Now that they know their “ABC”s, you might be asking “how to teach kids to read words”?
So I caught up with author Larry Baum who had the same questions.
His solution was to write books with super-simple words so that kids not only get the hang of reading, they build the confidence to keep going!
Tell us a little bit about your book and how to teach kids to read words
“BO, GO UP!” starts with children playing with a ball and ends with a much larger ball, because one kid’s mom runs a hot air balloon company and gives them a ride. The aim of the book is to teach reading more easily by using only very short words, no longer than two letters, which children can learn quickly. Reading this book by themselves will give kids confidence in their reading ability and encourage them to read other books.
Who were you before becoming an author?
I grew up in Los Angeles, studied at Harvard College, and earned a PhD in Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. I then worked as a biologist doing research on Alzheimer’s disease and other brain diseases. Now I live in Hong Kong, where my children Ryan and Ianna were born in 2003 and 2005.
A few interesting facts about Larry:
1. As a neuroscientist, I’ve written or been a co-author of over a hundred scientific research articles, but publishing these children’s books has been my most difficult writing project.
2. I got the idea to write these books to teach my children to read, but by the time I finally finished them, my daughter could already read faster than I can, and my son could write better than I can.
3. Sam, the cat in my book, “Cat Egg”, is modeled partly on my dad’s cat Lili.
What inspired you to write this book?
The idea came in 2009, when I was teaching my own children to read. Thinking that long words would trip up my kids, I looked for books with only short words. But I had trouble finding books like that. Could I write one myself?
If I limited word length to 3 letters, could I write a story? Sure. What about 2 letters? That would be a challenge. There are so few 2-letter words to work with. But I juggled them until I came up with a story, with characters, action, and even humor.
The story gathered dust on my computer for several years until I decided to start ticking items off my bucket list, starting from the easiest ones. A children’s book using only very short words should be easy, right?
I thought so, but it took several more years to reach publication! First, I found Joanna Pasek, who beautifully illustrates children’s books in a semi-realistic style I liked, so we set to work, eventually producing our book, “WE GO TO BO”
“Wait,” you say, “that’s a different book!” You’re right. What happened was that teachers who saw “WE GO TO BO” told me it would be even easier for children to read if I used only the simplest sounds, and consistently used one sound for each letter. That started me wondering whether I should write another 2-letter word book following that advice.
Meanwhile, at a public reading of “WE GO TO BO”, I asked the children if someone could write a book with only 3-letter words, and they said yes. 2-letter words? Again yes. And then one smart aleck said “1-letter!” My first impulse was to ignore him, but then I thought, “Why not 1-letter?” If I use the letter “C” to mean “S-E-E” and the letter “U” for “Y-O-U”, maybe. And if I write both a 1-letter word book and a new 2-letter book, maybe I can add a 3-letter book for a 1-2-3 series. Joanna and I finished the 3 books: “Y”, “BO, GO UP!”, and “Cat Egg”.
They comprise “The Bo Books” series. You can get the e-books for free and the paperback books at about my cost.
The 1-letter word book is about a curious kid, asking her dad “why?” about things in the park. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? He doesn’t know, but she opens his eyes to the world. With only 1-letter “words”, Joanna’s illustrations do the heavy lifting of telling this story.
The 2-letter word book is “BO, GO UP!” Using all capital letters avoids confusing children about when to use upper case or lower case.
In the 3-letter word book, one kid has a cat, and when her friends play with it, they think it’s laid an egg.
Once children can read the alphabet, they can read the 1-letter word book, “Y”. That accomplishment gives them pride in reading a whole book, and gives them confidence to continue reading. Then they can read the 2-letter word book, “BO, GO UP!”. I used very simple vocabulary: less than half the alphabet, and only 11 different words. That makes it easy for kids to feel good that they can read a real book. Next, the 3-letter word book, “Cat Egg”, teaches 39 words, including 17 of the 100 most common words.
Millions of people worldwide take a long time to learn reading, or never learn. I hope these books help remove obstacles to reading.
What was your favorite part of writing?
Once I assembled the extremely limited palette of suitable words, actually writing the story was fairly easy and fun.
What do you think kids and parents will love about your books?
That kids can read it on their own and feel proud about their ability, leading them to start reading other books
It should be easy to learn how to read!
What’s next for you?
Publicizing the Bo Books so that kids can learn how to read more easily
Larry Baum (and Joanna Pasek), for your wonderful books and your commitment to teach kids to read words.