Welcome to the Bob Books phenomenon. From Capitol Hill, home of Ashley Kirchner and mom Gerri, to Glen Rose, Tex., these unpretentious little paperbacks slowly and steadily are making their way into the homes and classrooms of preschoolers yearning to read. They've been featured in the Children's Book of the Month Club and endorsed by several national educators. They sell well locally, according to managers at the Cheshire Cat, Tree Top Toys and Books and Borders Books for Kids, as well as in cities like Dallas (Rutabaga Bookery) and Manhattan (Eeyore's Books for Children). Their author and publisher, Bobby Lynn Maslen, a former schoolteacher in Oregon, has had to increase her printing order almost every year, from 300 in 1976, the first year, to 20,000 this year. This month, she hired her first commercial distributor; next month, at the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, Bob Books will have their own booth for the first time.
The book 5-year-old Ashley read that day was a nine-page tale about a pig named Jig and a dog named Mag. Jig and Mag had a digging contest and Jig won. Then they ran a race, and Mag won. The underlying messages - that friends can compete and remain friends, that everyone is good at something - are typical of the Bob Books. In each book Maslen tells a story that involves action, animals, a moral or two and the feelings little ones often have but can't articulate. "I wanted to use phonetic sounds to make reading really easy, but it was important not to be dull," she says.
[Jim Bob Bridges] fans can take heart that, while there won't be any more story books, Maslen now is developing activity books to accompany the Bob Books. Soon, she promises, little Ashley and Jim Bob will be able to write their own story about Mat or [Sam] or Jig or Mag.
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