Review: BOB Books

[This is a MotherTalk sponsored review.]

I signed up to review BOB Books: Set 1 mostly because I was curious to see how my kids would react to them.  D is 6 1/2 and a strong reader; N is almost 4, and knows his letters, but hasn’t really started putting them together into words. 

The set is a collection of 12 small paperback books, each about a dozen pages long, and with maybe 50 or so words.  N loves the size, and the way the set comes with its own storage box.  They’re designed so that the first book only uses a handful of letters, and then each book adds a few more.  As you can imagine, that doesn’t leave room for a particularly wide vocabulary — there are a lot of sentences like "Sam sat."

What redeems the books, and makes them not totally painful for the parent to read (and re-read, and re-read) is the illustrations, which are whimsical line drawings, with easy to read expressions.  N and D both think it’s absolutely hysterical that Sam sits on Mat and Mat sits on Sam.

Are these books helpful for teaching a child to read?  I don’t know.  Last night, N selected these books for his bedtime story.  (We’ve had the books for about 3 weeks now, and he’s still interested in them, although he’s no longer asking for them every night.)  I tried to get him to read some of the words in the first book, and he did, but when I asked him if he was reading them or remembering what the book said, he said "remembering."  I personally think my head will explode from the repetition of the books before N is ready to make the transition from identifying letters to putting them together.  But for a kid who is right on the verge of decoding, and who would enjoy the triumph of being able to read a whole book "all by myself," these books might be a real hit.

9 Responses to “Review: BOB Books”

  1. MC Milker Says:

    I actually purchased these books for my DS a year or so back (at 4) when he started spelling out words. He was only mildly interested in them at that time. Now, with the ability to sound out words I may pull them out again.
    As a read aloud book, I’m not sure I’d find them very helpful but, for kids just on the edge of reading or just starting to read they could be a real winner. The premise is, of course, that “reading a whole book by himself” builds a child’s confidence…that is if he or she doesn’t catch on that it doesn’t really resemble his or her favorite books.

  2. Amy P Says:

    All of these little phonics readers have their issues. I taught my daughter to read around 4.5 this past winter, and the Bob books (all 5 or so sets) were our basic material. She read about 150 phonics readers (probably 45 or 50 from the Bob series), but by the end, she was a reader. I was deeply annoyed by the artificiality of the first set of Bob books (they have to beat the daylights out of the few sounds that the children have mastered), but my daughter didn’t mind at all. The Bob books are pretty good at controlling the text so that the child is able to decode almost everything they read. As you get higher in the series, there are more and more sounds available, so the texts become less artificial and more interesting to the parent. Unfortunately, as with a number of phonics series, the higher books have a lot of text on the page, which can be really daunting to the child. I had my daughter read each book only once, because I didn’t want her to be reading it, not reciting it. That may have been the wrong call, because the difficulty level of the Bob books rises very steeply as you go up, and it might have been better to read each book twice as a breather.
    When I noticed that the amount of text in the Bob books was excessive, I stopped and branched out and bought a bunch of other phonics books: Backyardigans, three Dora sets, a number of Clifford books, etc. The best strictly from the phonetic point of view was a no-name non-character set about a bunch of cats (sorry! I forget the name). The weakness of the character books is that they aren’t very phonetically controlled, plus the names of the characters contain code that the kids haven’t learned yet, and the young reader needs to read the names starting from the first book. However, the character books do have a lot more intrinsic interest. They are excellent for a beginning reader with a few Bob sets under her belt, but not so great for a real beginner. Even more so than with the Bob books, the higher level character books contain a frightening amount of text on each page.
    I’ve forgotten most of what we did, but the Leapfrog videos (Word Factory and the sequel that does silent e) were an important step along the way. My daughter learned silent e completely painlessly by watching those videos. (I’m currently using Letter Factory on my 2 year old.) My 4-year-old daughter and I worked very hard for several months on her reading. She and I chose prizes for her (mainly art stuff) and I let her select one every time she finished a set of phonics books. She was eventually very motivated! Her pre-K teacher told me that she was reading at first grade level.
    A lot of people might ask, well why did she need to learn to read at 4? I would answer that knowing how to read has made her mind much more absorbent, and much more able to learn independently. It was very hard work for a few months, but now I can sit back, relax, and watch her (now 5) read all by herself.

  3. Amy P Says:

    My mistake–“I wanted her to read the books, not recite them.”

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    Interesting comments, thanks. Amy P, for what it’s worth, N is the one who wants to re-read the BOB books, not me. He’s at the stage where he’s very into repetition — he’d be happy reading the same book every night for weeks.

  5. mom Says:

    These sound like they are worth a shot. I’m going to order some — please do post again and let us know how you make out! It’s hilarious thatthey are names BOB too — we get it. har har.
    This is a great – blog – I’m new here, a friend sent me. And I’m glad she did!
    love to have you visit me too!
    it’s on children/gender/media/consumer culture

  6. Lee Says:

    My daughter (4 yrs) has enjoyed the BOB books as well. We’ve also enjoyed the Between the Lions PBS show a lot, and I can tell that she’s learning from it. Not that I would ever suggest using tv to learn to read, but IF we’re going to be watching something anyway, it’s a good choice. Fun for the adults too.

  7. dave.s. Says:

    Kids have nothing like adults’ need for novelty… We bought the VHS tape for Shrek, and my boys, then 5 and 3, wanted to watch it EVERY SINGLE AFTERNOON for a solid month for an hour while I cooked dinner. They are 10 and 9 now, and they still remember scenes and songs…

  8. Amy P Says:

    Another thing–I was careful about not reading the phonics books aloud to my daughter, because I wanted to make sure she was really reading them, rather than remembering them.
    There are a lot of appealing commercial “phonics” sets available at Barnes and Noble and Borders, but one has to have a good look at them to see how careful the writers were to control the number of new sounds in each book. It can be really frustrating to learn a rule for a letter, and then be immediately presented with a situation where a different rule (that you haven’t learned yet) applies.
    We didn’t use many Easy Readers, but I think that using a lot of lower level easy readers might be a better choice than the upper level commercial boxed sets, which tend to have too much text. One page from the level 6 Cliffords provides enough words to furnish a whole book, in my opinion. At least to begin with, I would lean towards reading a lot of easy books rather than suffering through a single book. Somebody I was reading recently said that a traditional librarian’s test is that if a child can’t read the first five words, the book is too hard. Only one in ten words should give trouble. (Or something like that.) That rule might not apply to beginners, but it kicks in at some point.

  9. mom Says:

    After reading this post we got our hands on the first set of Bob books, and I have to say, I’m completely tickled to death by them. I was at a loss as to how to help my daughter take the step from letters to words, because I FIND CONFUSING lol — GOOD LORD – How does anyone learn to read!? I digress, but we started with the first couple this weekend and my daughter really did well, although I had to encourage her a lot. She would periodically take a random guess at a word, and I would have to say – that’s a guess, but you don’t need to guess, because you have the tools to figure out the word, etc. etc. I also had to cover the pictures, because she was too good at knowing what the text would say, but that was fine, like a game, I would move my hand when she read the page and she could bask in her success.
    It’s stimulated a lot of interest too — she has been talking about the sounds that letters make around the house for the last 4 days.
    Anyway, thanks for the tip.

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