There are plenty of children’s books available, especially for toddlers up to pre-teens, and now the young adult genre (for ages 12 to 18 years old) is growing exponentially. A book I have been meaning to read for a few years is from the young adult section, a debut novel that set down roots on the New York Times bestseller list (staying there for over two years), a story of courage and not fitting into society as we know it, this book is the very popular Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by the American author Ransom Riggs.
Ransom Riggs, as a collector of found photography and vernacular photographs, originally wanted to publish a book of vintage photos. Lucky for us, his publisher persuaded him to write a narrative to accompany the photos and this bestselling book was born along with the beginning of a series of books.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a story of fitting in, courage and finding your way in the world featuring peculiar children, monsters and a whole load of photographs. A story that combines fiction around some very real and strange photographs.
Jacob Portman, from Florida, is 16 years old. Since he was a young boy, he has been regaled with tales of a remote and mysterious island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather grew up in an orphanage. But this was no ordinary orphanage, it was home to some very peculiar children that had some very strange and wonderful gifts. These tales were fantastic stories, including tales of his grandfather escaping from monsters that were hunting him and other children in Poland during World War II just because they were different from others. As Jacob gets older, he comes to believe that these stories were actually stories of very real monsters that were found in crisp army uniforms.
When Jacob’s grandfather is attacked and murdered, he is instructed to go to Wales to find the ruined abandoned orphanage and look for the “wise old bird” that guards it. This is a story that will take him on an adventure that will change the course of his life forever.
Upon reaching the remote island and its small community, he locates the ruins of the orphanage. After exploring the crumbling ruins and its rooms he comes across a box of old photographs featuring some very peculiar images of children. These photos are very similar to ones Jacob’s grandfather had shown him whilst he was growing up.
Using his grandfather’s stories and the old photographs he sets out trying to find the wise old bird. As this orphanage existed in the 1940s could she, or any of the children that lived there, still be alive?
Overall, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fantastic fantasy novel for young adults and adults alike. Built around a strange collection of real found photographs in a sepia style featuring surrealist images, Ransom Riggs has created a very interesting and exciting adventure novel about being different, fitting in, courage, friendship and finding yourself.
The story is told as a narrative from the point of view of sixteen-year-old protagonist Jacob, who is coming to terms with his grandfather’s death. His grandfather was deemed somewhat of a recluse and maybe a little bit crazy due to his fantastic tales of orphaned children with some very peculiar traits like being able to levitate, an invisible boy, a boy with bees living inside of him, a girl who can create fire with her hands, super strong boulder lifting children and lots more. On the advice of Jacob’s counsellor, Jacob, with his father, travels to an island off the coast of Wales to find out for himself if any of these stores are indeed real.
With the aid of the very peculiar photographs from the authors own collection we are taken on a fantastical tale featuring children that would not be out of place on X-Men. The photographs are scattered throughout the book and do an excellent job of helping the reader visualise just what the children and their strange and bizarre talents look like, bringing the story to life.
The story is very well written, easy to read, elegantly told and will appeal to a broad section of readers, young and old. Whilst the story is essentially about children and being different, it also features themes of death and loss, grief, love, loneliness, belonging, fear and self-esteem.
With complex themes of time travel, time loops, parallel universes and strange monsters, Ransom Riggs provides plenty of detail so that even the youngest teenage reader can grasp the context of the story with relative ease. These details make the story.
With lots of peculiar children featured, all with a vast array of peculiarities, not many were explored in detail. With five more books in the series, there is plenty of time and scope to get to learn more about the others (I hope).
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an excellent, powerful and thrilling adventure story that packs a punch. It hits the ground running and you really don’t want it to end. An eerie and creepy fantasy story set against a backdrop of World War II with some rather bizarre and strange characters that explode from the pages. Whilst suitable for teens (I would say 14 upwards) some of the themes may be a bit on the dark side with threats of violence, drinking to mask problems, some bad language, sexual innuendos (blowing truckers for food stamps), mentions of adultery and even incest you might want to consider how emotionally mature your child is before giving them this book to read.
A fascinating book where the story is engaging and thought-provoking. The addition of the peculiar vintage sepia photographs lends it an air of weird authenticity.
RRP: £14.99 (Hardback) / £8.99 (Paperback) / £6.99 (Kindle)