When he was a kid, growing up in New Jersey, Peter Brown spent several summers venturing with his family to a rugged, far-flung island full of wonder and curious creatures. On Frenchboro, he recalls, “we had a picture-perfect Maine experience. We’d walk to the pier and pick which lobsters we wanted. There were wild blueberries growing. We’d hike around and check out all the tide pools. You couldn’t ask for a better experience.”
Today, Brown lives in Newcastle and is the author and/or illustrator of a slew of popular children’s books, the winner of a Caldecott Honor and multiple E. B. White Awards. His most recent is the Wild Robot Protects, the third in a New York Times bestselling middle-grade series about a guileless robot named Roz, who wakes up on a rugged, far-flung island full of wonder and curious creatures. As Roz comes to know those creatures, the Wild Robot books — besides being lavishly illustrated, page-turning, and ultimately poignant — probe the tension and overlap between the natural world and the manufactured one. “You think these are kind of opposites,” Brown says, “and yet, when you think about instinct and how animals are programmed to do certain things at certain times of day or year, they’re sort of acting in a way you might call robotic behavior.”
This theme — that the gap between civilization and wildness isn’t so great — is echoed in books like The Curious Garden (a green patch nurtured by a child spreads across the city) and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (a tiger leaves a town of Victorian-clothed fauna to stride nude through the jungle). Brown’s fascination, he says, comes in part from comparing his urban adulthood (stints in LA, NYC, and Philly) to his comparatively rural childhood. “I spent a lot of time out in the woods with my friends,” he says, “climbing trees and stomping through streams. When I think about my youth, I think about that stuff.”
These days, when he wants an escape, he makes for the La Verna Preserve, stewarded by the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, at the edge of Muscongus Bay. It’s close to home and an easy hike, but it puts him in mind of remote, wild islands. “It’s just really beautiful,” he says. “It’s pretty awesome once you see those rocks and the waves crashing. The payoff is huge.”
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