Book review: 米小圈上学记 Mi Xiao Quan’s School Diary

Author: 北猫
Country of original publication:  China 
Language: Simplified Chinese
~ Pages per book: 133
~ Lines per page:  10 – 11
~ Books in set: 4 levels with 4 books in each set
~ Pinyin: yes, above characters
~ Audio available: Luka
~Available in Singapore NLB libraries: yes

Captain Underpants, Dogman, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are books that I half-wish my 7 year-old had never discovered in the school library.   I say half-wish, because whilst I’m not a fan of these English comic series, the upside has been finding a similar equivalent in Chinese.  Her discovery of Mi Xiao Quan 米小圈 has changed my view of these mass market kids literature, peppered with jokes (often related to backsides).

Mi Xiao Quan is a playful primary school student who goes on many adventures with his pals.   The most well known titles in this series are米小圈上学记 Mi Xiao Quan’s School Diary set,  which is divided in Grade 1 through to Grade 4, with four books for each year. It chronicles the schoolboy’s journey, in first person diary-style conversational dialogue, punctuated by oversized doses of humour.  The bold, colourful line drawings closely resemble Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

In the first book, Mi Xiao Quan enters P1, from kindergarten and realises the schooling environment is very different.  There’s homework, less play, a tiny table which he has to sit at all day, and too many English spelling words which give him a headache.  His diary takes you through his daily life and troubles, with hilarious observations.  Sound familiar? 

The books give a cultural glimpse into what school-life could be like in China.  If your child thought going to school in kiasu Singapore was tough enough, they’ll get a reset perspective when they see how common corporal punishment is, and the intense academic competition between peers.  Perhaps Singapore is not that bad after all!

The first 4 books in Mi Xiao Quan has Hanyu Pinyin. Text is well spaced and good for a child starting to move beyond picture books.

The book definitely has more text than Captain Underpants and Dogman (which can only be a good thing!), but the approach to humour is similar.  Given research has shown the humour can boost retention in learning, I’m hopeful that all the snickering my kids have when they read this will be repaid in full with the boost to their fluency.  Sometimes it’s hard to contain their laughter, and even my 2 year-old joins in literally rolling on the floor with giggles. I’m quite sure she doesn’t understand, but the laughter is infectious.

The Grade 1 and 2 books have characters and pinyin.  But the upper levels do not have pinyin.  For our family, initially the books largely need to be read with the assistance of Luke Reading Robot – which covers books in the first set only. But as my daughter’s character compression is growing (about 1000+ characters now), she’s becoming more independent.

Being one of the most popular children’s books in mainland China, these books are fairly easy to come buy, and won’t break the bank.  In Singapore, the books can be purchased from many places. One online store I’d recommend is My Story Treasury . I’m excited to share that My Story Treasury has kindly extended a discount code to all readers of my blog. Use “lahlahbanana10” on check-out to receive 10% off any title that your purchase through their store.

A nice addition for parents is that there is a companion set of Brain Teasers and Chinese idioms – we haven’t bought these yet, as we’re told they’re probably better suited to upper primary children.  It’s nice to know once we are through with the current series that there’s more to enjoy.  There’s also dramatized version of Mi Xiao Quan’s school day Chronicles (available on YouTube), but shhhh we’re not telling the kids about this one.  We’ll focus on the reading!

For an earlier post I wrote on Luka Reading robot, and how this can narrate Chinese books, see my blog here. For a post on another Chinese series which is similar to The Young Scientists, see what I wrote here.

Reading with Luka Reading Companion

Other books similar to Mi Xiao Quan?

I would class Mi Xiao Quan series as “Chinese Bridging books” …. a term coined for books which span the space between learning to read, and reading to learn (or literature for literacy, versus literature for leisure).   These types of in-between books aren’t exactly easy to find on the shelves of the local library (especially the simplest books), unfortunately, as the appeal is a very niche one – since for children from fluent Chinese families, most of these books would be too simple.  There are some book sets which explicitly brand themselves as ‘bridging’, and there are others which don’t, but would fit the category also. 

The difficulty for us has been finding interesting “bridging” literature for an older child, especially when their English reading stage could be so far ahead of their Chinese level.  The ‘beginner’ books are just boring, with limited storyline, and can make reading more of a chore than anything else.

On my blog, I’ve attempted create reviews of our Chinese bridge books, from easiest to hardest, in terms of breath of characters and length of the book. The image below shows how these books fit together.

Comparison of Chinese bridge books by length and complexity

Please visit my Summary of Chinese Bridge Books to find more detail on the books shown in the diagram. Hopefully there’s something in that list with suits your family. At a guess, if the humour of Mi Xiao Quan appeals to your children, they probably also would like Butt Detective, Nate the Great, and Les P’tites Poules.

Enjoy the reading journey, and please share with me your own book recommendations!

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