Bob Books came about as a result of teacher Bobby Lynn Maslen’s careful attention to the specific needs of children learning to read for the very first time.
As a teacher at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, Bobby’s work with 3 to 5 year-olds involved constant invention in art, math games, physical growth activities and, of course, reading materials. When she didn’t find books that she felt were interesting enough for her young students, she created Bob Books.
Our Roots in Portland, Oregon
The first books were handmade, inspired by two small dolls—one circular and one triangular— that she bought at a craft fair. She named the dolls Mat and Sam and spun stories about them, illustrated with line drawings that the children could copy and color. The stories were very personal, customized to each one of her students.
Soon it became too cumbersome to make books for each student, so Maslen standardized the set and persuaded her school to print 300 copies. “In the beginning I just went to the grocery store and bought baggies – little sandwich baggies – and that's how we packaged them," Maslen says. “The whole thing from beginning to end was a trial-and-error process."
First Steps in Publishing
Portland State University next published the books for several years, and word began to spread, leading to self-publishing and a cottage industry. Bobby Maslen’s husband, John Maslen, a watercolor artist and former architect, drew new pictures. As demand increased, "She officially hired me to illustrate and help market and publish the books," says John. The couple's growing children helped collate and staple.
Bob Books went on to become a Children's Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, and the series was adopted by homeschoolers and Montessori teachers. Articles recommending Bob Books appeared in The Washington Post, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and regional newspapers and magazines around the country. In 1993, USA Today ran a story about Bob Books.
John and Bobby Maslen
Bob Books Goes National
Today, all five sets of Bob Books written by Bobby Maslen are available to children all over the world, thanks to the partnership that was developed with Scholastic.
"By that time we were going crazy"Bobby Maslen
Lynn Maslen Kertell has been involved with Bob Books right from the beginning, starting with the first edition in the 1970s. Lynn pasted-up and hand-lettered the original Bob Books when she was in high school. She later spent several years in other ventures, but her mother’s sensitivity and approach to life remained impactful.
As Lynn’s daughter was beginning to learn to read, returning to the family business was a natural step. Her experience tackling the fun, bonding and sometimes complex task of helping her child learn to read, showed her that Bob Books really work. Her daughter now joins the millions of kids that happily exclaim, “I read the whole book!”®
Bob Books is truly a family operation. Not only was the original creation of the books a hands-on family venture, some of the stories were inspired by the Maslen children. Lynn reveals that the character of Samantha is actually named for her sister, Sylvia Ann Maslen (S.A.M.). On weekends, the Maslen children would wake to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking. Sylvia did not like getting out of bed early, but Saturday morning was the exception – she couldn’t resist the smell of bacon frying in the pan! Bobby used this story as inspiration for one of the books in Bob Books: Set 4.
Lynn has added to the family tradition of bringing beginning reading to children, by writing Bob Books Sight Words: Kindergarten and Sight Words: First Grade, My First Bob Books (Alphabet and Pre-Reading Skills), and the six early readers. She also creates the first draft of illustrations for each book she writes. “Everybody is an author,” Lynn tells children. “Everybody has a story inside of them.” Lynn sees writing as a way to share one’s story with the world: “I don’t even have to be there for children to share my stories, because they are in books and can be read everywhere.“
Lynn encourages you to become a part of our story by joining the Bob Books family of readers. Get started by taking our Bookfinder quiz to find your first set.