Habbi Habbi Bilingual Books with their Reading Wand is the fifth Chinese reading pen to join our house. This is a post I never thought I’d write – because I never imagined there would be a “use case” for five different Chinese Reading Pens. But it turns out there is!
We use our HabbI Habbi Reading Wand as the go-to, dedicated pen for our youngest (toddler) because of its hardcover, durable design and play-based nature (she can tap anywhere and get feedback). There are surprise musical tunes and hidden content beyond the text that is printed on the page, so it’s fun for her to play and discover.
We also find it especially great for less-native families, because it is bilingual (with English and pinyin) – so it is more approachable, especially for those who find Chinese-only resources intimidating (I can really empathize with this, as a monolingual-English parent who doesn’t speak Chinese!).
Also as I will explain more later, the Habbi Habbi book content is distinguishing with themes of empathy, diversity, self reliance, global citizenship, and more. When your kids repeat phrases from these books like “I feel worthy,” “I love my body,” “I admire my mommy. She is capable of anything,” it does tickle your heart.
Disclaimer: I was very kindly gifted the Habbi Habbi Reading Wand and books but have not received any compensation for this review. All opinions shared here are my own, and I made this clear to Habbi Habbi before accepting their product for review. It was a pleasure to review such a fun product.
What is Habbi Habbi Reading Wand?
I like reading pens in general because they remove screen time, and inculcate a love of reading Chinese, without the parent needing to read/speak the language. Habbi Habbi certainly ticks all the boxes on this front too. For our family, we use it for our youngest – more on that later
The Habbi Habbi startup is the brainchild of two working mothers, ex-consultants and long time friends, who loved the Reading Wand technology and wanted to make it contemporary, multilingual, and accessible for a non-native audience. And the thought shows. In much the same way as other reading pens, it will recognise compatible books, and provide an audio overlay saying the word / phrase out loud, or giving other sound effects and cute musical tunes. But, it is really the content of what they write about, the beautiful design, and the fun, play-nature of Habbi Habbi makes it stand out.
Habbi Habbi comes with a set of 20 matching board books (and counting!) – available in Simplified Chinese (within pinyin) or Spanish. The same Wand accesses all their books, regardless of language, so you only need 1 pen to access either language! Apparently more languages are planned, and this includes possibility of Traditional Chinese Books, French, Korean, and more.
How do we use Habbi Habbi Reading Wand?
It’s easy to use – just turn on and tap. I simply gave it to my toddler, and she turned it on by holding down the middle button. Then, with just a light tap on the books literally anywhere on the page – the book comes alive.
When we first opened the Habbi Habbi box, I told my three children that this pen was special for the youngest one (just turned three). She was delighted, because ever since she could sit up, she’s always been keen to use our other reading pens. This has long been a source of arguments with the older kids, and frustration for me because I’m always reminding her to be more gentle with the fragile (expensive!) pens and books. Well, when she got her hands on it, she knew exactly what to do! It literally went from the box to being played with, without me even needing to read the instructions.
I like that the book is a fun toddler “toy” – my little one can tap anywhere and get some sort of response – word/phrase/sound/music, with a practical learning outcome (Chinese!) and exposure to highly intentional content (like diversity, inclusiveness and resilience). For a home like ours where the adults aren’t bilingual, a tool like this is perfect to help a very young child pick up Chinese alongside English.
The Wand is rechargeable with a standard-USB cable (comes provided). When it’s charging, the star at the top will glow red, and the glow disappears when fully charged.
The volume is adjustable volume – this good, because when three kids are in the same room using three different pens, it’s nice to have it a little quieter.
There’s also a headphone jack, which could be good for aeroplanes and roadtrips.
How is Habbi Habbi different from other Chinese reading pens?
In my mind Habbi Habbi is great as a first Reading Pen, for those emphasizing speaking and listening (versus reading and character recognition). Note: Context is important; we live in a Singapore – a Chinese speaking country and are aiming to raise fully bilingual children who can read Chinese, so for us – Habbi Habbi is perfect for our littlest one, because it’s fun and play based, so it allows us to start language exposure early. For our older children, we use other tools that have a more full-fledged and formal ‘character learning system.’
Durable, with an emphasis on design and play: We love its toddler-proof design; they are hardcover, board books with easily wipe-down matte coating – clearly designed to be durable for heavy use and play. As mentioned, I love that the emphasis is on the kids having fun – so they learn through play. No matter where they tap, they hear something – whether it’s the phrase printed on the page, an expression from the character on the page, or a delightful musical tune. Also, in comparison to our other pens, the Habbi Habbi Reading Wand is brightly coloured and feels beautiful to hold. The compatible books are big, board books with vivid colours and large font bilingual English-Chinese text.
Intentional Content: The book content is markedly different from our other Reading Pens. Its illustrations show diverse characters and their content is very intentionally chosen. In their feelings book, they don’t just talk about being ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ but also say ‘I am worthy.’ In their family book, they highlight diverse family structures, including single-dad and adoptive families. In their mum book, they even re-named their ‘stay-at-home mom’ the “Chief Home Officer.”
Bilingual WITH pinyin: Something else very different to our other reading pen books is that each of the Habbi Habbi books are written in English AND Simplified Chinese character AND Pinyin. For my older children, I try to find monolingual Chinese materials – without English or Pinyin. But, for a young child, who isn’t reading in either language independently, I do like having the English there. It lets a monolingual parent (like myself) be more engaged in the bilingual language learning. The pen also speaks in dual languages, which can be a nice aid in letting the child learn the English words too (although there is an option to only make it read it one language). As for the pinyin, it’s helpful for me because I do know a little pinyin, which gives me some context around the phrases.
Plays Chinese AND English: It’s worth noting too that unlike our other pens, this one speaks both the Chinese first and the English. This is a deliberate design feature by Habbi Habbi to maximise Chinese exposure first, but also ensure that the books are accessible and understandable to more families. For example, families and children may know that 厨房 chú fáng is ‘kitchen’, but many may not know that 同理心 tóng lǐ xīn is ’empathy’. Having the English enables more new words to be learnt [Update 2021: Habbi Habbi has new functionality enabled by their Mode Cards, so now families can choose either default Bilingual audio, Chinese-only audio or English-only audio. I love this since it allows for more native / heritage families to use Chinese only, while less-native families can use the Bilingual Mode. Interestingly the Habbi Habbi team told me that most families switch, depending on which books they are playing with, or whether a non-native family member might be playing and learning along with the child ….. cool idea!.]
Ultimately though, the beauty of the pen is its simplicity (eg there’s no apps to download, settings to get it working, etc), with a battery life that almost goes forever!
How does Habbi Habbi compare to other reading pens on the market?
I’ve tried to draw an image of how I see the schema landscape of reading pens fitting together, and try to make it less overwhelming to understand all the options. Different pens are right for different family situations, learning stages, and intended outcomes. We have each of the pens listed in this table, so our family has good experience trialling them all.
Head to Head Comparison of Habbi Habbi and the main reading pens we would recommend:
Below is a comparison table of all the Chinese-English reading pens we have:
[Note: if you start off with only 5 Habbi Habi books, the price is SG$145 for Wand + 5 board books]
Pros of Habbi Habbi
- It’s clearly designed for toddlers – the pen is sturdy, and the books are board books, with wipe-down matte finish. This gives me much more peace of mind than our other reading pens which are more ‘delicate’, and which have books with thin pages which are easily ripped without a close adult eye supervising. I’m much more comfortable leaving my youngest to interact with the Habbi Habbi wand and books alone, than with any of our other sets. I would add here though that it CAN be useful for older children too…… my tween is currently learning Spanish as a third language, and the Habbi Habbi Spanish books are perfect for that, due to the simple and accessible design, including reading pen.
- Chinese AND English bilingual – Unlike our other reading pen books, Habbi Habbi come with bilingual Chinese and English written in each book and spoken through the pen (although on the pen, it has the option for a parent to choose to only have Chinese spoken, which is a nice immersion option). For younger kids or families in less bilingual countries, having both Chinese and English in the book is helpful as it allows non-native (or less-native!) adults to understand what is being read, and engage with the book.
- Diverse pictures and situations – our other reading pens all originate from Asia (Taiwan and Singapore, specifically). Habbi Habbi is just different. The drawings are more vibrant, and the scenes have diverse faces in diverse places, putting a very contemporary global spin on the text. There are books about working mothers with breast pumps, and blended families. All phrases are intentionally positive and inclusive.
- Highly interactive – Every part of the books is ‘tappable’, giving description of the pictures and surprise music interludes, in addition to the written text. It can certainly captivate the imagination of a young child, and keep them engaged through to the end of a book (which is rare feat with toddlers, I know!).
- Fluent and high-quality audio – well recorded, with native speakers in both languages, and speed is normal spoken speed (which is good for language exposure, mimicking real environments, and learning how to speak). For learning how to read, it might be better to be slower – and I have given them the feedback, and they shared that they are looking into functionalities to slow / speed up speed of the audio.
- Full English support – this is helpful. You’ll realise if you have other pens bought online from China (like the iHuman Pen….) that it just feels nice to know that it’s a quality product, with a quality team behind it who can respond to queries and provide a warranty.
Cons of Habbi Habbi
- Phrases verses individual characters: Habbi Habbi reads out different “clips” (words, phrases, or sentences) – but not character by character. They chose to do so to simulate conversation, similar to what kids would hear if they heard people talking. Similar to what I’ve mentioned before, this is more suitable for listening comprehension and speaking – over – character recognition and reading. This is a ‘con’ for my older children, whom I’m trying to teach character recognition and literacy.
- Difficulty of some Sentence books: They have different stages of books – Word Books, Phrase Books, Sentence Books, and Story Books. The Word Books and Phrase Books are introductory and approachable. Some of the Sentence Books have more complex sentences, and I think my 3-year old likes to interact with the Word / Phrase books more – or – play with the illustration part of the Sentence books, which speak back short words and phrases (e.g. when she taps Mommy’s earrings – they say earrings!) I do appreciate the philosophy of the sentence books – that they choose to intentionally reflect certain situations, even if they are more complex words (e.g. Mommy is a Surgeon – vs – Mommy is a Doctor). These sentence books may just be more suitable for my older kids than my littlest one.
- Size of the books – these are full size, gorgeously produced board books; they clearly focused on design and durability! They look great on the bookshelf. However, if you’re an apartment dweller, you perhaps wouldn’t want too many of these (or perhaps you’d only want these and nothing else!). Our other reading pens come with much smaller books which can be packed away and stored easily – though they are paperback, stapled books. Again, it’s not really a con. It’s a fact that all toddler books take up space.
- Regional vocabulary differences – For example, for pineapple, my kids learnt it as school from Hokkien 王梨(ông-lâi) or黄梨 (huánglí). The Habbi Habbi book says 菠萝 (bōluó). The Habbi Habbi website notes that they have native speakers from different regions represented on their translation team and review board, so they are aware of different ways to say things (eg butter – 黄油 Huángyóu, 奶油 Nǎiyóu, 牛油 Niú yóu). They discuss each translation item but when forced to choose, they try to be consistent with simplified Chinese because that is what is printed.
- Content might be too progressive for an Asian audience – The books are clearly not written for a traditional Asian audience. They include things like social emotional learning (teaching kids sentences like “I am vulnerable”) and also feature more controversial topics (Adoptive families – “Mom & Dad couldn’t have kids but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a big family.”) They also name items traditional Asian families may not talk about (e.g. they have illustrated a breast pump with “Banker Mommy” at the airport).
Books in the Habbi Habbi Series
Habbi Habbi has different types of books, being: 1. Word books; 2. Phrase books (e.g. Emotions); 3. Sentence books (e.g. Kindness); and 4. Story books (coming soon!)
The Habbi Habbi Summer Set (which we were sent)
- Book of First Words – colours, numbers, shapes, fruits, transport, etc … favourite here was the inclusion of kale in the veggies! They’re a very western vegetable though.
- Book of First Phrases – simple phrases about introductions, telling the time, meals and manners
- Book of Emotions – teaching children to be resilient, understand their emotions, and articulate some not-commonly said Chinese phrases like “I am worthy!”
- Book of Careers, Vol 1 (Mums) – with a look at modern mums as female role models
- I am Kind – examples of kindness including empathy, sharing, community, elder respect, etc
- Book of Family – highlighting many different family structures, included multi-generational, traditional nuclear, blended / re-married, adopted, same-sex parenting, and a family tree!
- Foodie Friends – a pot luck party with some very international food choices (including bubble tea and papaya juice).
Other Habbi Habbi books (which we don’t have – but sound great!)
- Book of Chores
- Things That Go
- Book of Careers, Vol 2 (Dads)
- Healthy Habits
- I Love My Body
- In My Home
- Apples + Arithmetic
- Animals, Plants and Places
- My 7 Wishes for You
- Global Celebrations
- Haddie & Lulu’s Worldwide Search *
- Haddie & Lulu’s Bash on a Budget *
- Haddie & Lulu and the Bad Grade *
- * Haddie & Lulu – are Habbi Habbi’s story books!
- + many more new titles being added constantly
Where to buy Habbi Habbi Reading Wand and books in Singapore?
Currently the Habbi Habbi sets must be ordered via the Habbi Habbi website, and mailed from California. The mailing isn’t cheap. However, Habbi Habbi are in active discussions to get this product available locally in Singapore.
They also provide a discount for group orders, so if there are other families in Singapore who would like one, let me know as I’m trying to consolidate interest for a group order in the meantime (we would certainly love to add books to our family’s collection too…!).
Which reading pen is right for me?
To see more information about the other Chinese reading pens our family has, do refer to my earlier posts. Different reading pens and curriculums suit different learning stages, ages, family situations, and intended learning outcomes.
I would love to hear from you, especially if you have the Habbi Habbi or experience with other similar pens too. It’s only through meeting other wonderful parents virtually, that this shared language journey becomes a more valuable one.
I was very kindly gifted the Habbi Habbi Reading Wand and books, but have not received any compensation for this review. It was a pleasure to review such a fun product.