Ransom Riggs doesn't necessarily believe in such a thing as a Summer Beach Read. But a guy who writes about time-traveling kids with special powers who are under the care of a headmistress who is sometimes a bird, probably shouldn't be so skeptical. Though there's an eerie cast over "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"—thanks in part to the real, vintage photos scattered throughout its pages—it has just enough of a sense of adventure and wonder to keep you glued to a beach chair.
The story, which was inspired by Ransom's collection of other people's old photos, is about 16-year-old Jacob Portman, who grew up listening to his grandfather's stories about escaping gruesome monsters in Poland, winding up in an orphanage on a remote island in Wales. The other children there possessed "peculiar" traits: one floated, one was invisible, one could start fire with her hands, another had a swarm of bees living inside him. Eventually, Jacob realizes that the monsters were the Nazis and the children's traits a stand-in for being Jewish (and those photos of them must have been altered, right?). That is, until he sees his grandfather's dying body and the hideous creature that mauled him.
After diving into the magical world that Jacob eventually discovers in Wales, we climbed back to reality and got Ransom on the phone to chat about the inspiration behind his book, plans to make it into a movie and whether the adventures will continue in a sequel.
Hollywood Crush: Jacob's grandfather, Abe, reminded me of how my own grandfather used to tell his Holocaust story over and over. Did you have grandparents who did the same?
Ransom Riggs: I did not, but my wife's grandparents were in the Holocaust. It's fascinating. The story about how her grandmother made it out of Auschwitz was very unlikely, and the fact that her very existence depended on that hugely unlikely survival is, like, too much to think about. When she was growing up, she was like 8 or 9 years old and they'd talk about "the camps," and you're 8 and like, "Oh camp, I love camp. Camp is fun!" Slowly your perception of what that means changes. There's not really one day where you sit down and you go, "Santa Claus is not real and here's what the Holocaust means." ...I've gotten emails from readers whose grandparents were in the Holocaust who had similar experiences [to Jacob's]; their grandparents would make up happy stories to cover the truth.
You've said that the old photos you collected inspired you to write this story. Was there one shot in particular that started it all?
I doubt that many of the original photos that inspired me to write the book made it into the book. But there's one photo that sort of sums up the feeling of the story for me: It's on page 158. It's an older woman and a young boy and they're walking in a tunnel of ghostly light, and I'm like, "Who are they? And where are they going? And what magical thing is waiting for them?"
And there's a great picture that I found early on that's sort of an ethereal, earth-motherly-looking woman holding a tiny sparrow in her hand. That kind of made me think, "She probably turns into a bird at some point."
Twentieth Century Fox won the bidding war for movie rights to "Miss Peregrine." What's going on with the adaptation so far?
I don't know. I'm just a book-writer guy.
But you're also a filmmaker!
In this particular case, I'm not writing the screenplay, so... They have a very clear idea [that] they want to get a big filmmaker in to drive the project because a lot of books get optioned, and a minority of those books actually get made. So if, I don't know, Tim Burton wanted to do it, I would be like, "That's great!" And that would give the book such a better chance of getting made! I think he'd do a fantastic job.
Do you have any other suggestions for the movie?
I think Tilda Swinton would make a very interesting Miss Peregrine. She's sort of elegant and birdlike.
Will there be a sequel?
I don't know if I can officially talk about it now. But I can say mysteriously that I'm working on something dot-dot-dot. A blog post, or... I don't know. But I should be able to talk about whatever it is fairly soon.
Oookay. ... Well, when you were writing the book, did you think there was something more?
Well, we'll have to settle for that as an answer. In the meantime, if you want to see more of Ransom Riggs' work after "Miss Peregrine," check out his website, where there are tons more eerie photos; info about his upcoming nonfiction book, "Talking Pictures," and links to some of his short films, including the hilarious book trailer for "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters."
Have you read "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"? Do you have a suggestion for our next Summer Beach Read? Share your reviews in the comments!