8 years old, Bilingual Journey, Bridge Books, Character Writing, Chinese Resources, Home Library

Using Boox E-Ink Tablet for Chinese Learning

Two years ago my friend organized a group buy for Onyx Boox e-ink tablets. I recommend you read her post since it covers basically everything you need to know. I resisted jumping on the bandwagon as I did not feel my son was ready for e-reading at 6 yo.

Fast forward two years. I decided to take the plunge and got a 10.3″ Boox Note Air (released in October 2020) for $479.

What changed my mind? The main reason is that Little Man has been e-reading in English since last summer using a Kobo Clara and now does most of his English reading electronically. This has saved me tons of money (since we borrow books for free from our library), space, time, and convenience not having to make library runs anymore.

Second, his Chinese reading has improved to the point where I think he can read picture-less books fairly soon. He is on the Reading 456 series which has a b/w picture every 10+ pages.

Third, although we LOVE our Kobos (one for each member of our family) for English, the 6″ screen is far too small to display Chinese if you want to use a zhuyin or pinyin font. See my example below. Using the zhuyin font, you end up with only 3 sentences per page, which means you have to keep turning the page. Annoying.

Finally, since Covid hit we’ve had more time at home and started practicing Chinese writing (something I previously said we would not do! Yup I will eat my words). I would like to practice writing without having to print out a ton of paper, hence an e-writing tablet.

Why an E-ink Tablet?

Probably some people are wondering why get an e-ink tablet when you can get a much more powerful iPad for the same price. For me, the main benefits are 1) e-ink is less straining on the eyes, and 2) fewer distractions. It is black and white and doesn’t display videos, social media, games well and hence it will be only for learning purposes.

Using Boox for Writing

Reasons why I am planning to move most of our writing needs to Boox:

  1. You can download a lot of PDF workbooks for free on the internet. Currently we are practicing writing basic 500 characters using the worksheets my friend shared for free on Motherly Notes FB group.
  2. For the workbooks we bought, I used VFlat and Adobe Scan apps to quickly scan them into PDF. It takes me about 10-15 mins to scan each workbook using VFlat. You may be wondering why bother to scan when I already own the workbooks. The main benefits are being able to do the pages several times, particularly for things like Chinese character writing practice. If you have multiple children you don’t have to buy multiple copies. Also most workbook pages do not lay flat which is super annoying and difficult for kids to write neatly. The completely flat surface on Boox makes it easier to write without the book spine getting in the way.
  3. Not having to lug heavy, bulky books around when traveling! The picture below should illustrate this!! It’s nice to have a bank of fun games and activities like Sudoku, word search, mazes… to keep busy in the car, waiting room etc.
  4. Use it as a notepad to write, scribble, draw. There’s different types of paper like lined, blank, 田字格 (square grid) for Chinese characters.
Which would you rather bring on vacation? 😉

It took me a few days to figure out this writing thing. The first time we tried Chinese character writing I realized the in-built square grid paper was far too small for my son so I found a PDF I liked better online and copied-pasted the file into Boox. So now the paper size is perfect.

Practicing character writing using the Notes function

I also copied-pasted several PDF files into Boox from my computer using the cable that was provided. I know there’s some wireless ways to transfer and sync files but so far I have not figured this out!!! To be determined…

Reading Apps

Gosh this took me HOURS AND HOURS of research and trial and error. I downloaded and deleted tons of apps before I finally figured out what works for me.

I don’t like having a lot of apps. I just want to keep things simple which means as few apps as I possibly can. This is not an issue for English books as 99% of the books I want can be found on the Libby app. This app is also FREE as I borrow books using my library cards (US and National Library Singapore).

My son also uses Epic and RAZ Kids at school but so far I have not downloaded these apps on Boox. Like I said, I am of the opinion that less is more. Oftentimes when kids have too many choices they just end up browsing around and can’t settle on anything.

Chinese books on the other hand… is far more complicated. You could try to go the route of downloading free ebooks from the internet. DO NOT RECOMMEND. When I tried downloading free Harry Potter books there were tons of broken links and phishing or X-rated websites. And when I finally found some links to download, I found that the versions of HP were not the official versions. The words did not match up with the physical HP books that I owned, so likely they were just translated by people on the internet and not professional translators.

So yes, I gave up on that. I would rather pay for an official ebook than to spend hours downloading a free unofficial (and probably unauthorized) version.

Long story short, my preferred apps for Chinese ebooks are JD Reads (Simplified) and HyRead 3 (Traditional). JD Reads is the electronic version of JD which is where I buy all my paper Simplified Chinese books. The reason I like JD Reads is because has fairly good selection of children’s books and has a pretty good text-to-speech function. The ebooks are not too expensive, e.g. the whole Harry Potter series is about $25 USD. It’s sooo nice not to have to pay for shipping.

Using text-to-speech function to read aloud Harry Potter book 1

Boox comes already pre-installed with JD Reads on it BUT only if you set the device language to Chinese. I noticed that when I set the device language to English, the bookstore only has English books. When the device language is Chinese, the bookstore is JD Reads with Simplified Chinese books. So far I have not figured out a way to have the device language be English and the bookstore be Chinese!

HyRead 3… this is an app from Taiwan. It has a good selection of children’s books such as Doraemon comics, Reading 123, Reading 456. Unfortunately most of these books are in PDF format and hence cannot be read aloud by text-to-speech function. Also in PDF the font is not as clear and font size cannot be adjusted! The positive of HyRead 3 is you can borrow ebooks for free by signing up for a free Taipei Library account. There is a limit of six books per month though.

Reading a book on Hyread app

A big negative about e-reading in Chinese is… only a small percentage of books available electronically. I don’t know why this is. In English you can find virtually any book in ebook format but not so in Chinese. Of our three favorite publishers 親子天下,康軒,三采, only 親子天下 has ebooks. So I would say that e-reading is Chinese still has a long way to go…. Hopefully they will expand their selection with time.

I also looked at the Kindle app for Chinese books but I am not a fan. The selection of Chinese ebooks in the US store is quite limited. There is a much larger selection in the China store but then you need a separate account and I find it too complicated to log in and out of two different Amazon accounts from two countries.

Final Thoughts

Well we have only had it for two weeks so I guess it’s too early for me to tell it’s long term benefit. We use it daily for various forms of writing, and tried some reading on it when we were on vacation last week. I really love that it is multi-functional and we can do all of our subjects (English, Math, Chinese, etc..) on it and was the only thing we had to carry with us while traveling. There are some minor negatives like Boox is quite heavy compared to Kobo, battery life doesn’t last as long (needs to be charged about twice a week). And there’s a learning curve for me to figure out how to use the various functions.

Free activity books (PDF) downloaded from internet

I am really hoping that starting next year (3rd grade) we can do most of our Chinese reading electronically and I can finally stop spending $$$$ on books and breaking my back lugging heavy boxes back from Asia… Fingers crossed!

6 years old, Bridge Books, Kinder Reads

Chinese Home Library 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Starting off this year with an update on our Chinese Home Library since there’s been massive changes since my last post about it. Our library actually changes quite frequently. Every couple months or so I do a purge and get rid of books that are either outgrown or we don’t like. Life is too short to read crappy books, right?

I estimate that we have about 500 Chinese books in “circulation” at our home library, which is modest compared to others I know, but we’ve barely even read one-third of it!

The factors to consider when building your library is considering your personality, child’s personality, age, Chinese level, budget, space, time, etc. Do what works for you and don’t succumb to peer pressure to buy what you don’t like or need. 😉

Little Man is 6 years old and all our books are for around 5-7 years old, or kindergarten to first grade. Personally I don’t like to buy too far in advance because his interests change rapidly.

Where to buy Chinese books:

90% of my books are Simplified which I buy from Taobao (China) directly. For Traditional books, I buy box sets from Gloria’s Bookstore (USA) and singletons from 博客來 (Taiwan). Generally I stick to Simplified (which is what I grew up with and most comfortable) unless there is a series I really love that is only available in Traditional then I get them in Traditional.

Copy and paste the book names below into the bookstores’ search engines and you will be able to find the links.

What to buy:

My tip for people just starting to build their home library is: buy famous, well-known sets. Well-known books have better storylines, better quality paper, and good resale value. Stay clear from obscure authors and obscure sets – they can be really bizarre or awful quality!

I have included the Traditional Chinese names for them in parenthesis if available. I also linked to book reviews by the awesome Julie @ Motherly Notes. Big thanks for her hard work and time! I always watch her videos to determine if it’s a set I’ll like or not.

How to Organize:

You can see that I organized my stuff into three main categories: Picture Books, Pinyin Books, Bridge Books. Aside from being the most logical way to sort them, it is also because books in the same category tend to be of similar size. For example, all the bridge books are small and narrow and fit well on the rotating bookcase. They are then organized by height from tallest to shortest, and following that, they are organized by color in rainbow order.

And without further ado… I present to you our January 2019 inventory! 

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Pinyin Series (left to right):

  • 流利阅读 注音版 Set of 4
  • 蜗牛典藏屋 童话故事 Set of 4
  • 老师没说的为什么 Set of 8
  • 米小圈上学记 一年级 Set of 4
  • 小屁孩上学记 一年级 Set of 6
  • 台湾大奖好性格童话故事 Set of 8 (小兵快樂讀本)
  • 罗尔德达尔 注音版 Set of 5 (Roald Dahl)
  • 笨狼的故事 Set of 8
  • 趣味漫画名著:西游记
  • 中国传统节日故事绘本 Set of 10
  • 好宝宝健康成长儿童绘本 Set of 4

Comics (left to right):

  • 紅豆綠豆碰
  • 米小圈 成语漫画
  • 植物大战僵尸 爆笑漫画
  • 闹闹漫画乐园 Set of 5

Picture Books:

You can see our favorite picture books in this blog post. Other picture books I love are 壳斗村 and 蜡笔小黑 (pictured below), 3D 西游记 pop-up book, and 奇先生妙小姐 Mr. Men series.

Bridge Books (3000-7000 characters):

Section 1:

  • 阅读123 第一辑 第二辑 Set of 21 (閱讀123, Reading 123)

Section 2:

Section 3:

  • 中文识字典
  • 儿童财商教育绘本 Set of 10

Section 4:

Section 5:

Section 6:

Section 7:

Section 8:

  • 怪杰佐罗力 Set of 5 (怪傑佐羅力, Zorori)
  • 小妖怪系列 Set of 6

Others:

I have some other sets scattered around the house but I’m too lazy to take pictures of them. 😛 I also update our book display pretty often with holiday-related books or books that I want to “promote” to him. His current interests are Chinese legends and 米小圈.

Questions? Comments? You can follow our updates on Facebook or Instagram.

5.5 years old, 6 years old, Bridge Books, Learning to Read, Preschool Reads

List of Simplified Chinese Bridge Books

Because I’m borderline OCD, I attempted to organize all my bridge book sets by level to incrementally scaffold Little Man’s reading level.

Little Man finished 四五快读 a month ago and we are slowly making headway into reading real books. We are starting with simple picture books to boost his confidence. Because most simplified books have NO PINYIN, there are new characters for him to learn even in the most basic books.

Most picture books are not ideal for beginners due to the small font and distracting background. As such I’m planning to move him into bridge book territory soon due to larger font size and clear black print on white background. (Refer to my post here about differences between readers, picture books and bridge)

Note:

  • I have not read most of them yet so cannot comment on whether they are good or not.
  • They are organized by length of book and difficulty of content. A lot of the bridge books from Taiwan/China have cultural elements that are difficult for my American son to understand.
  • Most of them were purchased from Taobao (read: How to Buy Chinese Books from Taobao), with the exception of Odonata from Malaysia.
  • I use a 3-step process to guide my son’s reading:
    • Step 1. I read the book to him and explain all the unknown vocabulary to him a few days prior to having him read it. This familiarizes him with the story thereby making it much easier for him to read.
    • Step 2. He reads it.
    • Step 3. He reads it again the next day. I always have him read the same book two days in a row. The second time he is always much faster, fluent and reinforces the new characters.

This is a very tentative list! I will update as we go through it. For your reference, he currently knows about 800 characters and reads pinyin 90% accurately.

Summer Reading List 2018

🇯🇵可爱的鼠小弟 (Set of 22, picture books) 5/30/18

🇫🇷 超人兔 (Set of 7, picture books) 6/6/18

🇨🇳 我会读 (Set of 8, readers w/ pinyin) 6/12/18

🇲🇾 Odonata Preschool Readers (Set of 48, readers) 8/19/18

🇺🇸 亲爱的小熊 (Set of 5, bridge) 6/22/18

🇹🇼 聪明孩子安全有绝招 (Set of 12, bridge) 7/4/18

🇺🇸 青蛙和蟾蜍 (Set of 4, bridge) 7/13/18

🇹🇼 乐读123 (Set of 18, bridge w/ pinyin) 8/17/18

🇯🇵 黄色小水桶 (Set of 5, bridge) 8/27/18

Reading List 2018-2019

Update 8/27/18: We completed all the books on our summer reading list – YAY! Little Man currently knows 1000+ characters and reads pinyin fluently. I decided to omit pinyin books from our reading list as he can read them on his own. We will continue to read non-pinyin books together for him to learn new characters.

Due to limited time on weekdays, I plan to have my son read short stories (~1500 characters) on weekdays and longer stories (3000-5000 characters) on weekends. Some of the Reading 123 series has several short stories/chapters per book so I’m putting it in the short story category.

Little Man is quite confident in his reading and has been making decisions on what he wants to read next, e.g. he expressed interest in reading 亮亮 even though it’s in Traditional text. I am happy to follow his lead. I will update this list as we go through it so you get an idea of reading levels and progression.

Short Stories

🇹🇼 亮亮的成長 (Set of 25, picture books, 繁體)

🇨🇳 小豆包,第一辑 (Set of 5, bridge)

🇹🇼 阅读123,第一辑 (Set of 10, bridge)

🇹🇼 字的童话 (Set of 7, short story collection)

Long Stories

🇹🇼 无奇不有魔法学校 (Set of 12, bridge)

🇯🇵 小妖怪 (Set of 6, bridge)

🇯🇵 谁在摇铃铛 (Set of 4, bridge)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第三辑 Raccoon (Set of 5, bridge)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第二辑 Refrigerator (Set of 5, bridge)

🇯🇵 启发童话小巴士,第四辑 Witch (Set of 5, bridge)

Questions? Contact me on Facebook or Instagram.