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

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

In this series of profiles, 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.

Mythology: Marta Maretich, The Bear Suit

“Like all gifts from the gods, the bear suit first came to Rollo in dreams.” Marta Maretich, The Bear Suit

Transformation myths feature powerfully in ancient stories from cultures all over the world. The Roman poet Ovid wrote a whole book about them, Metamorphoses. Many non-western and indigenous cultures feature shape-shifting transformations in their mythologies.

Their pattern is well-known. Because of something a person does (or doesn’t do), as a punishment (or as a rescue), he or she turns, (or is turned by some power), into an animal, bird, tree, mountain, spring or any of a number of other things.

“I love these myths,” Marta Maretich, author of The Bear Suit, says. “Their narrative possibilities have always excited me.”

With The Bear Suit, her Gemma HiLo novel, her aim was to explore what might happen if a person, in this case her character Rollo, turned into a bear in a contemporary context. To write the book, she drew directly on the work of Ovid and also on the myths of Native American tribes such as the Californian Ohlone and the Alaskan Athabascans.

“The change always has meaning in these myths,” she points out. “It says something about the individual who undergoes it. And it says something generally about the relationship between human beings, animals and the environment they share.”

Maretich’s intention was to make readers look for the meaning behind Rollo’s transformation, to question why this might have happened to him. What is it about Rollo that brings about the change? What does it say about his relationship with nature and human society?

“I also wanted to point new readers in the direction of the ancient transformation myths,” she says. “Or rather, to remind them of what they already know about such stories. These are timeless narratives shared by mankind almost everywhere. We all know them already in some form, whether it be through spoken tales, movies, or even dreams. This makes a good starting place for class discussion and exploring the book as literature.”

Cover of Th Bear Suit by Marta Maretich