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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.
The first books were handmade, inspired by two small dolls—one circular and one triangular— 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 said. “The whole thing from beginning to end was a trial-and-error process."
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. "She officially hired me to illustrate and help market and publish the books," says John, as demand increased.The couple's growing children helped collate and staple.
The Bob Books went on to become a Children's Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, and the series was adopted by home-schoolers and Montessori teachers. Articles recommending the Bob Books appeared in the Washington Post, CNN, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Publisher’s Weekly. In 1993 USA Today ran a story about the Bob Books. The Maslens were inundated with phone calls.
``By that time we were going crazy," Bobby Maslen said. ``We knew the potential was much more than we could handle ourselves." The Maslens turned to a major publisher of children’s books, Scholastic, Inc., for help. Happily, the Maslens and Scholastic together keep all five sets of Bob Books available to children throughout the world.
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