Best Chinese Levelled Reading Books

This post recommended books for a child to learn how to read in Chinese. It is relevant for children who knows anywhere between 0 and 1000 characters. If your child knows more than 1000 characters, see my later post on bridging books for emerging readers.

Levelled (or graded) Chinese readers are helpful in encouraging early literacy in children, by enabling them to read books which fit within their reading abilities.   They usually have simple words and phrases, and increase in difficulty as the child advances through the series.   This is very different from children’s picture books, which often contain exciting storylines but have characters which are impossible for a young child to grasp.

Our family has accumulated quite a collection of levelled Chinese readers over the years – all of them have been immensely helpful, both for the children and for me in learning to read.  There are obviously lots of great Chinese readers available in Singapore to read together with your child.  Here’s a quick comparison of five series we have enjoyed the most, with some photographs, to help in your journey of finding appropriate books for beginning readers. 

Features to look out for in good Chinese readers

  • Graded or levelled approach:  so the child can progress through the series as their reading confidence improves
  • Font: Large and clear, on a white background
  • Decoding illustrations: graphics which are simple and match the text, so a beginner can start to ‘guess’ the context of what the words might be about
  • Length:  One or two lines per page, perhaps progressing to multiple lines in higher levels  
  • Vocabulary:  High-frequency common words and phrases with lots and lots of repetition.   
  • Audio options: Some readers include audio option (through a reading pen, CD, or website) which can be helpful for parents, especially those with limited/no understanding of Chinese like ours.

Top Recommended Chinese Graded Reading Books

My top recommended books for a nascent reader (e.g they know <100 characters) are:

  1. Le Le Chinese Character Learning System  樂樂文化 (more detail here)
  2.  Little Sheep Goes up the Hill 小羊上山 (more derail here)
  3. Sage Books Basic 500 (more detail here)
  4. Odonata Levelled Reading series 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划 (more detail here)
  5. iHuman Shizi Readers 洪恩识字 (more detail here)

Other popular reading books used in Singapore, due to their relative cheapness and availability (since most are published locally) are:

  • Disney I Will Read series 迪士尼我会自己读第 (more detail here)
  • 4, 5 Quick Read (四五快读 Si Wu Kuai Du)
  • Scroll / Parachute Preschool Reader Series
  • 学前教育丛书 Little Sweetie Series
  • 欢乐童年 Happy Reader’s Series

I have tried to make a graphic to assist you in deciding what might be the best book for your family situation. A quick summary with photographs follows for each book. Click on the links for my more detailed post reviews. I’ve put a photo of all the books in the series, as well as a comparison page from the easiest and hardest books in the series, so you can understand how they work.

Which levelled Chinese reader could be best for our family situation?

Note – the Little Sheep Goes up the Hill 小羊上山 is only published end of 2020, which was after I did the above graphic. I would recommend it as an alternative for Odonata or Disney I Will Read.

Comparison of how Chinese Graded Readers compare to the popular English Graded Readers

For those familiar with how great readers are for English literacy, here are the parallels with the three key approaches:

And now to explaining our favourite Chinese Readers and why:

1. Le Le Chinese Reading System

Characters included: 1300
Number of books in series: 100 books x 3 levels (= 300 mini readers)
Target age range: 3 to 8
Audio option: yes, a reading pen which can read individual characters and sentences
Pinyin: No
English translation: No (although available to download from their website)

Where to buy in Singapore:  order online from Le Le Taiwan, or try to spot in second-hand on Carousell, it pops up every few months.

Best Aspects:  Small mini readers on highly varied topics which I assure your child will love; comes with a reading pen which can read individual characters; designed as a system to teach characters without any need for Pinyin

More detailed review and a discount code for purchasing is available here – why our family loves Le Le Chinese.

Photographs:

Le Le is 300 books (across three different levels – Red, Yellow and Green) and can pack away neatly in a zipper bag.
Le Le titles are highly varied, as shown above with with a sample from the easiest set
This is a comparison of a book from the Red Set versus a book from Green Set. The amount of characters used gets progressively harder. The books are beautifully illustrated with hand coloured pictures.

2. Little Sheep Goes up the Mountain 小羊上山

Characters included: 3000
Number of books in series: 140
Target age range: 3 to 10
Audio option:  yes, through Luka
Pinyin: no
English: no

Where to buy in Singapore:  order Taobao, Shopee, or find at many popular Chinese children’s bookstores months.

Best Aspects:  Highly varied and interesting storylines, with great graphics, and progressively gets harder without a child noticing. Very Asian-oriented drawings, and stories are guaranteed to touch your heart or make you giggle. Also, it’s SO affordable.

Photographs:

10 books in each level, and there are 14 levels

Stories become progressively longer and more complex as the levels increase – above is Set 1, and below is Set 3. For more photos, so my detailed review of 小羊上山 .

3. Sage Books Basic 500

Characters included: 500
Number of books in series:  5 books x 5 levels
Target age range: 2 to 5
Audio option:  no
Pinyin: Yes
English: Yes

Where to buy in Singapore:  order online from Sage Books Hong Kong, or try to spot in second-hand on Carousell.  It used to be stocked at Popular Books, however it’s stopped being imported.  Occasionally Popular in Malaysia have stock of the higher levels.

Best aspects:  systematically (and slowly) teaches 1 character per lesson, and repeats sentence over and over again, which is great for really young learners;  it includes graphic with stroke order for writing the characters. You will love or hate this method – it’s Montessori based approach. Probably best with a younger child.

I’ve put a more detailed review here on how Sage Book series has worked wonders for my younger two kids.

Photographs:

5 books in each set; 5 sets in total
Comparison of Book 1, Set 1 with Book 5, Set 5. The stories are much more repetitive and basic than the Le Le series.

4. Odonata Levelled Reading series 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划

Characters included: 1200

Number of books in series: 40 (across 5 levels)

Target age range: 4 to 6

Audio option:  Yes – with Luka

Pinyin: No

English: No

Where to buy in Singapore:  Luka Reads, Shoppee

Best aspects: Starts from basic level, and systematically adds new characters in each chapter. Layout is beautifully clear, with large font, no confusing colours / pictures, and no HYPY/English. It has supporting activity books and writing books, if a whole learning curriculum is required. It’s also the most cost-effective option in this top 5 list.

Odonata series well constructed and is a mainstay curriculum for many higher-end kindergartens in Malaysia and Singapore

See my detailed post on Odonata Chinese Levelled Readers for more information.

5. iHuman Shizi 洪恩识字 Levelled Readers

Characters included: 1300
Number of books in series: 130 books (8 levels)
Target age range: 3 to 8
Audio option: yes, a reading pen which can read individual characters and sentences
Pinyin: No
English translation: No
Where to buy in Singapore:  order online from Shopee.

Best aspects: the readers follow a systematic order introducing ten new characters at a time, and each book only uses the learned Chinese character to compile the story – adding ten each time, to eventually make 1300 characters in total. The books follow the same curriculum and character order as the fun Chinese literacy app of the same name, which I have reviewed in a separate app review post here. This means it’s possible to combine screen learning with the physical books which follow the same character progression. 

I have also put a more detailed review of the iHuman graded readers in another post.

Photographs

10 of the 130 books

6. Disney I Will Read series 迪士尼我会自己读第

Characters included: 2000+
Number of books in series: 100
Target age range: 4 to 10
Audio option:  Yes – with Luka
Pinyin: No
English: No

Where to buy in Singapore:  Luka Reads, Shoppee or JD

Best aspects: Starts from basic level, and systematically adds new characters in each chapter. With each volume, the complexity of sentence and words used increases, and clever graphical annotations exist as hints to enable the child to learn new words.  Pictures and stories are all Disney, so perfect for a Disney loving child. Books are written in Simplified Chinese, with no pinyin or English translations.

Disney I will Read series is bright and includes a variety of well loved Disney characters
The Disney I Will text is clear, with visual guides for the hardest words

I have a more detailed review in a separate blog post, with a comparison of how the character lists compare to official Mainland Chinese and Singapore Curriculum.

4, 5 Quick Read (四五快读Si Wu Kuai Du)

Characters included: 825
Number of books in series: 8
Target age range: 4 to 5
Audio option:  no
Pinyin: No
English: No

Where to buy in Singapore:  Popular Books or online through My Story Treasury

Best aspects: Comprehensive curriculum and great value compared to the other sets which are much more expensive (note: instructions are solely in mandarin which is difficult unless the parent is fluent with their reading, and the parent must be actively involved as it’s not a simple reader).

Scroll / Parachute Preschool Reader Series

Characters included: 500
Number of books in series: 100 or more
Target age range: 4 to 6
Audio option: no
Pinyin: no
English: no

Where to buy in Singapore:   I think every Singaporean household probably has a set of Scroll readers, which might have been pass-me-downs from friends, or part of kindergarten books lists.  They’re sold second hand all over Carousell. 

Best aspects:  They’re short and accessible stories which children can fly through, and take up limited space on the bookshelf, and localised with some Singapore content.

Photographs:

These are some of the many books we have scattered around the house! Most are hand-me-downs.
I haven’t figured out an exact ‘order’ for these books, but this compares one of the easier ones against a harder one. The text is big and clear.

学前教育丛书 Little Sweetie Series and 欢乐童年 Happy Reader’s Series (Pan Asia)

Characters included: ~500
Number of books in series: 6 – 8 books per level;  3 levels for Little Sweetie
Target age range: 3 to 6
Audio option: yes, Penpal Whizz reading pen which can read individual pages
Pinyin: Yes
English: Yes

Where to buy in Singapore:  order from the Singaporean publishers (Pan Asia Publishing and JLB), or it can be found at many independent bookstores and pop-up booths in shopping centres.

Best aspects:  each book teaches 1 value /moral; it’s less of a holistic curriculum than the other books in this list, but more of simple graded storybooks which come with flashcards.

The set at the top has 8 books in it is the most basic of Little Sweetie Set; the books at the bottom are part of 100+ books for the older “Happy Readers” .
Comparison of “Little Sweetie” against “Happy Readers”

Questions to consider before buying any Chinese levelled reader sets :

As strange as it sounds, it’s really an investment decision which requires some though. I think it depends on your child’s age and reading ability, and also your language fluency.  I think different sets will suit different situations, and I’ve certainly seen that in the way my three children have taken to the different series.

1. How old is your child?

From experience, Sage Basic 500 is less likely to be of interest to a child above 5 as the storylines are highly repetitive – think of it like the equivalent of a “Bob & Jane” English readers.  Conversely 4, 5 Quick Read will be impossible for a 2 or 3 year old to grasp due to the complexity of layout which is more “text book” style.  Le Le I think does a good job of spanning across many age groups (partly due to the fact is has three stages and cover 1300+ characters).

2. How much do you want to spend?

Sagebooks and Le Le are really really expensive, and the shipping cost makes it just shy of SG $1000 if you’re buying the full syllabus.  Yes they’re great, but it comes at a price.  Maybe you’ll be lucky picking it up second hand.  Or maybe you’ll be better off with something like Odonata or 4, 5 Quick Read which is readily available in Singapore and costs about $25 per level. The Disney I Will Read series is also very competitively priced.

3. How fluent (if at all) is the adult reading with the child?

If the adult reading with the child is fluent and has time to read with the child, then it’s highly likely that whichever reading system you choose will be highly useful.  However, if the adult is less confident, then paying the extra price for Le Le (which has the optical reading pen, recognising individual characters) or Sage (which has pinyin and English translations) could be necessary.  Or if you have a Luka reading robot already, then Odonata or Disney I Will Read are supported by this system.  A book with an audio option is essential for a non-Chinese speaking parent.  From our own trial and error,  I firmly believe the most approachable for non-Chinese speaking parents are Sage, Le Le Chinese, Disney and Odonata series.

That said, there are plenty of other great reader series which are highly accessible in Singapore, like Beany’s First Picture Book Series, Little Sweeties Better Chinese, etc.   I’m sure that all the rest are wonderful for Chinese-speaking families to read together, and many are available from public libraries. 

The key thing with investing in a reading series is that you can use it consistently, and that the child is enjoying the experience. Then you’ll likely have success in creating a reader!

If you’re moving beyond levelled readers into bridging books (for a child who already knows ~ 1000 characters), then my next post might be helpful on on Shortlisted Bridging Books for Children.

4. How important is Hanyu Pinyin?

If I could give you one suggestion, it would be to avoid graded readers with pinyin (or cover it up). The intention of these books it to learn CHARACTERS, not HYPY. Children won’t find it hard to learn these, and it will be much more effective if they take this step without the crutch or confusion of pinyin in the mix. Children really don’t need pinyin at this stage, it’s only their parents who might!

I hope that this post has been helpful. If you’ve reached the end and are still looking for more, maybe I have written some other posts which might be of interest:

5 thoughts on “Best Chinese Levelled Reading Books

  1. Hi! Would you categorize Odonata as a literacy building set or graded readers that has a structured plan to theearning characters and reading?

    1. Good question. It’s most certainly a graded reader (otherwise called a levelled reader). I say this because the set introduces new character systematically, and becomes progressively harder, right up to 1200 characters. There are also supporting workbooks, flashcards, etc which we didn’t use, but they could be good resource for structured lessons. I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘literacy building set’, but I suppose by their nature, they do build literacy, but they go beyond this (in that I would also call stand alone random flash cards, or posters, or wooden toys which can be literacy building material). At the upper end, Odonata do go quite fast and introduce many characters at once, but if they didn’t, it would take forever to get to 1200 characters. Many of the other sets only get up to 500 or 800, which is why they can go relatively slower.

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