearance, only that one is big, one medium and one smallest.) I also appreciate the idea of a “Big Box of Dreadfuls”, where the family has put “stuff we don’t want but we’re afraid to throw away”–this is where the thirty-two notebooks have been stored but also ghastly presents from people that you don’t want to offend.
Overall, I’d describe the book as being the literary equivalent of a good angel food cake: light, delicious/amusing, but ultimately a light-weight bit of fluff. The story’s perhaps a bit flimsy, but that’s only appropriate for a book about what is, after all, angel food cake; it’s definitely an enjoyable confection of a book, airy as the real thing. As long as you don’t mind angels who speak in slightly stilted English. I’m not sure about the recipe for angel food cake included in the book; while the ‘secret ingredient’ is clearly only a plot device, the recipe itself doesn’t include vanilla. Perhaps that’s a modern addition?