Born and raised in Connecticut, Elissa Kerr spent much of her childhood “playing under the shade of two massive maple trees.” Not surprising given this former CIS site coordinator has just written a book that features maple trees! We ran into Elissa a few months back during an author event at Kazoo Books, where she was introducing a children’s book she’s written. She said, “I am very excited to embark on this new endeavor as it will allow me to get back to my roots and what I am passionate about—encouraging a child’s love of learning.”
No matter what endeavor Elissa undertakes, she says her two biggest supporters are her husband Ian and their two young boys.
Since it’s National Reading Month and Michigan’s Maple Sugaring days are upon us, we think it’s the perfect time to catch up to Elissa Kerr and get the scoop on her new book.
What brought you to Michigan?
I moved to Michigan in 2008 because my husband attended Western Michigan University. We fell in love with the area and have been here ever since.
You first got connected with CIS by serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with us, right?
Yes. I have a degree in elementary and special education. When we moved to Michigan I began working with CIS as an AmeriCorp VISTA. I supported both Arcadia Elementary School and Edison Environmental Science Academy. I then stepped into the site coordinator role at King Westwood for two years. And for the past eight years I have been employed by the State of Michigan and focused on supporting individuals and families.
What is one of your fondest memories from when you were working with CIS?
I think one of my favorite projects was setting up a publishing center at Arcadia. It was wonderful to have volunteers come in and support classroom teachers and promote the art of storytelling. The best part was watching kids find their voice by sharing stories they were passionate about.
What was your favorite childhood book?
It’s difficult to pick just one book! My favorite childhood author would have to be Beverly Cleary. I especially loved her character, Ramona. Her mischievous antics always sprung from a place of pure childhood curiosity.
What book are you currently reading?
I enjoy participating in Kalamazoo Public Library’s Reading Together event. I love the idea of learning and having a discussion on a topical subject as a community, so I will usually give their suggestion a try. I recently finished this year’s book, We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. [Jonathan Safran Foer’s presentation is tonight, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at Chenery Auditorium at 7 pm.]
My guilty pleasures are mysteries, though, and I recently read The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.
Describe your book in one sentence, or two, if one is too hard.
The Sweetest Season follows a young girl and her father as they journey through the forest and work to transform sap to syrup.
For your book, you must have done some research. If so, can you talk a little bit about that?
We are members of the Kalamazoo Nature Center and have attended their annual maple syrup festival for the past eight years. We take a picture of my kids every year in the exact same spot! Their volunteers and staff do a great job in teaching guests about the process of identifying maples, tapping trees, and boiling syrup. I did additional research as well, again, turning to my local library for additional books. I am a strong supporter of libraries.
The title of your book, The Sweetest Season, is short and sweet and hits just the right spot. At what point in your writing process did you identify this title? Is there a story behind coming up with the title?
Coming up with the title was probably one of the hardest parts for me. It did not come naturally. The story was completely written and illustrations were started before I had a title I loved. I was using the working title, Sugar Season. While informational, it was certainly not catchy or very whimsical. I made the change late in the process and am much happier with the title.
Do you have real maple syrup in your house right now?
Not currently. My family was enjoying a lot of syrup and breakfast foods, but sadly, they might be starting to get a bit tired of it. I did just find a recipe for a maple hot coco that I want to try, so I will probably be picking up some soon enough.
Can you tell us one or two interesting maple syrup-related facts?
It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup. It’s not just sugar maples that can be tapped for sap. Many other varieties can be tapped, it’s just that their sugar content is not as high. I am really curious to try a syrup from another type of tree just to compare!
Are any of the characters based on or inspired by real people?
Though they aren’t based on real people, my characters have a love and connection to nature that I hope to inspire in others.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book?
Rhyming and meter. I always wanted to make a book that rhymes. Some lines came naturally, while others I would constantly rewrite.
What behind-the-scene tidbit in your life would probably surprise readers the most?
My husband has bright red hair and many people who know me assume that I chose characters who have bright red hair. In reality, it was completely the illustrator’s idea. Zoe Saunders felt the red hair would be a nice contrast to the melting winter snow.
What is your favorite word or phrase right now?
My favorite phrase right now is: Little seeds grow mighty trees.
Little seeds could be small acts of kindness, a smile on the street, or a simple idea. You never know what impact your small gesture makes in the lives of others. I hope this book is that little seeds that inspires others to go outside and connect more with the nature found right in their backyards.
Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I come from a family of educators and I would say my grandmother still embodies that teaching and nurturing spirit. I would certainly consider her one of the most caring adults in my life. She always has inspired a love of learning and encouraged me to share my gifts and skills. She turned 95 this year and seems really delighted to see my work on this project. I am thankful that it’s brought her so much joy.