Whenever I hear that a book is about to be transformed into celluloid, I get into a little panic to read the original, oftentimes titles I ironically wouldn’t have opened otherwise. Occasionally, I’m pleasantly rewarded, Miss Peregrine among those few that fill me with literary gratitude. And truth be told, I might actually go see the film as the surreal Tim Burton is set to direct; IMDB lists a July 31, 2015 release date.
As faultless as narrator Jesse Bernstein is in creating the memorable aural incarnation, you’ll need to keep the printed book nearby (libraries rule!): if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the full splendor of this debut novel by writer/filmmaker Ransom Riggs is only possible in conjunction with the ‘peculiar’ photographs interwoven throughout the text.
Take, for instance, this cover … look closely – no ordinary little girl, she! So young Jacob Portman, too, learns when his beloved grandfather dies in his arms, his final words a mystery for the 16-year-old to solve: “‘Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.’”
As Jacob slowly emerges from the shock Grandpa Portman’s murder, he finally becomes aware that not all of Grandpa’s “unfathomably exotic” life adventures he told Jacob growing up were figments of the old man’s imagination. In search of truth, Jacob manages to convince his parents to allow him to spend the summer on a small island off Wales where Grandpa once lived many decades ago.
A Holocaust survivor, Grandpa grew up in the titular Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, from whence many of his fantastical stories originated. When Jacob arrives on the remote island, and begins to explore, he discovers the orphanage is mostly in ruins. Until, one day, it isn’t and Jacob finds himself facing the impossible.
In a feat of whimsical collage, Riggs essentially combined “authentic, vintage found photographs” with his own speculations about their subjects. Riggs explains in an interview at book’s end, “… among the photos I found, the strangest and most intriguing ones were always of children. I began to wonder who some of these strange-looking children had been – what their stories were – but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know their real stories, I’ll make them up.” Working his own brand of ‘peculiar’ magic, Riggs’ visionary endeavor proves ingenious and extraordinary; so inspiring and plentiful are his found photos, that the peculiar adventures continue in just-released sequel, Hollow City. Riggs admits he has “tons” more great photographs, as yet unused … which begs the question, of course, how many peculiar books might we dare hope for?
Readers: Young Adult, Adult