I learned a good bit by browsing through the robot gallery online at Arrick
Robotics. Seeing what others had built.
This question comes up frequently. (And I am still looking for novice books
myself.) I almost wonder though...
I've been watching the kids in my older co-op team. We taped their contribution
for Robofest yesterday. (They did not finish all the way but leaped ahead in
their skills and confidence. I have no doubt that they could build a bot of
their own design now, or take a book like David Cook's and build sandwich and
really build that, too.)
Maybe the way to start out is to find some simpler bots to build that are not
that involved, like the one you can make out of an old computer mouse or even
simpler. And build at least one small bot that way? THEN move on to the good
beginner's book and build something like Sandwich.