At Gemma, we’re sometimes asked: What’s the secret to a successful HiLo title? Is there a formula for books that engage and inspire adults who are learning to read?

Our reply? There’s no secret and no formula. The success of our books relies on the skill, creativity and commitment of our talented authors.

In this series, we dive into the Gemma Open Door bookshelf to explore the astonishing range of influences our authors have drawn on when writing their books for us.

Laurie Foos: Magical Realism for Beginners

“…we never should have thought we could get away with having any kind if baby, never mind a giant baby, like the one we grew in our garden…” Laurie Foos, The Giant Baby

So begins Laurie Foos’s imaginative Gemma HiLo novel, The Giant Baby. The story revolves around the discovery of a gigantic baby in the vegetable garden of a young couple, Earl and Linda.

No explanation for the baby’s appearance is ever given—or even asked for—and this dive into the unexpected is typical of Foos’s approach. She leans in to the fantastic, drawing on literary influences that include Kakfa, Gogol, and Borges. Yet her work is always “grounded in the real world, the world we all know and recognize,” as she explains.

The Giant Baby is a fine example of Foos’s skill in seamlessly blending the familiar with the bizarre, one of the key techniques of magical realism. The result is a coherent fable, a skillful narrative that makes sense of events that make no earthly sense.

And what makes such a book suitable for adult learners? Foos’s story glides along smoothly using accessible language and familiar settings to tell its surreal tale. Her story of the unexplained is thought-provoking and topical, raising real-life questions about parenting, attitudes towards having children and family relationships.

At the same time, The Giant Baby stretches the reader’s imagination and sparks discussion about the ways writers can combine fantasy and reality in their fiction. In this way, Foos gives beginning readers a taste of the range of writing they might encounter—and a chance to sample ambitious fiction that calls for them to enter new worlds and meet with unknown things.