Peculiar Child

How an Englewood Kid Dreamed Up the New Tim Burton Movie

Author Ransom Riggs says his Englewood childhood “fueled his imagination” and helped inspire his first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

By Cooper Levey-Baker August 31, 2016 Published in the September 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Ransom Riggs

Image: Tahereh Mafi

Southwest Florida doesn’t make an appearance in the trailer for the new Tim Burton film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which comes out Sept. 30, but trace the origins of the story and you find yourself in the small beachside town of Englewood.

Author Ransom Riggs, whose 2011 novel inspired the Burton film, moved to Englewood at age 5 and lived there until he graduated from Pine View in 1997. “I spent half my childhood underwater at Englewood Beach, and the other half running around my friends’ back yards making silly home movies and shooting Nerf guns at one another,” Riggs told us. “It was a sweet place to grow up.”

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It also fueled his imagination. Riggs’ grandmother hauled him to flea markets and secondhand stores, where he was drawn to old snapshots of local landmarks like Venice’s Dome flea market. He began seriously collecting vintage photographs later, while in film school at the University of Southern California, and they eventually inspired the tale that became Miss Peregrine. Many are reproduced in the novel.

The spooky book tells the story of Jacob, a 16-year-old who travels to a remote Welsh island to learn more about the life of his murdered grandfather. There he finds the ruins of a home populated by children who have strange gifts. Some are invisible. Some float. Some eat with teeth that grow out of the back of their heads. The book spent years on bestseller lists and sold millions of copies. It’s been translated into dozens of languages. Riggs has since published two more volumes in what has become the Peculiar Children series.

Having Tim Burton direct the film version of his novel is a thrill, says Riggs: “I’ve been a huge fan of his for years.” Although he wasn’t involved in adapting the novel for film, he did visit the set a number of times during production and says, “It’s a beautiful film.” 

Miss Peregrine was Riggs’ first novel after years writing screenplays and nonfiction books and blogging. But as a kid in Englewood, he wrote fiction, sharing short stories about monsters and interdimensional portals with other writers at a workshop hosted by the Elsie Quirk Library.

“Everyone else was over 60 and writing their memoirs,” Riggs says. “They were very sweet and supportive, but they didn’t quite know what to do with me.”

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