Chinese bridging books for children: What to read after your child knows 1000 characters

What to read after finishing Sage or Le Le series?

So, your child has finished up reading Odonata, Sage, Le Le or 4,5 Quick Read levelled readers (congratulations you!! that’s no mean feat), and now you’re wondering what to move onto next?  It’s unfortunately not just as simple as picking out any book from the library and being able to read it.  With 500~1000 characters learnt, it still means most books, including simple picture books, are off-limits.  But, this post contains some suggestions for appropriate bridging books for the next stage of your child’s literacy adventure.

Firstly – if you’ve come to this post to learn about Sage, Le Le or other levelled readers as a curriculum for your child – please refer to my earlier post.  This one is about life AFTER finishing up on these wonderful sets.

This posts summarises key info about the bridging level books which we have, to help you make an informed decision.  I’ve sorted the books by length, and character complexity. All these books we’ve been able to purchase in Singapore, and they’re written in Simplified Chinese, which is the official language taught in schools here.

Which series of Chinese levelled readers have you finished?  How far did it take you?

Levelled readers” (aka graded readers) have great pictorial prompts for words and most get progressively harder through the series.  There are many great beginning reading systems out there which track numbers of characters taught and systematically introduce new high frequency characters – but it’s worthwhile to remember that not all levelled readers go as far as each other, and they don’t all have the same frequency of word repetition either. 

  • Sage Books – covers first 500 characters across 25 books
  • Le Le Chinese series – covers first 1300 characters across 300 books
  • Odonata Levelled Readers – covers first 1200 characters across 40 books
  • Disney Reading series – covers first 2000 characters across ~100 (?) books
  • 四五快读 (4, 5 Quick Read / Si Wu Kuai Du) – covers 825 characters across 8 books
  • Rainbow Bridge Classic lLdder series – covers first 1500 characters across 120 books ( Note I don’t mean Singolingua Rainbow Bridge here either)

For example, Sage is ~500 characters.  So, if you’ve say finished Sage, you could always jump next to another longer set of levelled Chinese readers, like Odonata or the Disney Reading series which gets up to 2000 characters (although no doubt your child will probably have outgrown Disney before they get that far). 

Going with another set of levelled readers is an easy solution, which is likely to buy you may more months of reading (at potentially quite a large monetary cost!).  However, if you feel your child is ready to jump beyond levelled readers into a whole new world of literary fun, here are some books which we have found useful.

The deliberate repetition which is found in levelled readers won’t be found in many other book sets.  This just means you will need to read more.  Thankfully, the storylines found outside of levelled readers will be more interesting, so whilst it takes more effort, it’s also more rewarding.  Reading is the only way to improve literacy in any language, and Chinese is no exception. 

Bring on the Chinese Bridging Books

Get ready to READ, and READ and READ.  I’ve said it before:  I feel that encouraging a child to become literate in Chinese is highly important in the bilingual journey, especially for families in Singapore.

“Bridging books” is 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.

After we finished with our Le Le series, and outgrew Disney, I put a lot of effort into finding engaging ‘bridging’ readers – short books that introduce new characters, but with interesting storylines. 

I say I put in a lot of effort. It’s all relative. Actually, I’ve mainly followed the advice of a few passionate bilingual overseas bloggers who have trodden this path ahead of me (and clearly put in more effort!), and I essentially replicated their Chinese book collections.  Some of these books have been winners, and some my kids have been less enamoured by. Others still, they’re too difficult and we’ll try them out again in a few months.  

For the ones they love, I have bought the whole series. For the ones they’re less interested with, I at least encourage them to finish the book if the reading level is appropriate.  We’ve generally bought a single book /  borrowed it from the library first to make sure if it’s a winner or not.  The trick it to understand what your child likes and double down on that.  Otherwise it’s kinda futile.

Chinese Bridging Book List

I’ve attempted to sort this book list from easiest to hardest. The characters required is just my best guess – no I haven’t gone in detail and compared all the book text with characters lists. In many cases, I find it’s not just the complexity of characters, but also the length of the text also, and how appealing the graphics are.

Below is a graphic, although please note I’ve added in lots of additional books into the text which aren’t shown in this graphic.

List of good Chinese bridging book for children after finishing Le Le or Odonata series

You’ll see some of these books are simple in nature but very long (like mini-chapter books); others are picture books with limited word count but harder words.  It really depends on your child which avenue to go down.  Most of these book have no pinyin (or else only have pinyin for the hardest words), so that the focus is on character reading. 

Whilst I’ve sorted this list from easiest to hardest by the numbers of characters which a child can recognise,  my suggestion is that instead of focussing on number of characters learnt, focus on number of books to read each week or number of minutes to spend each day reading.  It’s a more tangible unit to measure. And through good literature, the literacy will come.

As a rule of thumb, a good book is one where no more than 10~15% of characters are new to the child. We use our dictionary pens (Youdao pen or iFlyTek) to fill in the gaps for new characters, since as an illiterate parent, I’m not much help. I’ve also highlighted which sets Luka reads, because this is a helpful aspect for non-native parents, and which ones can be borrowed from local Singaporean libraries.

Little Mouse Series 可爱的鼠小弟

Number of books in set: 22
Number of pages: 32 (but only half have text)
Number of lines per page:  0 – 4
Total length of the book: ~300 characters per story
Characters required by child to read it independently: 600~700
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: Japanese

Easy-to-read storylines and beautifully hand-drawn illustrations.  Only drawback with Little Mouse is font is quite small, and sometimes on bizarre coloured background (like black on brown…).  But this was our first bridging book after Le Le, and it was an excellent follow-on. Throughout the set of 24, it follows the stories of a Little Mouse (鼠小弟) and his animal friends. The story lines are easy to follow, with simple and repetitive language, just a like an early reader should be. More detail at this link.

The Little Bear & The Best Daddy: 小熊和最好的爸爸

Number of books in set: 7
Number of pages: 22
Number of lines per page: 1 – 3
Total length of the book:  660 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 500~700
Luka compatible: yes
Pinyin:  No
Available in Singapore NLB: No
Original language of publication: Dutch

Little Bear & The Best Daddy books are really aimed at toddlers, but they are easy/cheap to source and could be a good start to a home library.  Text size is small, but no smaller than typical books from mainland China.   In each book in the series, Little Bear and Daddy Bear do fun activities, go on adventures, and learn together. The stories are very sweet.

Magic school bus bridge books 魔法校車第二輯  (桥梁版).  

Number of books in set: 24
Number of pages: 32
Number of lines per page: 3 – 6
Total length of the book: ~1000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 600~800
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: No

There are lots of Magic School bus sets.  These ones, specifically called ‘bridge books’ are the simplest 24. 

Elephant and Piggie set 开心小猪和大象哥哥

Number of books in set: 27
Number of pages: 57
Number of lines per page: 0-3
Total length of the book: ~600 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 600 ~ 800
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: English

Lots of repetition and fun!  These Elephant & Piggie aren’t technically bridging books, but they are winners for kids.  There are occasionally some tough characters, so you may need a dictionary-pen on hand.  Mo Willems is an addictive author in English, and these books have been cleverly and well translated into Chinese too.  See my more detailed review here.

Crow Bakery 乌鸦面包店 (Set of 5)

Number of books in set: 5
Number of pages: 32
Number of lines per page: 2 – 8
Total length of the book:  ~ 4200
Characters required by child to read it independently: ~1000 (for most of it, although a few tough words)
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin:  No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: Japanese

Really fun story which centres around the humble beginnings of a mom-and-pop bakery business, opened by two crows in the Spring Forest. When the bakers give birth to four healthy baby chicks (all of different colours!), they care for their babies with lots of love, which comes at cost to their business. It’s like a mini-MBA syllabus wrapped up into a children’s enchanting story. Full review available here.

Little Fox series 小狐狸的故事

Number of books in set: 5
Number of pages: 77
Number of lines per page: 4 – 10
Total length of the book:  ~ 4200
Characters required by child to read it independently: 800~1000
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin:  No
Available in Singapore NLB: No

Little Fox series is simple story – almost a chapter book – but with a few basic pictures on each double page spread. The protagonist is a little fox, and his animal friends, and he learns to be brave.

I Love Reading Collection

Number of books in set: 20
Number of pages: 40 – 48
Number of lines per page:  1 – 9
Total length of the book:  ~2000 characters (across 4 short stories in each book)
Characters required by child to read it independently: 800~1100 (they get harder)
Luka compatible:  No
Pinyin:  Yes – for the harder words
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Country of original publication: Singapore

The I Love Reading Collection comes in 5 series of books, with 4 books in each series. Then, within each book, there are four stories. Which means in total there are 80 short illustrated stories (enough books for a child to read once a week at school for two years….). 

The books are written by the Chou Sing Chu Foundation, and are well worth a look. The stories have been written by various Chinese language teachers in Singapore.  Intended for child-led reading, as text is printed clearly, and harder words are explained with pinyin/illustrations.

Illustrations are bright, and size is thin and light, which makes is perfect to slip into a backpack for silent reading. I did a more detailed review at this link.

“New Stars Island” Graded Picture Book Series 《新新岛》分级读本系列

Number of books in set: 36
Number of pages: 24
Number of lines per page:  1 – 6
Total length of the book:  300 to 1000 (they get progressively longers)
Characters required by child to read it independently: 300~1300 (they get progressively harder)
Luka compatible:  No
Pinyin:  Yes for Sets 1 & 2, and no for Sets 3 – 6
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Country of original publication: Singapore

The “New Star Island” collection, written and printed in Singapore, are broadly designed to match every year of primary school in Singapore. They’re creatively written, prize winning works, published book set, by the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language. The books are great for encouraging an older child to read broadly, yet still have the comfort of colourful pictures. I did a more detailed review at this link.

The Angry Prince 生气王子

Number of books in set: 5
Number of pages: ~40
Number of lines per page:  0 – 9
Total length of the book:  ~1000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 800~1000
Luka compatible:  Yes
Pinyin:  No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Country of original publication: Taiwan

The Angry Prince comes in a set of 4 others by author Lai Ma.  This is a picture book not a bridging book. It’s just a really long picture book.  The language is good for independent reading, and the storyline is interesting enough for a lower primary student.  I learnt about this book from Hands on Chinese Fun, who has devoted a lot of time to finding Chinese picture books which appeal to “ang moh kia” (westernised children whose preferred language is English).   It’s very true that a lot of the picture books originating from China are not my kids’ cup of tea, so this is a rare one in original language form.

Frog & Toad 青蛙和蟾蜍

Number of books in set: 4 books, each with 5 chapters/stories
Number of pages: 64
Number of lines per page: 2 – 12
Total length of the book: ~2500 characters (about 500 characters in each chapter)
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1000~1200
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: English

Arnold Lobel writes timeless classics – and this series is the same as the English series, but in Chinese.  Essentially these are early chapter books – so less pictures, more text. The story is easy to follow and thought provoking.  It’s a good start to developing reading stamina to move away from picture books. My detailed review available at this link.

Mandarin Companion

Author:  Jared Turner and John Pasden
Country of original publication: China
Language: Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese
Pages per book: ~60 (Breakthrough Series) or ~90 (Level 1)
Lines per page: 2 -12
Books in the series: 17 (across 3 levels)
Pinyin: Yes, in footnote for specific word
Audio available: Yes, for some books
Available in Singapore NLB libraries: No
Total length of the book: 5000 (Breakthrough Series) or 10000 characters (Level 1 & 2)
Character knowledge required by child to read it independently: <500

Mandarin Companion books are a really different kind of bridging book set.  For Levels 1 & 2, the take classics from English literature, and cleverly translate them into books with minimal characters, that can be read by a Mandarin beginner. They’re long, but the vocab is fairly simple, which is great for independent reading.

This series is designed to combine simplicity of characters with an easy-to-understand (or even familiar) storyline and a Chinese cultural twist.  How can a story like Jane Austin’s Emma or the Secret Garden be condensed down into just 300 without losing the intrigue?  More detail in my review of Mandarin Companion. If these take your fancy, then there are a few different graded novels for not-quite beginners which I’ve compared.

Wilma the Elephant 大象小不点

Number of books in set: 5
Number of pages: 28
Number of lines per page:  2 – 8
Total length of the book: ~1500 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 900~1100
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: No
Original language of publication: Austrian

A little harder than other earlier books in this list, but it’s still certainly a picture book.  Also, worthwhile for a child to read the English version first. The tale follows Wilma, a little elephant, on all sorts of adventures – there’s suspense, friendship and plenty of action.

Marching penguins 企鹅机动队套书

Number of books in set: 11
Number of pages: 77
Number of lines per page: 0 – 10
Total length of the book:  ~4000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1000~1200
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: No
Language of original publication: Japanese

The length of Marching Penguins fits the category of a chapter book, although it doesn’t really have chapters and it does have bright, full colour pages of illustrations (although my picture above is one of the black-and-white pages in the snow!).  It’s another great early-chapter book.  The story is about a group of little penguin who march around and visit a different geography in each book (like Japan, the Artic, African savannah, the Amazon, etc).  For each place they visit, it explains more about the country, climate, and wildlife.  I do like this concept.  It makes a child want to keep reading the next book.

Dumpling Series 爱悦读: 小豆包系列 (简体桥梁书)

Number of books in set: 10
Number of pages: 77
Number of lines per page: 4 – 16
Total length of the book: ~5000 words
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1000~1200
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: No, except for several difficult words
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Language of original publication: Chinese

The Dumpling Series has 10 books with a fun storyline about food. Essentially it’s about the adventures of a soup dumpling who goes on adventures in a world of food.  These books were written specifically as graded reading books for elementary students in China.  The pictures are fun, and there is some pinyin assistance for the hardest words.

Silly Wolf Series 笨狼的故事 (簡體,简体书)

Number of books in set: 10
Number of pages: ~130
Number of lines per page: 3 – 16
Total length of the book: ~7000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1000~1200
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: Yes
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Country of original publication: China

This series is written by a famous Chinese author (汤素兰) and is about a clueless wolf who is unstoppable.  Through different adventures, the naïve and silly wolf overcomes challenges through remaining optimised and thinking creativity.  Like most stories originating from China, it has many morals like perseverance,  etc, although it’s written in quite a funny manner.  Thankfully the book text is larger size than most books printed in China. No photos here as this is one we borrowed from the library and returned pretty fast, because it’s beyond our reading level.

Laura’s Star Series 劳拉的星星

Number of books in set: 12  (~6 chapters per book)
Number of pages: 55
Number of lines per page: 2 – 17
Total length of the book: ~5000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1100~1300
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: No
Language of original publication: German

These books are long but the vocabulary isn’t too hard (especially with Luka’s help).  Laura is a little girl who finds a beautiful star, with whom she can confide all of her secret thoughts and feelings.  The pictures are lovely, and for what it’s worth, include shiny metallic stars which my kids find intriguing.

Mi Xiao Quan School Dairies 米小圈上学记

Number of books in set: 12
Number of pages: ~130
Number of lines per page: 2 – 15
Total length of the book: ~6000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1000 ~ 1500
Luka compatible: Yes (the early books)
Pinyin: Yes (the early books)
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Country of original publication: China

These are a really nice set – fun storyline about a boy who goes to school in China and gets up to some humorous things.   The series progresses in difficulty – the first couple of sets have pinyin, and then it stops.  It’s a bit beyond our reading level, but my daughter found it hilarious, so she has continued reading along support by Ximalaya audio recordings. I did a more detailed review of Mi Xiao Quan here.

Les P’tites Poules 不一样的卡梅拉

Number of books in set: 40
Number of pages: 48
Number of lines per page: 2 – 15
Total length of the book: ~4000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1100 ~ 1300
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: Yes, but we have a non-Pinyin version
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Language of original publication: French

Full colour illustrations are really witty, and have great appeal for older children who are not yet ready for black and white chapter-books.  The books follow the adventures of a brave chicken, who gets up to some really crazy things – the storyline is humours, and able to fill a broad range of interests.  My 3 year old enjoys listening to them with Luka, and my 7 year old enjoys reading them independently.  They are long, but engaging.

The Martine Series 玛蒂娜故事书系列

Number of books in set: 10 (abridged) and 60 (full length)
Number of pages in full length books:  ~25
Number of lines per page in full length books: 5 – 20
Total length of full length book:~3000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently:  Abridged books:  800 ~ 100 characters; Original books: 1100~1300
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Language of Original publication: French

The original set is 60 books (5 – 20 lines of text), and the abridged set of ten books (~2 lines of text).  Admittedly the pictures are beautiful (from 1950s) but the story is less interesting.  It follows the daily routine of a little girl called Martine in the French countryside.  We thought we would love these after reading other reviews, but for us it hasn’t been love at first sight.

Butt Detective 屁屁偵探

Number of books in set: 7
Number of pages: 35
Number of lines per page:  3 – 6
Total length of the book: ~1500
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1200 ~ 1400
Luka compatible: Yes
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: No
Original language of publication: Japanese

These are squarely picture books, but have some harder terms, but and kids will find it hilarious.  The name is off putting, but thankfully the rest is quite clean. We devour these.  These are the first mystery detective books which my children have read, and it seems to be a favourite genre.  Butt Detective also print a ‘bridging book’ series (more words, less pictures), but at the moment, it’s only in Traditional Chinese.

See my more detailed review of Butt Detective here.

Nate the Great 消失的画

Number of books in set: 8
Number of pages: 94 (half in English, and half in Chinese)
Number of lines per page: 0 -12
Total length of the book: ~3000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1200 ~ 1400
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: English

This is the classic English series, but in Chinese.  Essentially these are early chapter books.  The set we ordered has English version at the back, and Chinese version at the front, so both stories in one.  It’s a little beyond our reading level, but given it’s another mystery genre, we’re looking forward to getting to it. Photos to come soon!

Princess in Black Series 公主出任務

Number of books in set: 5
Number of pages: 96
Number of lines per page:  0 – 15
Total length of the book:  ~3000 characters
Characters required by child to read it independently: 1100 ~ 1300
Luka compatible: No
Pinyin: No
Available in Singapore NLB: Yes
Original language of publication: English

Comment:  Who says princesses don’t wear black?  The Princess in Black series is the same as the classic English series, but in Chinese.  Essentially these are early chapter books.  Beyond our level, but sitting in our cupboard to read soon. Photos also on the way!

Most of our book recommendations have come from a combination of reviews from other bilingual parenting blogs, mainly Motherly Notes, Guavarama and Hands-on Chinese. Fun.  They’re all awesome resources, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Where to buy good Chinese books?

Our preferred first option is to borrow from the local library.  We always check the Singapore NLB catalogue online for availability, and it’s even possible to request a book prior to going to the library.  But usually once we realise a set really suits us, we buy the rest of it. There are a few good places to go. Some ideas:

In Singapore: Three of the titles listed in this post were generously gifted to us from My Story Treasury (online). My Story Treasury is a lovingly curated collection of Chinese picture story books for kids, and as we know from experience that anything in their collection will be excellent, which is why we’ve bought so many books from there! My blog readers have a 10% discount if you use “LahLahBanana10” at checkout from their store.

There are several other fantastic Chinese children’s bookstores in Singapore.  Buying local is totally the best.  Other local bookstores where these above books have been bought from are Books4Tots, Maha Yuyi, and Little Book Dot.

In Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia & New Zealand:  Some of the Luka compatible titles are available through Luka Reads (online).  If you use “LahLah20Off”, you’ll receive a $20 discount from Luka purchases. Thank you Luka Reads for the kindness of blessing my readers!

In United Kingdom / Europe:  De Ziremi is a new online bookstore for Chinese literature for children.  Their collection is growing daily, and they’re hoping to stock some of the titles in this post.  If you quote “LAHLAHSPECIAL” on checkout, my blog reader will receive 10% off. This is a really kind gesture from the four sister team behind De Ziremi.

Globally: JD.com is an Chinese bookstore which ships globally, including in the US. They stock excellent books at great prices, so if you’re brave enough to order through a Chinese website, you could give it a shot. Taobao.com is another Chinese online marketplace and has a few bookstores through Taobao’s TMall.

Are you still reading?

This has been one LONG post. Thanks for sticking with me! If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. I always keen to hear new book recommendations, especially if they’re not too hard.

Maybe I have written some other posts which might be of interest:

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