The Children’s Book Review in partnership with Larry Baum, author of Bo, Go Up!
Larry Baum grew up in Los Angeles, studied Chemistry and Physics at Harvard College, and got a PhD in Neurosciences at University of California, San Diego in 1994. He has studied brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression. He lives in Hong Kong, where his son Ryan was born in 2003 and daughter Ianna was born in 2005.
The Children’s Book Review: Learning to read can feel like an intimidating process for many kids. With this in mind, you’ve created the Bo Books picture book series to remove some of this intimidation for struggling readers. Can you share a little bit about what prompted you to take this initiative?
Larry Baum: It is a big step to go from not reading to reading. As a little kid, how can you first decipher those strange markings into words? We adults should make this easier. When I taught my kids to read, I tried to find books with only very short words, but I couldn’t find any (I mean books, not words). I thought that someone should create such a book. Three letters would be no problem, so what about two letters? That would be harder. Despite a very limited vocabulary, the story should grab readers with interesting characters, action, and humor. But that challenge was fun, and because I’d never written a book, I naively thought that writing and publishing a children’s book would be easy. That was in 2009, so you can see how hard it’s been (though for six years the project was just gathering dust on my hard drive).
In just twenty-three, two-letter words, Bo, Go Up! cleverly tells the story of how some playground fun leads to a hot air balloon adventure. It can’t have been an easy feat to come up with a cohesive narrative using only two-letter words. How long did it take you to create this story?
Not too long. I listed the common one- or two-letter words and removed those with difficult or unusual sounds: w, x, y, z, and stretchy vowels. To keep things even simpler, I also removed all but one sound of each vowel. That left only nine words, plus a couple of names. Then I sorted words into parts of speech. The only verb was “go”, which anchored the structure of sentences. Ironically, restrictions can free creativity (maybe since a blank page induces analysis paralysis). The only prepositions were “at”, “in”, and “up”. What goes up and is fun for kids? That’s how a balloon entered the story. The rest fell into place.
Joanna Pasek’s artwork is charming. How did you come to partner with her on the Bo Books series?
On freelance websites like Fiverr, Upwork, Elance, and Guru, I found illustrators with styles I liked. I made a spreadsheet of my favorites and asked their prices. Finally, I had my relatives rank the top five. I’m really happy that Joanna won the competition. She’s easy-going and put up with my requests for changes, and she came up with key elements of the design. I love her watercolor style.
Can you speak to the art medium she uses to create the pictures?
Joanna starts with traditional drawing colored with watercolor paints, then she adds some other elements digitally, so that finally the initial drawing is turned into a Photoshop collage. Here’s a video of her illustration process for a page from another of the Bo Books:
The book’s design and layout are used to great advantage as the simple choice of words—such as “Go, Bo!” and “Go up?”— have been made large and bold, so that the reading level is appropriate for our pre-fluent, beginner readers. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing the book itself and deciding on the layout to maximize the beginner-reader experience?
The first element Joanna considered was the book text, which she made as big and bold as she could. The picture was designed around it so that the text was explained by the action. Joanna and I collaborated, bouncing ideas off each other until we were satisfied with the layout.
Will you tell us a little bit about what readers can expect from the other books in the Bo Books series?
Bo, Go Up! uses words of up to two letters. I also wrote a book of one-letter “words”, like “C” to mean “see” and “U” for “you”, to make it even easier to start reading. As soon as kids learn the alphabet, they can read this book, giving them a sense of pride that they can read a whole book all by themselves, and confidence to continue reading. Y is about the inexhaustible curiosity of kids and their exhaustible parents: “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why is the grass green?”, “Why? Why? Why?”! Cat Egg completes the Bo Books trilogy, telling in three-letter words the story of a cat who may or may not have laid an egg. Very young children, people with learning disabilities, and adults who never learned to read may ease into the world of reading with the Bo Books.
Should we expect to see any more picture books in this series?
Before these three books, I published a two-letter word book, We Go To Bo. But I didn’t omit stretchy vowels or vowels with different sounds, so I didn’t include the book in the series because it may be a bit harder for beginners to read. I don’t have any plans yet for more books, but let me know if you have any ideas.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far about the writing or publishing process?
Writing is only a tiny part of the work. Everything else—finding an illustrator, planning the layout and illustrations, choosing a printer and a distributor, formatting the pages, and publicizing—takes far more time and effort.
What children’s books influenced you the most while growing up? Do you remember which book you first read independently?
Books by Dr. Seuss influenced me most, maybe because of the TV specials based on his books, but the first book I remember reading was in the Dick and Jane series. Looking up that series just now, I found that Dr. Seuss had said, “I have great pride in taking Dick and Jane out of most school libraries. That is my greatest satisfaction.” He felt that it was so boring that it turned kids off reading, so he wrote The Cat in the Hat, which was more interesting and popular. I hope that the Bo Books will be a livelier and easier introduction to reading than many of the choices available now.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about Bo, Go Up!, the Bo Books series, or yourself?
If you use the Bo Books, I’d love to hear from you at https://www.bobooks.org/contact and to read your review at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687833788.
For more information, visit https://www.bobooks.org/.
Bo, Go Up!
Written by Larry Baum
Illustrated by Joanna Pasek
Ages 3-7 | 28 Pages
Publisher: Independently published | ISBN-13: 978-1687833785
Publisher’s Synopsis: Imagine you’re learning to read a new language. How would you do it? First you’d learn the alphabet, if it has one. Then you’d string letters into simple words and read stories to get familiar with the words and how they’re used. That seems hard to me. But it would be even harder if you’d never learned a language before. And what if you were only a little kid? That would be a big challenge. But—think about it—that’s what we expect children to do routinely to learn reading. I think we should do whatever we can to make this big leap easier for kids. We as adults have experience with reading, and we’re older; we should take the burden off kids and do the hard work of WRITING stories so they’ll be easy for kids to READ. How? Well, using short words might help. They’re probably easier to learn than long words. But children’s books are often peppered with long words like “elephant” and “xylophone”, which is fine if adults are reading TO children. But though I like elephants and xylophones, and even elephants playing xylophones, for kids to learn how to read, long words are probably not ideal.
When I was teaching my own children to read, 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.
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This interview—Larry Baum Discusses the ‘Bo Books’ Picture Book Series—was conducted between Larry Baum and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Author Interview, Bunny Books, France, Paris, Picture Book, and Travel.
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