Review: Bob Books for Beginning Readers

Photo of the first set of Bob Books.

Forget Dick and Jane. Bob Books are where it’s at.

Little Miss: “I will read books to the baby when he’s born.”
Dad: “Okay, but you have to learn your letter sounds to read books.”
Little Miss: “Okay.”

That innocent conversation took place four months ago when my daughter was 3-years-and-4-months-old. She completed her first book the very same month.

Her first book was called “Mat,” the first in a series of 50 child-size 5.5″x4″ Scholastic paperbacks collectively known as Bob Books.

Mat tells the story of, you guessed it, Mat. He’s an overweight sedentary fellow and has a cone-shaped friend named Sam.

One page from the book titled Mat. A drawing shoes a rotund smiley face man sitting foot-to-foot with a triangular shaped person. The page text reads: Mat sat. Sam sat.

A page from Mat, book 1 of set 1. (The link goes to sample pages, not the complete book.)

The story is a scintillating 22 words told over 8 pages, complete with cartoon line drawings that bring the story to life. The same five words (mat, sam, sat, and, on) are used in varying two-to-four word sentence arrangements involving some variation of “Mat sat,” “Sam sat,” “Mat sat on Sam,” and so forth. My daughter was so proud of herself.

The story is readable if you know a mere six letter sounds (M, A, N, D, T and S … or as we pronounce them… mmm, ahh, nnn, duh, tuh, and sss). The last book in the series, The King, is 20 pages long with complex sentences such as:

“So the bell did ring and the gong did clang, and the king, with his song, was happy in the spring.”

Learning in Small Steps

Bob Books teach reading concepts in a measured progression, over five book sets with 8 to 12 books per set. You begin with repetitive simple single-consonant two word sentences and build up to more complex words and sentence structures.

So, for example, book 6 of set 1, “Dot and the Dog,” introduces a new challenge — question marks. My daughter was delighted. An undocumented second challenge was the introduction of two-line sentences. She needed coaching to track down to the second line of each sentence instead of moving across to the facing page.

Each box set also contains a card with an introduction to the series and 10 to 12 parental teaching tips and each book has a page listing the word sounds or new words each story contains.

The numbering of the books is for parents, but having an order to the stories creates a sense of progression and personal accomplishment. With each book completed, the next book is like a prize that has been earned. For our daughter, a story is read twice on separate days (at home or school) before progressing, but previously read books can be read too.

At our preschool, there is also a writing exercise before progressing to the next book. The instructor writes some sentences from the book, but leaves a blank for one word in each sentence. The child then writes in the missing word. If the child’s handwriting isn’t well developed, she might be given word choices in order to circle the correct choice, and then proceed to write the word in the blank using the circled word as a guide. This exercise is devised on-the-fly using each child’s “writing book” (a set of blank writing templates used for a variety of exercises).

See a sample of the exercise completed after my daughter read the book Jig and Mag.

The How and Why of Phonics

Bob Books are intended for ages 4-and-up and indeed, my daughter’s 5-year-old friend in kindergarten is reading the same books at the same pace as my daughter. Is my Little Miss exceptionally bright? No. She’s probably average, except she has the interest and access to begin reading now.

She decides when she wants to read in school and when to read to Mom and Dad (usually at bedtime once or twice a week).

Our Montessori preschool uses Bob Books in the classroom, teaching reading using the phonics method.

Instead of learning the alphabet by the letter names (a, b, c…) the school teaches letter sounds (ahh, buh, cuh) and instructors refer to letters by those sounds.

So, in December, she was able to write peoples’ names on Christmas cards simply by sounding out the names phonetically. Cousin Bill was “Cuzin Bil.” Santa Claus was “Sana Coz.” Aside from realizing Mom and Dad should better enunciate the “t” in Santa, we were blown away at her progress.

When my daughter learned the basic sounds of the alphabet, reading came naturally afterward. For example, because she knew the sounds “mmm, ahhh, tuh,” she could pronounce the name “Mat” on her own and thus began devouring her first Bob Book.

It is a complete thrill to watch your child’s brain working through new words without your help.

Sure, she needs guidance from time to time, such as distinguishing similarly looking letters (d and b). I’ll say, “Is that a buh or a duh?” and she slowly learns to distinguish the letters.

Another common technique is to isolate parts of a word. For example, at our latest doctor’s visit, a freestanding sign greeted hospital guests in the waiting room. My daughter read “Welcome” on the sign after I broke the word into two parts. My thumb covered “come” and then “wel” and she pieced the two word sounds together.

Another personal thrill (for both of us) comes when my daughter memorizes words. One of our local kindergarten classes has a list of 20 “sight words” that kids are required to instantly recognize by the time they move onto first grade. Starting in Set 2, the books contain a list of the words in each book, and a separate list of the sight words you should notice your child memorizing.

The Sound of Reading

Here is a 6 minute recording of my daughter (2.7MB MP3) reading the book Peg and Ted.

It is the 10th of 12 books in the first Bob Book series. This was her second time reading the book; the first time was at school a few days earlier.

The dialogue may be a little difficult to follow without seeing the words and pictures. I interrupt her reading from time to time to guide her through mistakes and to ask her questions to be sure she comprehends what she has read.

Now when we read her non-Bob stories, she looks at the titles and tries to read them (we’ll finish Charlotte’s Web tomorrow). And when she receives cards in the mail, she picks out words she recognizes. And you’d better believe she has memorized the words “Happy Birthday.” The mysterious hidden world of written language is unfolding for her and it’s exciting to watch.

Here is what our preschool teacher said about why she uses Bob Books:

“The main reason is that the first several boxes are all phonetic (the Montessori method of learning to read), starting with 3-letter words and building up, box by box. It is almost impossible to find other curriculums that do this. Another thing is, the books actually have stories the kids enjoy, even in the simplest ones — “Mat sat on Sam.” They often present an obstacle and a resolution, even though the stories are only a few pages long. As the program advances, it introduces non-phonetic words systematically in ways that make it easy to understand and incorporate.”

Here is Scholastic’s description of each book set:

Set 1: Beginning Readers

  • Letter sounds are introduced including the entire alphabet, except Q.
  • The first book, Mat, is readable by understanding only four letter sounds.
  • Three-letter words are dominant.

Set 2: Advancing Beginners

  • Use of three-letter words and consistent vowel sounds in slightly longer stories builds confidence.
  • Twelve books filled with fun, drama and surprise keep interest high for even the youngest readers.
  • Children love the hilarious (and sometimes mischievous) stories and pictures.

Set 3: Word Families

  • Consonant blends, endings and a few sight words advance reading skills and create more complex stories.
  • Use of word families makes longer stories more manageable.
  • Includes eight books, hilarious pictures and two fun-to-do activity books.

Set 4: Compound Words

  • Longer books and complex words engage young readers.
  • New blends, more sight words and longer compound words advance readers’ skills, while sound repetition keeps reading easy.
  • Meaningful stories and playful pictures help kids stay absorbed.

Set 5: Long Vowels

  • In this set, children learn long vowels and the magical silent e.
  • Maturing readers’ vocabularies grow quickly as they finish the stories in these eight longer books, 16 to 24 pages each.
  • Upon finishing Set 5, kids are proud to be ready for chapter books.

About the Name

I inquired about why the book series is named “Bob” when there isn’t a character named Bob anywhere in the books. Here is what I was told by Sylvia Maslen Davids, eCommerce Director for

“When the Bob Books were created, the author (my mother) used only 3-letter words in the books.  The sets 2-5 came later.  Since her name is Bobby Lynn, that would not fit in with her 3-letter word books at all!  She saw fit to drop the last bunch of letters from her name in order to become the easily read “Bob.” This name has stuck, and it’s always amusing when people meet her with my father at conventions and such.  They automatically greet my father as Bob, to which he quickly replies, ‘No, Bob’s my wife!’  As the illustrator of the books, he is now known as Mr. Books.”

Links galore:

You’ll notice on the Bob Books website that other versions of this book series are available, namely one with a CD read-along feature. If you’ll sit down and go through the CDs with your kid, go for it. If you’ve listened to how I guide my daughter through a book, you can see how a CD would throw off the pace of our reading method.

See also:

Here are a few more sample pages…

One page from the book titled Fun in the Sun. A line drawing shoes a man standing next to a swimming pool wearing a hat. The story text reads: Pop had a top hat.

A page from Fun in the Sun, book 1 of set 2. (The link goes to sample pages, not the complete book.)

One page from the book titled Floppy Mop. A drawing shoes a person bending down toward a shaggy dog. The page text reads: Come, Mop, said Tom.

A Page from Floppy Mop, book 1 of set 3. (The link goes to sample pages, not the complete book.)

One page from the book titled Ten Men. A drawing shoes 10 men walking and the man at the front kneeling looking down. The page text reads: Ten men went to the end of the land.

A page from Ten Men, book 1 of set 4. (The link goes to sample pages, not the complete book.)

One page from the book titled The Game. A drawing shows a baseball player hitting a ball. The page text reads: She called James and Jake and Dave and Kate. Let's play ball, she said. The game began.

A page from The Game, book 1 of set 5. (The link goes to sample pages, not the complete book.)

Update: Enter our caption contest for a chance to win a five-box set of Bob Books, the same edition reviewed here! The contest ends May 25, 2008.


21 Responses to “Review: Bob Books for Beginning Readers”

  1. Bee says:

    Teaching to read at home?
    I’ve come across some kids who ‘spontaneously’ went from basics to fluency, usually because there was a love of books at home; who went on to be avid readers. Some kids who wanted to read to please, who could often read before school; but who lost the desire once they’d accomplished the skill of reading. And sadly a few who always struggled, as there was no love of books/drive towards skill from home.
    Teaching to read at home isn’t half as important as imparting a desire for stories. Books to look out for – like these Bob books – have an inherent narrative (going to the end of a land) and poetry (ring..king..gong..clang), which excite children to decode the words and discover, rather than be drilled in, reading.

    March 4th, 2008 at 4:20 am

  2. anastasiav says:

    I was just looking at these in our local Big Box Bookstore on Sunday, wondering if they had some secret commercial/character tie-in that I was unaware of (checking them over to see who “Bob” might be – Bob the Builder was my first guess), so your review is both helpful and very timely.

    March 4th, 2008 at 4:31 am

  3. Summer says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for this post. I didn’t know about these books. When I was young I was reading at 4 years old…. and I don’t think its too young. My daughter is turning 3 this month and her favorite thing to do is read books. And she always asks what letters and words say, so I am definitely putting this on her birthday list. Plus I love the montessori teaching methods you shared. If you have more please post them or email them to me! Our daughter is in preschool, but not at a montesorri – can’t afford it, but I think those tecniques are great. Again thanks for the review!

    March 4th, 2008 at 6:36 am

  4. Inki says:

    Thanks for the review, these definitely sound interesting! Our daughter is only 6 months old, so it will probably be a while before she starts reading (although DH and I both read before we turned 5).
    Something I don’t quite know how we will approach yet is the fact that she will be bilingual (hubby is American, I’m Norwegian) and many letters are pronounced differently in the two languages… Should be interesting!

    March 4th, 2008 at 7:12 am

  5. Cindi Hoppes says:

    “Bob” books are fantastic! We have most of them. I like sight word reading over phonics, though. My husband was taught to read phonetically and he can not spell. I was taught sight reading (Dick and Jane) and I can envision the words and spell. Cindi

    March 4th, 2008 at 7:26 am

  6. Marianne O. says:

    After some careful thought we’ve decided not to encourage our almost-3-year old son to read (yet). We’re not anti-literacy of course… we read to him often, and also tell him plenty of stories off the top of our heads.

    The issue is that he’s having a great time making up stories to match the illustrations in his books, and is also enjoying oral storytelling. We’ve decided to encourage his creativity in that direction for now, since he hasn’t expressed any interest in learning to decode text.

    The other issue for me is that he not be bored silly when he gets to school age because of reading skills that are too far above average. Sounds silly, I guess… but having been a very precocious reader (reading adult books without assistance around my third birthday), I was horribly bored in early elementary school. Other kids were not kind to the couple of us who were ahead of the class. For awhile school was a misery.

    So for now we’ll go for imaginative storytelling and let the mechanics of reading wait a bit. But when he does develop interest in reading, the Bob series sounds like a good resource. Thanks.

    March 4th, 2008 at 7:54 am

  7. AJ says:

    Bee, what you describe isn’t our situation.

    We read to our daughter every day and it was she who expressed a desire to learn reading. A parent who buys Bob Books is probably already avidly reading to their child.

    Our Bob Books augment what my daughter is learning at preschool. And reading one of these books at her own suggestion every few days isn’t drilling her. (Her school is Montessori, which means even there, her book reading is because of her own desire.)

    In contrast, at a minimum, my wife and I read two picture books, or chapters from an “older” book such as Heidi or Charlotte’s Web, to her at bedtime every day. She chooses the picture books, or whether to continue our reading an older book, or whether she wants to read us a Bob Book. Her learning is at the pace she sets.

    I agree that a sustained desire to read is greatly influenced by whether parents regularly read books to their child.

    March 4th, 2008 at 7:57 am

  8. Jessica G. says:

    We love the Bob Books! My 3.5 yo is pretty entranced with hers and takes a handful of them to bed with her at night. We have a book-loving family and we see Parker passed out each night with a pile of books on top of her. It makes us grin. She is memorizing stories but has not figured out the phonics of the Bob Books. We are working on it (without her knowing we are working on it).

    March 4th, 2008 at 8:05 am

  9. AJ says:

    *forehead smack* I was just reminded that our daughter’s reading interest started when she was 2-years-old. For her third birthday she wanted a library card, but the librarian said she had to be able to sign her name.

    So, we began teaching her to write her name and that fueled an initial interest in what letters mean. And that branched into the desire to read books to her brother after he is born.

    March 4th, 2008 at 8:08 am

  10. JMo says:

    Great review. My son is too young for these right now (17 months), but I’m totally excited for when he starts reading. I will store this away in my mental filing cabinet. :)

    March 4th, 2008 at 8:14 am

  11. Danielle S says:

    These look great! We’re working on learning to read right now with our preschooler, and I had never seen these before!

    March 4th, 2008 at 9:36 am

  12. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    Our son is 7 months old and just the last week or so, has started doing more than just chew on books. He is “turning pages’ (SOmetimes the book is upside down and he doesn’t always get just one page). It is very encouraging since I sometimes worry that we are not reading enough to him. But he’s evidently picking something up there! :)

    March 4th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  13. Erica says:

    It’s great to see other kids desiring to read early. We’re not pushing our daughter at all, but she is 2 1/2 and already knows her letters and their sounds, and she constantly wants us to help her sound things out or spell them. She pretends to read books or looks at the pictures and makes up a story that seems to go along with the pictures (if it’s a new book she doesn’t know yet). I was a really early reader, too, but we’re letting her do it all at her own pace. Thanks for the idea for the books when she’s a little older!

    March 4th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  14. Sandy says:

    Interesting. I’ve never seen these before but now I’m considering getting these for our youngest son even though he’s only 14 months old. Our oldest son has Hyperlexia (kind of the opposite of Dyslexia) and consequently started reading before age 2. So, suffice to say, we’ve never had to teach a kid to read before. This looks like a great method to get a young mind interested in the process of reading. Thanks for this review.

    March 4th, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  15. kelli says:

    We’ve always read a bunch to the kids, so it was no surprise that my son was interested in reading well before his fourth birthday. He loves to read signs and finds familiar words in some of his favorite books. About once a week he will read a BOB book with us. I think he really likes to be able to read to his younger siblings (2 and newborn)!

    March 4th, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  16. Teacher Jen says:

    Yea!!! Hooray for good parenting!!!

    I’m an American expat and a first grade teacher in Belize, Central America. We’re always short on good resources so I have to bring books, supplies etc. with me when I come from New York. What do I always make room for in my suitcase? Bob Books, Scholastic science series books, and Caldecott books!

    Keep it up, Moms and Dads! Helping your child develop a life-long love for reading is one of the best gifts you can give.

    March 4th, 2008 at 6:05 pm

  17. Mark says:

    Question for those of you who have early readers — how many are at home parents vs having their child in preschool? I worry sometimes that my 2 1/2 yo is missing out on reading/book opportunities since both parents work and my mom watches him during the day. While I know she does spend some time with him in books, we haven’t really figured out a formal philosophy for how we’re gonna get him reading.

    At home in our tiny house, his older stepbrother is constantly on the computer or watching TV so there is a ton of electronic stimulation 24/7, but I will confess to not getting enough book time for the baby.

    I was a precocious reader myself, reading adult books and the newspaper by 3-4, but my time for reading for pleasure has vanished since becoming a parent. I would love for him to grow up with that same love of books that I had, but I will admit I’m kinda at a loss for how to nurture that given our family’s current lifestyle and daycare situation.

    March 5th, 2008 at 9:22 am

  18. Heather says:

    We love Bob books, used them with our oldest, who is now 11. I was quite delighted to find them at Costco last night – condensed from 5 sets into 3 collections. Same amount of books, with a few extras. Each collection was 9.99 at our store.

    For example, the first collection, had 18 books, all of set one, and part of set 2. We got this for our twins. I should have gotten the other two collections, and am actually going back tonight to get them. :)

    Hope I’m not breaking any rules here, not affiliated with Bob books or Costco. I just love a good deal on a great product!

    April 1st, 2008 at 10:54 am

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    August 21st, 2008 at 4:40 pm

  20. Maria says:

    I used Bob books with my son last year at age six. We went through the whole series and after a couple months reading things like Henry and Mudge and Frog and Toad, he was off to chapter books. This summer my four year old daughter declared she “hated reading.” A little investigation revealed she that had figured out that saying the story along with the pictures was not full fledged reading and, really, she wanted to learn to read. These books have been great! She loves them. Often she picks from the later sets (and succeeds) sooner than I expect. One caveat–if your child is a good memorizer (mine could recite 80 page picture books before age 2), I suggest never reading Bob books TO them. I always have them read the the books to ME.

    December 19th, 2008 at 6:04 pm

  21. Mary says:

    I wanted to say thank you for posting this. I read it a while back and purchased the book. At first, there was no interest. However, now that he is 3 1/2, he can get through the first set (with some assistance, though). Today I was testing his ability to spell (like your contest posting at reading and deciphering your daughter’s writing) and was truly surprised by the result. I have it posted on my blog if you’d like to check it out. Anyway, thanks again for this review.

    August 16th, 2009 at 2:31 pm