Friday Book Club: Miss Peregrine’s Home and WWII

SWT-Book-ClubsMost of the events of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Unusual Children take on an island off the coast of Wales during WWII.  A pivotal moment in the book is the bombing of the island.

In real life, Wales was quite heavily bombed during WWII, particularly in the areas of Cardiff and Swansea.  At one point Swansea was heavily bombed for three nights in a row.  Roughly thirty thousand bombs were dropped during the Swansea Blitz. One woman famously responded to a query about where her husband was with these words, “He’s in the army, the coward”.

Violet spent three years with a foster family in rural Wales before returning home.

Violet, a child from Swansea, spent three years with a foster family in rural Wales before returning home.

During the war, 984 people were killed in Wales by bombs, and thousands more were injured or made homeless.  Most raids took place between 1940 and 1942.  This site has more details.  The bombing of Wales was much smaller in scale than the bombing of London, but the devastation of Swansea and Cardiff in particular, and the effect on morale in Wales in general, was significant.

The remains of Swansea after the three day blitz

The remains of Swansea after the three day blitz

Most of the bombing in Wales targeted industrial dock towns, and children from urban Wales and from London were often evacuated to rural Welsh locations.  But just being in a rural village did not necessarily mean safety.  Some bombers heading to or from London dropped bombs on rural villages, either on purpose or accidentally.  According to bbc.co.uk:

In April 1941, 27 people lost their lives in a raid on Cwmparc in the Rhondda; six of them were children, including four evacuees. A miner recalled of seeing the coffins: ‘That’s when you realised there was a war on’.

One of the most evocative scenes in the book takes place when Jacob realizes that the ocean is full of sunken vessels from WWII, some of which become very important to the plot.  This may seem far-fetched, but looked what turned up on the beach in 2007!

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This plane, an American P-38, crashed on a Welsh beach in 1942 and was buried by sand.  A family discovered the plane in 2007 when some of the sand had shifted.  The full story of the discovery is at telegraph.uk.   Since the discovery, the plane has been partially reburied, and preservationists hope to keep the exact location secret until they can raise the plane and get it to a museum.

Friday Book Club: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

SWT-Book-ClubsThis month the Friday Book Club is reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs.  This is a modern gothic that crosses all kinds of genre lines.  The protagonist is a teen-ager and so are most of the supporting characters, so this book could easily fall under the category of Young Adult.  There are aspects of horror and fantasy.  The setting involves historical fiction, there’s a touch of romance, and, with the time travel aspect, even a bit of science fiction.  Meanwhile, the layered story and marvelous use of language have made a place for this book on shelves of ‘literary fiction’.

Cover of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar children

The inspiration for Miss Peregrine came from the author’s collection of vintage photographs, many of which are included in the book.  While the book would be scary, exciting, and emotionally powerful without the inclusion of the photos, being able to see the photos vastly enhances the story.  More on this next Friday!

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A sequel to Miss Peregrine is coming out in Januaray 2014, and Tim Burton is signed on to direct a movie version of Miss Peregrine.  The tentative release date for the movie is July 2015.

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The author of Miss P. is the wonderfully named Ransom Riggs.  Ransom Riggs is a many-faceted guy.  He grew up on a farm in Maryland and then moved to a neighborhood in Florida that sounds pretty similar to the one described in Miss P.  He credits the boredom of his Florida life with forcing him to learn to use his imagination and make up stories.  Like the characters in Miss P, he went to a school for unusual children, although they weren’t THAT unusual (he attended the prestigious and unconventional Pine View School for the Gifted).  Today, he writes screenplays, fiction, and non-fiction, and blogs on the website mental floss.

The author himself!

The author himself!

You can read more about Ransom Riggs and his projects at ransomriggs.com   I recommend checking out his site as it is packed with interesting stuff!  And enjoy Miss Peregrine – it is delightfully atmospheric and spooky, perfect for a blustery November day.