How My Son and I Took Our Love of Nature and Turned It Into a Book

Stacy Tornio and her son, Jack, take a selfie on one of their many hikes. (Photo: Stacy Tornio)

Jack has always been my nature kid.

I'd like to think his younger sister, Anna, also loves the outdoors, but his passion is just different. I knew it from the moment we went backyard camping at my mom's house in Oklahoma. Jack was probably 5 or 6 at the time and it was a hot, muggy, buggy and thunderous night out in the tent. His sister was inside before the sun had completely set. But there was no way Jack was going inside. He had been looking forward to camping for weeks, and he insisted we stay out the entire night.

A few years later, he moved on to staying in a tent all on his own, eventually graduating to a tent hammock. I think he'd sleep outside every day of the summer if I let him.

Over the years, I've watched Jack pick up hundreds of rocks, bugs and anything else he can get his hands on outside. This has included snakes, baby birds and even a butterfly he tucked in his pocket at age 3 so he could show me later. (I'm sorry, but the butterfly didn't make it.) To him, each one holds a new mystery, adventure and awe.

Should we write a book?

Jack Tornio
Jack takes in a beautiful sunrise on Earth Day. How appropriate!. (Photo: Stacy Tornio)

On one hand, the idea for Jack and I to write a book together was an evolution. After all, he and I have shared so many adventures over the years — hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, gardening, deep-sea fishing and more. It seemed like a natural fit.

But on the other hand, it came up so suddenly. It was just a tiny notion of an idea that I shared with Jack one day, shortly after his 14th birthday. "Hey, what do you think of writing about outdoor adventures with me — I write the basics and then you share the kid's perspective?"

Jack didn't hesitate — he was 100% in from the start. Before we knew it, we had a contract for our book, "101 Outdoor Adventures to Have Before You Grow Up."

And we had roughly 12 weeks to complete it.

So how does this work exactly?

Luckily, the timing worked out where Jack was just wrapping up his eighth grade school year, so we put a plan in place to maximize the summer months. We had word counts and writing goals each week, with little room to stray or fall behind.

But before we could dive in completely, we had to flesh out all the things for our 101 list and give a completed table of contents. (With many nonfiction books, you write an outline and even samples, but you don't start writing the book itself until there's a contract in hand.) So our first step was to agree on our chapters and all 101 activities within the book.

I thought this would be the easy part, but it was actually the most challenging. Jack was and is a very opinionated teenager, especially as it relates to his interests and passions. He questioned so many things on the list, wanting to make sure they were perfect adventures to include for our target audience (kids 8 to 12).

As we talked and negotiated each item, we drew on a lot of our own experiences. We wrote down the outdoor adventures we'd had so far, as well as those we hadn't gotten to yet. We truly wanted it to be a bucket list of sorts, a way to give kids a full nature experience before they grew up.

And now we have a book.

Stacy Tornio and Jack, Acadia National Park
It was a race to complete the book. Stacy and Jack were thrilled to cross the finish line. (Photo: Stacy Tornio)

It's easy to skip ahead now to the "we have a book," part because we have it in hand and are very proud of it, but it was definitely a process. We had our challenges, including rewrites, procrastination from time to time, and just finding the time to write when we'd rather be out in nature ourselves.

We made it, though. And now the next chapter of our journey begins.

Jack and I didn't write a book because we've had every outdoor adventure imaginable or because we are experts in nature. Yes, we've experienced a lot and have picked up a lot of knowledge along the way, but we celebrate the fact that we have a long way to go.

Part of our reason for writing our book was to never stop exploring or growing up ourselves. There will always be another hike to conquer or an outdoors experience to have. Right now, we have a long-term goal to make it to all the national parts in the U.S. We're also planning to hike the Grand Canyon before Jack's senior year of high school.

We don't have to tell you about the importance of going outside or the effect of too much screen time on kids and adults these days. You're probably well aware. But we do hope to inspire you to get outside a bit more and try a few things that you've never done.

What do you want to do outside before you grow up?

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