I’ve written a lot on this blog about levelled reading books (or graded readers, or also known as ladder reading in China) for learning literacy in Chinese. Whilst there are plenty of books out there, there are only a handful that have been methodically researched and written in such a way as to systematically enable a child to learn how to read in Chinese. What I look for in levelled reading books are the magic combination of (1) a low enough starting point for a beginner, and then (2) can retain the child’s interest in reading. The newly released series Little Sheep Goes up the Mountain 小羊上山 fits this to a tee!
After a Taobao purchase at a whim, I’ve discovered what is almost our favourite graded reading set of all times, and it’s the cheapest of all our sets too.
Author : Sun Bei Editor-in-Chief
Publisher: Tongqu Publishing Co. Ltd
Country of publication: China
Series name: Little Sheep Goes up the Mountain / Xiaoyang Shangshan Graded Chinese Reader for Children
Characters included: 3000 (however only first 240 are currently published)
Number of books in series: 140 (but only first 40 are printed)
Target age range: 3 to 10 (first books for 3 to 7)
Audio option: available through Luka
English translation: No
Where to buy in Singapore: order Taobao, Shopee, or find at many popular Chinese children’s bookstores
What is 小羊上山 ?
This book set is an excellent choice for any child who is starting learning to read.
Until now, I have found it strange to grasp how rare the concept of graded reading is in China, as graded readers have been around for at least half a century in the English literacy space.
The main author and editor-in-chief of the 小羊上山 series, Mr Sun Bei, has a master’s degree in English and American literature, and for over two decades has promoted parent-child reading, and is the leading expert in China for developing graded Chinese readers. In fact, to my understanding, there is really only one other well known graded reader originating from mainland China, which is the Disney I Will Read series, which is also written and published by the same team and publishing house.
As with English graded readers, this series is designed to progressively add words from 0 up to 3000, and enable children to read independently and have a sense of achieve as they finish the books. The word selection is based on the Mainland Chinese curriculum standards for primary school, with the first three sets covering about the Kindergarten level for Singapore.
Tongqu Publishing Co published their first graded readers (being the Disney I can read series, which was a JV initiative with Disney itself) in 2016. These were heralded as the first-of-their-kind in Mainland China, and are great for a Disney loving child. This set of 小羊上山 Little Sheep Goes Up the Mountain is their second set of books, published in 2020, and is contain a completely original story set and illustrations, which is a welcome change from Disney.
Reading level of 小羊上山
The series consists of 14 levels, with ten books in each. From the Mainland Chinese curriculum, the first 8 levels are considered kindergarten levels, and the final 6 levels are for primary school children in grades 1 to 3 respectively.
The first level of the books (going up to 60 characters) contains a good mix of ~25 nouns, 10 numbers, 10 verbs, 10 adjectives and a few other characters. There are ten books written entirely out of these 60 characters (or less) and they do manage to have interesting storylines, and many will make you laugh too.
|Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
|Number of pages||16||16||16|
|Characters in the level||60||120||180|
|Total words per story||~90||~115||~160|
|Key words used per book||14||30||30|
|Word flash cards per book||6||6||6|
|Approximate school grade Singapore||K1||K2||P1|
|Approximate school grade China||N1||N2||K1|
Level 4 has just been published in 2022, and I don’t have a copy yet! So far, nothing has been published beyond Level 4.
Content of 小羊上山
The themes in this series are diverse, from classic fairy tales, to science stories, and touching life stories. All are entertaining enough, though some catchier than others.
I won’t write too much, as the pictures will speak for themselves. You’ll see the characters are simple and repeatable, and the stories become progressively longer. From Chinese characters to words, from sentence length and pattern, the overall difficulty increases each level.
Each book set comes with a huge wall poster of characters contained
Examples of Level 1 Books
Example story: My children were tickled pink by the below story about a garden bug that likes to jump a lot. The big is eaten by a bird, and then the bird starts jumping. The bird jumps into a cow, and the cow starts jumping too, and finally everyone is jumping!
Examples of Level 3 Books
Note just how varied the illustrations and styles are!
The end of each book re is a certificate for finishing a book and level
At the end of each book is a certificate and cut-out flash cards with the new words introduced at each stage. There is also a fun science fact and a quiz.
- Uses high frequency words, introducing more each book (each set of 10 books covers 60 words)
- Spaced repetition: Within a story, the main characters are repeated several times, for good cognition and recognition of these words
- They books really start at zero reading level, for children who don’t know a single character
- Small and thin (great for a school bag)
- Relevant to your child’s reading level – the stories get incrementally harder each book, but not insurmountably.
- No pinyin
- Interesting and funny stories, with a game and fun fact at the end of each book
- Each book set comes with a word list poster and word cards, to make the character learning visible
- Beautifully illustrated in a variety of styles, with a strong Chinese / Asian theme to most
- Compatible with Luka Reading Robot for audio narration if required
- There is nor English or Pinyin (not necessarily a bad thing): For a family where adults don’t speak English, this would require either use of Luka, or an optical dictionary pen to learn the new characters/words, especially as there is no pinyin
- The set currently doesn’t go beyond level 4 (about Singapore P1, ~240 characters) however there are plans to extend it to 14 levels (~3000 characters, which is P3 for Mainland China but more like Singapore P6 level).
- The font can be on top of pictures, so it’s not always the clearest layout for characters
- Not all the books are as fun or funny as others
How does Little Sheep Goes up the Hill compare to other graded readers?
People often ask me about what are good Chinese graded readers which won’t break the bank (because most sets are a really HUGE investment). I’ve written previously about cheaper options being Odonata and Disney I Will Read Series. My kids read these, but didn’t love them. However, the do really 小羊上山, as do I! I really think it gives the expensive levelled readers like Le Le Chinese a good run for their money in many regards.
I can see many improvements in 小羊上山 versus the original Disney I Can Read Series, specifically:
- Font size is bigger
- Word list makes more sense
- It’s not about Disney
- Contains a poster and flash cards to use to mark progress
- Stories topics, breadth, and illustrations are much more varied
- Lots of Asian content
Without a doubt though, our favourite option for graded readers remains as Le Le Chinese Character Learning System. But given the price tag for this set is also very high, and it can be a bit too short/basic for older children, I’d highly recommend you also look into 小羊上山. For us, the 30 books were less than $1 per book, including shipping, when we ordered direct from China.
If I love Le Le Chinese Learning System so much, why do I keep getting other books? Well, the reason why we use Le Le Chinese AND so many other books is that we read every night, and often much more, so it’s nice to have a broad library of graded books all at similar levels which will interest my children, or can be used depending on the themes we’re studying. They’re also great for school silent reading options. Extensive reading in Chinese is what our family is all about, and having plenty of books (especially cheap ones) enables this.
I have written an earlier post list out many other well regarded Chinese levelled readers, and also what to look out for in a good graded reading series. If you’re looking for other comparisons of graded reading books in Simplified Chinese, this might be a good place to start. I have another post comparison the key character lists used in different graded readers.