This young adult book was originally intended to be a picture book featuring photographs Riggs had collected, but on the advice of an editor at Quirk Books, he used the photographs as a guide from which to put together a narrative.Riggs was a collector of photographs, but needed more for his novel. He met Leonard Lightfoot, a well-known collector at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and was introduced to other collectors. The result was a story about a boy who follows clues from his grandfather's old photographs which lead him on an adventure that takes him to a large abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island.
The book has been a New York Times best seller. It reached the spot on the Children's Chapter Books list on 29 April 2012 after being on the list for 45 weeks,remaining there until 20 May, when it dropped to the fourth spot on the list. Critics have generally praised the book for creative use of vintage photographs as well as good characterization and settings.
After his grandfather's murder, apparently by a make-believe creature, 16-year-old Jacob Portman goes to Wales to learn more about his grandfather's life. He finds that his grandfather lived in a derelict orphanage for "peculiar children". That is where he meets Emma, a "strikingly pretty" girl who can control fire. She uses time travel to take him back to 1940 to meet Miss Peregrine, the orphanage director, who lives with the other children in a "time loop". Jacob enjoys spending time with the other peculiar children such as Millard, who is invisible, and Bronwyn, who has incredible strength. In the pub where Jacob is staying, he hears stories of mysterious deaths in the region, and he warns the peculiar children. They tell Jacob that the deaths were caused by the "hollows" or "hollowgasts," the same monsters that killed his grandfather. Jacob later learns that he too is peculiar, and realizes only he can see the monsters and stop the killings.
After Jacob (with Emma's help) kills one of the hollows, Miss Peregrine is kidnapped. The children rescue Miss Peregrine, but she is in bird form and cannot change back to human form. Ultimately the peculiar children must find another time loop when theirs fails to reset. A loop must be reset every day by its owner – in this case, Miss Peregrine – and she is trapped as a bird, causing the loop to disappear and forcing the children to find a new home.
Jacob Portman - 16 years old; main character. Jacob's power is to see hollowgasts.
Abraham Portman - Abraham is Jacob's grandfather. Like Jacob, he had the power to see hollowgasts. Abraham spent his adult life traveling the world defeating hollowgasts whenever he could, but kept it a secret from his family. When Abraham is killed by a hollowgast, Jacob goes into a deep depression leading his parents to hire Dr. Golan as a psychiatrist and also leading to Jacob learning about his peculiar ancestry.
Bronwyn Bruntley - appears as a teenager. Bronwyn is imbued with incredible strength like her brother Victor Bruntley.
Claire Densmore - appears as a little girl with long golden locks that covers her extra mouth at the back of her head. She uses this mouth to eat.
Emma Bloom - 88 years old; Jacob's romantic interest. Emma appears as a teenager and she can make fire with her hands.
Enoch O'Connor - 117-118 years old. Enoch can bring dead creatures including humans back to life for a short time. He can also bring homunculi to life as long as they contain an appropriately sized animal heart. He has a bit of a sadistic personality.
Horace Somnusson - appears as a teenager. Horace is capable of having prophetic dreams. He is a follower of fashion.
Fiona Frauenfeld - appears as a teenager. Fiona has an affinity for plants and can make them grow or die and has the immunity to most poisons and toxins. She keeps herself in an unkempt state; au naturel in some respects like her beloved plants.
Hugh Apiston - appears as a teenager. Hugh has empathy with bees. He stores them in his stomach to protect them and can command them when they are released.
Millard Nullings - 87 years old. Millard appears as a young adolescent in the time loop and has the extraordinary power of invisibility. Unfortunately, he is always invisible, but he wears clothes most of the time. He is also extremely well-versed in all things peculiar.
Olive Abroholos Elephanta - 75 1/2 years old. Olive appears as a little girl in the time loop. She is lighter than air and will float away if she isn't weighted down or attached to a rope. She also has the power to control air.
Victor Bruntley - appears as a teenager. Like his sister, Victor also has super strength. He was killed by a hollowgast before the start of the series and his body was kept in a bedroom upstairs until they buried him.
Addison MacHenry - Addison is a human mind trapped in a boxer's body. He lives in Miss Wren's menagerie along with many other peculiar animals. He can speak and is very intelligent.
An Ymbryne is a particular kind of peculiar that can change into one kind of bird and can create and maintain a time loop, they are usually female and protect peculiar children, adults and animals often rescuing them from bad situations.
Alma LeFay Peregrine - Miss Peregrine (previously Alma LeFay Bentham) is the headmistress of the school. She is a delicate woman who enjoys a pipe and adores her charges although she can be strict at times. She lived in Miss Avocet's loop when she was young and she can turn into a peregrine.
Balenciaga Wren - Miss Wren ran the loop for the peculiar animals, but has since retired after being captured and escaped. Very little is known about her.
Esmeralda Avocet - Miss Avocet is an elderly woman from the early- to mid-Victorian period in England. Her time loop was invaded by wights and hollowgasts forcing her to retreat to Miss Peregrine's loop.
Jack "Caul" Bentham - Jack is Miss Peregrine's sadistic and demented brother. He enjoys killing other peculiars and eating their souls. He abused his sister when she was young. He is not an effective ymbryne, but continues to try to create portals to other loops. When it looked like he might actually succeed, his brother, Myron, sacrificed himself to destroy his evil plans. He can also turn himself into a peregrine, but his wings are deformed.
Miss Finch - Very little is known about Miss Finch. She can transform herself to a finch and has an aunt who stays in finch form.
Franklin Portman - Franklin is Jacob's father. He always had a difficult relationship with his father and assumed he was having a long-term affair when he was gone from the house. He gets obsessed with one topic or another and wants to write books about them, but never finishes. He is the only person to go with Jacob to Wales.
Maryann Portman - Maryann is Jacob's mother. She grew up in a rich family and still holds onto her materialistic ways. She is not a very loving mother preferring to be in society than comforting her son. However, she is still very protective of Jacob.
Susan Portman - Susan is Jacob's beloved aunt who gives his grandfather's copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson's poems which leads Jacob to his quest in Wales.
Miss Peregrine's spent 70 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list for children's chapter books. It reached the No. 1 spot on the list on 29 April 2012 after being on the list for 45 weeks. It remained there until 20 May, when it dropped to the fourth spot on the list.The book dropped off the list on 9 September 2012, after 63 weeks.
According to Deborah Netburn for the Los Angeles Times, the best part of the novel is "a series of black-and-white photos sprinkled throughout the book". Publishers Weekly called the book "an enjoyable, eccentric read distinguished by well-developed characters, a believable Welsh setting, and some very creepy monsters."