Home Library, Preschool Reads

Chinese Home Library Part II: How to Choose Books

In my last post I shared about all the dumb mistakes I made buying Chinese books. This time around I was determined to do a better job by planning several months ahead of our Singapore trip.


Have a sufficiently large home library to build Little Man’s language and reading skills for the next two years. He is chronologically 5 years 1 month old but his comprehension level is lower than his age. Thus, my goal is to build a Chinese library appropriate for 4-7 years old.

Step 1: Extensive research

I started by reading hundreds of book reviews on Guavarama, Mandarin Mama, Parenting Joy, Growing Hearts 123, Chalk Academy, etc. as well as reviews on Taobao, Dangdang, and Amazon China. THANK YOU 😘 to these bloggers who shared their kids’ favorite books. I found Guavarama’s Building a Chinese Library for the Kids series particularly helpful, although I’m not always able to find 简体 simplified versions of the books she recommends.

Since I work at an immersion school and know many Taiwanese/Chinese native speakers, I shamelessly peppered them with questions about what they read as kids, what they read to their kids, what kinds of books are popular, etc. A Taiwanese friend told me she loved a set of Chinese history books called 《吴姐姐讲历史故事》, and she recalls her mother telling her many 成语典故 (idiom stories). Holy cow! 😱 It completely blew my mind that kids in Taiwan read 5000-year-Chinese-history and chengyu for fun. img_0400I did not actually buy this set because it’s a gazillion pages of Chinese text and way too hard (for me). 😛 I did however get a set of 《上下五千年》history for young kids that has more illustrations and pinyin!

Step 2: Narrow it down

After all my research, I had a more comprehensive understanding of Chinese books available out there. The next step involved finding the best fit for my son. Obviously, every child’s interests, preferences, and Chinese proficiency is different so I can’t just blanket buy all books that other parents recommend.

What I know about my son:

  • Likes funny and action stories
  • Likes book/CD sets
  • Likes cute, cartoony illustrations (Seriously this is one of the most important factors for him. He does not touch books that have realistic illustrations)
  • Does not like non-fiction
  • Does not like stories about nature and animals
  • Does not like books he has already read in English
  • His favorite English books are Captain Underpants, Wayside School, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, which all involve naughty children and wild storylines

Since I have just one child, the entire library can be tailored to his preferences and to an extent my own. My primary goal at this point is to hook him in and get him interested in Chinese, even if all he reads is junk. At some point we may venture into actually good literature. 😉

Step 3: Make a preliminarily list

I envision my home library as similar to a 1st grade classroom library in a typical US school, consisting of picture books and readers, organized by reading level and subject. Type A dream:

Class 9
Picture from First Grade Made

Little Man is making steady progress in reading, and I expect that in the next couple years he will be able to read easy readers (1 sentence per page), and mid-level readers (a few sentences per page). I also wanted some short chapter books that I can read to him.

I thought I should include some non-fiction books even though neither of us like them. A library wouldn’t be complete without some non-fiction books right?

My preliminary list looked like this:

Step 4: Solicit feedback

I posted the above list on FB and Instagram and received lots of helpful comments, such as Tintin is too hard for a 5 y.o., as well as other recommendations like 《屁屁侦探》(Butt Detective 😂) which I knew would be right up my son’s alley.

Based on the feedback I received, I crossed half the items off my original list! Back to the drawing board. 

Step 5: And… buy them. 

This is what my final list looked like:

But yet more changes occurred. I really wanted to get 40 yellow 我爱阅读 readers but it was out of stock and only the first 20 were available. 😣 I also changed my mind and decided to get Usborne non-fiction books instead of National Geographic. I figured the lift-the-flaps would at least get him flipping through the pages rather than ignore non-fiction altogether.

I finally bit the bullet and placed this order:


The total cost came under budget at $340 USD for 259 books, or $1.31 per book. I can’t wait to get them and really hope they will meet our reading needs for the next two years. I will slowly review these books as we read them.

Wondering how I purchased them at such a low price? Click here for Part III of my Chinese home library series!

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Home Library, Preschool Reads

Chinese Home Library Part I: What Not To Do 

Earlier this year I read an excellent book on bilingual language acquisition. The author stressed how important it is to build a home library with 500 books.


At that point, our home consisted of maybe 3 Chinese books. Hence began a frenzy of Chinese book acquisition of 100+ books, most of which I regret buying.

In this post I will share what I’ve learned about buying books for my angmohkia (AKA. westernized child who is dominant in and prefers English). Save yourself hundreds of dollars 💵 from NOT buying these books. You’re welcome.

Mistake #1: “Good character” books

A large percentage of Chinese books are about how to be a good kid and have good manners. If your child is used to English books with funny and exciting adventures he will not like these. Because BORING.

Seriously why are there so many of these… 🙄

Mistake #2: Books that are written for children in China 🇨🇳 

Can you say culture shock? My boy was horrified that animals and people get beaten and DIE in these books. Up until then I did not realize that all English books have happy endings and nobody ever dies. 😬

Seriously though, culture in China and USA are polar opposites. My son does not relate to Chinese books that are too… Chinese.

Mistake #3: Books that are too childish

My son is currently 5 years old with the Chinese comprehension of a 3 year old. I cleverly (or so I thought) sourced out books like Dr. Seuss and Elmer Elephant that are at his level of comprehension so he can understand them.

BIG MISTAKE. My son outgrew these toddler books years ago has zero interest in reading them.

Note: The books shown below are actually pretty good. They are just not developmentally appropriate or interesting to a 5 y.o.

Mistake #4: Books by non-professional authors 

Most English books are by renowned authors and illustrators, and you can be assured that they are of a certain caliber otherwise they wouldn’t be published. Not so for Chinese. There are many Chinese publishers that will publish works by any random person. I don’t think you can even call them authors.

Quality control??

Mistake #5: Novelty books 

Books these days come with a lot of bells and whistles. Toys, push buttons, projector, magic pen… you name it. While they do capture the child’s interest at the start, the novelty wears off really quick!

For the $20 I spent on this fancy schmancy book, I could’ve bought four quality hardcover picture books. Not worth it IMO. 😣

So there you have it. This is part I of a series of posts I will share about building our library at home. 敬请期待! To be continued…

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