Tuesday, March 4th, 2008
Review: Bob Books for Beginning Readers
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.
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 BobBooks.com:
“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.”
- Official Bob Books website
- Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers
- Bob Books Set 2: Advancing Beginners
- Bob Books Set 3: Word Families
- Bob Books Set 4: Compound Words
- Bob Books Set 5: Long Vowels
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.
Here are a few more sample pages…
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.