This post is a review of Odonata Graded readers (红蜻蜓学前阅读计划), which are a well written series for learning 1200 Chinese characters. The books are a nice quality, with clear layout, large font, and no HYPY. Importantly, these books will not break the bank (unlike some other famous levelled readers, which are quite an investment).
What is Odonata Books?
Odonata Books is a Malaysian publishing company who (among other things) have produced 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划 Odonata Chinese Levelled Reading Series. This is a set of books which progressively go from 100 words to 1200 characters, and builds vocabulary through stories. The first 24 books in the series revolve around two children – Ming Ming and Li Li -and their adventures, which each book containing a small set of Simplified Chinese characters, used in various contexts. It’s equivalent to something like the English Peter & Jane series to start out with in Sets 1 & 2, but then becomes rapidly more complex, into more like an “I Can Read” or “Read It Yourself” simple story for Sets 3 and beyond.
There are 5 separate series, and each series has 8 books. After finishing all the 5 series, children are exposed to 1200 words (40 books in total). It has no pinyin, but it does have an audio CD option and also compatible with Luka for audio.
Unlike many other popular levelled readers (such as either Sage 500 or Le Le), Odonata also comes with its own supporting workbook and flashcards, making is a wholistic curriculum for character learning. For this reason, the Odonata Books curriculum is a mainstay of many kindergartens in Malaysia. In fact, I have it on good account that some of the fancier preschools in Singapore actually use Odonata as their base curriculum too (shhhh!).
What’s great about Odonata Chinese Levelled Reading Series?
- Minimal pinyin – in fact, there’s almost none, apart from the pages where new characters are introduced. I like this, as it really helps to avoid dependence on the pinyin, and encourages children to really read the text
- Big clear font: no overlapping text and pictures
- Holistic curriculum – can be supplemented with writing books, additional stories, and flash cards (at minimal extra cost)
- Introduces new characters systematically: each new character comes with Chinese pinyin and stroke order, and a graphical clue, to assist both the child and parent. The new character lists are also displayed on the front page of each book, so can be used for other reinforcement through games.
- Value for money: It’s relatively cheaper than Le Le and Sage 500, and the books/sets can be purchased individually, so it doesn’t mean a massive upfront investment. It’s also possible to jump-in at the level which best suits your child.
- Compact: the books are paperback, thin and easy to store.
- Luka Compatible – for families who need the audio support, the first 4 sets can be used with Luka.
- Only the first four sets have audio: Set 5 (900 – 1200 characters) has neither audio CD nor Luka audio options. That said, with an iFlyTek Alpha Egg or Youdao Dictionary Pen, you’ll be able to read these effortlessly too.
- Not as much repetition as Sage 500: the unique selling point of Sage books are the amount of repetition that a small child can get through reading the stories, with only on new character introduced per chapter. This is not the same with Odonata…. But our solution for my youngest is to simply read the same book several times over.
- I’m not sure graded readers really need to on this far: getting up to 1200 characters is quite easy for the parent, to just keep passing the child the next book in the series, but I would suggest that at about the 800 word mark (Set 4), it would be a good idea to start broadening the reading into other materials as well, such as some simple bridging books.
What are the different Odonata Chinese Levelled Reading series:
Stage 1: First 100 Words: 8 story books that are written using only 100 characters. Each page has a short sentence.
Stage 2: First 200 words: again divided into 8 story books, systematically introducing new characters to get up to 216 words. Each page still contains 2 – 3 sentences.
Stage 3: First 400 words: the next 8 books jump quite fast from 217 to 423 common characters. The stories are longer, but the plot around Ming Ming and Li Li remains.
Stage 4: First 800 words: this is where the learning gets accelerated, with the next 8 books covering 424 to 812 common words. The stories are no longer restricted to Ming Ming and Li Li.
Stage 5: Final 1200 words: the first four books go from 812 – 1000 characters, covering the Ming Ming and Li Li adventure. The final four books go from 1000 to 1210 words, and introduce new short stories, consisting of full pages of text. It’s a final step to encourage a child to be comfortable with larger passages.
What supporting material do the Odonata Graded Readers come with?
Workbooks: 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划作业 – 幼儿学写字/华语 Odonata Graded Learning Workbooks are specifically designed to complement the readers, by mirroring the vocabulary, with written activities (character grids, character recognition activities, etc). Whilst I love the concept of these, There are two workbooks for each level, being 学写字一上 (Learn to write) and 学华语一下 (Learn Mandarin). The first is for handwriting practice of new characters that are learnt in the readers. The later has activities like fill in the blanks, reading exercises, and suggested classroom activities. I’d recommend they’re only truly valuable for use under the guidance of a Chinese speaking adult. If that’s not you, perhaps these could be used as materials with a home tutor or a friend, to support the independent reading at home.
Short stories: Odonata Graded Learning Short Stories: essentially these are just more stories, covering in greater detail the characters used in the readers. These are not Luka compatible, and the layout is more designed for an adult to read alongside a child, so it has large size font (for the child) and smaller font (for the adult). I think it would be quite fun, for an adult who can read Chinese. The intention is to consolidate knowledge of the new words, and encourage parents to read stories with their children.
Flashcards: 红蜻蜓学前阅读计划字卡 Odonata Graded Learning Flash Cards: covering 600 most common characters from the readers
Audio option: in the form of CDs or Luka
Free online Quizlet sets available for each book: a fun online Odonata quiz game to pair with the books, which is made freely available from a Malaysian Chinese school
How does it compare to other graded readers?
Our family has accumulated quite a collection of 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. I wrote an earlier blog post with quick comparison of eight well known Chinese levelled reading series (including Sage, Le Le, 四五快读, etc) noting which ones we have enjoyed the most. The earlier post contains some photographs, to help in your journey of finding appropriate books for beginning readers.
For a quick summary of how Odonata Readers compare to the other famous series:
- Sage 500: Odonata Books concept it really similar to Sage 500, in that is introduces characters systematically in order, but instead of one at a time, it does about 10 – 15 characters at a time. This means the stories actually have more of a sensical storyline, and are less repetitive than Sage Chinese 500 (which can be verging on boring for an older child). Sets 1 to 3 of Odonata essentially cover a similar wordset to Sage 500.
- Le Le Chinese: The entertainment value of the Odonata storylines is on-par with Le Le Chinese, so they’re interesting to read, but with slightly longer sentences than Le Le. Towards the final series in Odonata, the pages have many sentences on them, whereas Le Le books still stay relatively short throughout. My kids feel a sense of satisfaction with Le Le, because they can finish a few books in one sitting by themselves, even the hardest level books (at about 1200 character knowledge). In comparison, the hardest end of the Odonata books (also 1200 characters) is something that needs to be taken in small chunks each day, perhaps even only 1 or 2 pages.
Choosing the right series differs a lot by your own competency in reading Chinese, and also whether this is the only syllabus being used, or you simply want to use the books as stories to support a love of literacy. The image below has an (overly simplified…) summary of the main options:
The other readers we have used and would recommend considering (depending on circumstances!) are listed below with links to more detail:
- 基础汉字 Sagebooks 500 (up to 500 characters)
- 樂樂文化 Le Le Chinese (up to 1300 characters)
- 迪士尼我会自己读第 Disney I can Read graded readers (up to 2000 characters)
- 洪恩识字 iHuman Shizi Readers (up to 1300 characters)
Why did we do Le Le and Sage before Odonata Chinese?
It was circumstance, rather than design.
As a mother who cannot read Chinese, I am constrained to books which had an audio option. Odonata Books has this now, but it’s only a recent development. When I was first on the pursuit for graded readers with my eldest, I really appreciated that Le Le Chinese comes with a reading pen, which can slowly and (fairly) accurately pronounce each of the characters, and gets us up to about 1300 characters. Sage 500 was also a good initial option for my second daughter, because it was relatively simple enough for my elder daughter to assist my toddler with, as it didn’t go beyond 500 characters.
Odonata just never seemed to be doable for a non-Chinese speaking mother ……. That was, until this year, when it became compatible with Luka Reading Robot. And hence, we have given it a go, and been pleasantly surprised! It’s actually been nice for my #2 and #3 to read Odonata alongside their Sage 500 journey, and they complement each other nicely (Sage gives the repetition, and Odonata gives the more interesting stories). However, if I had my time again, we might just run with Odonata, since it’s SO much cheaper than investing in Sage 500 and also goes up to 1200 characters, which is well beyond Sage.
The key thing with investing in a graded 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!
Where to buy?
In Singapore, it retails from many places. Our set came from Luka Reads. I’ve made a list of all our favourite places in Singapore to buy Chinese books for children in my earlier post:
Specifically for Odonata series, you can find them:
- Singapore: Luka Reads, Shoppee, Maya Yuyi [My blog readers can enjoy a 10% discount on books from Luka Reads, using using “lahlah10offbooks” at check out]
- Malaysia: Odonatabooks.com (the publisher)
- UK: Deziremi [If you quote promo code “LAHLAHSPECIAL” on checkout, my blog readers will receive 10% off]
I would love to hear from you!
Please let me know any questions of comments you might have. I’d love to help you if I can. That’s the reason this blog exists – it’s a passion project, designed to assist other parents like myself in navigating the bilingual Chinese learning journey (and ideally not to spend too much money in the process!).
Other posts I have written which might be of interest:
- Top apps, books and gadgets for raising bilingual Chinese-English children
- Is reaching Chinese fluency a realistic goal for families non-native families?
- What to read after your child has learnt their first 1000 characters?
Disclaimer: Our Odonata set was kindly gifted to us from Luka Reads in Singapore. Of all our graded readers, this is the only set which we haven’t purchased ourselves at full price. We’re grateful to the Luka Reads team for introducing this book to us, and encouraging us to give it a try, despite already having a plethora of existing levelled readers at our place. All the opinions shared are genuine, and I hope this review has been helpful for your family.