When her daughters were small, Antonia (Toni) Banyard discovered early on that getting outside was “the solution to everything, the magic pill of parenting.”
Toni’s eldest daughter, Suzanna, had a ton of energy and little interest in sleeping. “If we hadn’t gone outside morning and afternoon, I would have gone stark raving mad.”
Those outdoor adventures got Toni, a writer, thinking about our culture’s “nature literacy” — or lack thereof. Most parents know that it’s good to get their kids outside. But hauling toddlers and babies out of the house can be tough. Urban parents, in particular, can find it hard to find natural spaces in the midst of their cities.
So Toni wrote City Bugs and City Critters, board books that encourage toddlers to get outside and meet their urban wildlife neighbours. “I wanted parents to realize that you can encounter nature in the city, even if it’s not a moose or a deer. I wanted to tap into the natural fascination kids have with that ant or squirrel.”
Toni, 49, was born in South Africa and immigrated to Canada at the age of four. She spent her childhood “huddled around the heater all winter long”: her African parents had no idea about things like long underwear, or layering, or proper winter coats or flannel sheets. It wasn’t until she met her husband, Clinton (“He dragged me outdoors”) that Toni discovered she liked being outside — “once I was properly bundled up.”
Having her daughters cemented that love. Having kids at all, though, wasn’t an obvious decision. By their own admission, Toni and Clinton spent at least 10 years debating the subject. There was plenty to debate: as artists (Clinton is a sax player), they weren’t sure if they could afford a family. They worried about the environmental impact of having children, and about bringing children into a world in the throes of climate change.
“I finally came to the point where I realized that having children wasn’t something I could rationalize,” says Toni. “The decision was too instinctive and deeply ingrained. I realized that I wanted kids, and that, in fact, I was getting quite depressed at the thought of not having them.”
Today, Suzanna is 10 and her younger sister, Brigita, is 7. The family lives in Nelson, B.C., where Clinton gigs and Toni works in publishing part-time and writes part-time. In addition to a novel for adults and one for teens, she’s written Water Wow!: An Infographic Exploration, and Eat Up!: An Infographic Exploration of Food, both of which explore the where, how, and why of what we eat and drink. She’s currently collaborating on a book with “adventurer/environmental activist/humanitarian/dude making a difference” Rob Greenfield. Creator of campaigns like The Food Waste Fiasco (which strives to end food waste and hunger in the U.S.), Greenfield also spawned Trash Me, in which he wore every piece of trash he generated for 30 days.
As with her other books, this one will focus on giving older kids information and tools to make a difference — rather than “preaching or making them feel bad about the state of world.”
Toni takes the same approach with her own kids. She and Clinton work hard to minimize their carbon footprint — for example, by gradually replacing the old windows in their home, buying local food whenever possible, cycling instead of driving, gardening, canning, or using greywater from the kitchen sink to water the garden or flush the toilet.
Having children, says Toni, has “kicked me into a higher gear. When I had kids, I started to do things, and not just read about them — like stick with cloth diapers, even when disposables would have been easier. Becoming a mother was an act of faith that the world will be an okay place for my children to live.”