Home Library, Learning to Read, Preschool Reads

Chinese Home Library Part V: Finale

This morning Little Man completely out of the blue said “I really like my library mom, thanks for my library.” AWWW. 😊 Allow me to bask in this moment because just a few months ago he flat out refused to read any Chinese books!

Here’s how I organized the ~350 Chinese books and ~150 English books we currently have. We have far fewer English books since there are five awesome all-English libraries within 15 mins of our house.

We used to have just one 3-cube bookcase in his bedroom, mixed English and Chinese books, and completely overflowing. This was a really terrible set up because most of the Chinese books are paperbacks with very thin spines, meaning my son pulled everything off the shelf onto the floor to look for what he wanted. URGHHH!!! Also many books were overlooked because he just didn’t see them.

In our new organization system (that I just put in place yesterday!), the 3-cube bookcase is now entirely for English books in one corner of his room. He also got a nice comfy beanbag chair for Christmas which he loves.

On the other side of his room, I bought an Ikea Billy bookcase and 12 Samla bins for Chinese books. I have it set up like a typical USA classroom library, which is books organized by genre and level, and forward facing as much as possible so that it grabs the child’s attention. Now he can browse books by bin without pulling them all into a giant pile on the floor. WIN.

The bottom two shelves are 绘本 picture books (designed for adults to read to kids) and the top shelf are 桥梁书 readers (designed for kids to read to themselves). I got a 3-shelf bookcase because it’s the perfect height for him at 5 years old. Ideally I would love the picture books in bins facing out too, but… space constraints.

The picture books are generally arranged by height from tallest to shortest. My OCD self really wishes all books were the same size so they can look perfect, but alas. For the readers on the top shelf, they are sort of arranged by reading level from left to right, with Bin 8 being the easiest and Bin 11 the hardest. I think Bin 6 looks a little pathetic being half empty so I am looking to buy some more books to fill it up. 😛

A few people asked me for book recommendations so I’ve listed the books with the following rating scale.

  • R = Recommended
  • Ok = Books that are not the greatest but my kid has somewhat enjoyed and learned something from them
  • TBD = To be determined because we haven’t read them yet. HAHA.

Note: 95% of my books were purchased online from Taobao but I am not able to give you direct links to them as TB sellers sell out of items fast. Also the prices fluctuate quite a bit so search around for the best price. If you are interested in the books, please copy and paste the title in Chinese and enter it into TB search. Alternatively, you can also copy the image and do an image search.

Picture Books:

 

100层的巴士 The Hundred Decker Bus (R)

生气王子 The Angry Prince (R)

我变成一只喷火龙了 I Turned Into a Fire-Breathing Dragon (Ok)

帕拉帕拉山的妖怪 The Monster of Papa Pala Mountain (Ok)

过年啦 Chinese New Year (R)

首先由一个苹果 First There Was An Apple (R)

开车出发系列 Tram series (Ok) – Better suited for 2+

100层的房子系列 100 Story House series (Ok) – Better suited for 3+

Bin 2:

 

你看起来好像很好吃系列 Tyrannosaurus series (R)

青蛙弗洛格系列 Frog series (Ok)

小猪佩琦系列 Peppa Pig series (Ok)

Bin 3:

 

屁屁侦探系列 Butt Detective series (R)

可爱的鼠小弟系列 Little Mouse series (R)

Bin 4 and Bin 5: 

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奇先生妙小姐系列 Mr. Men and Little Miss series (Ok) – Print quality is disappointing

Bin 6:

 

 

 

中国传统节日绘本系列 Chinese Holidays series (R)

上下五千年系列 5000 Year Chinese History series (TBD)

Bin 7:

 

爆笑虫子漫画系列 Larva comics series (Ok)

植物大战僵尸漫画 Plants vs. Zombies series (Ok)

闹闹漫画乐园系列 Nao Nao comics series (Ok)

Bin 8:

我会读系列 I Can Read series (R)

亲爱的小熊系列 Little Bear series (Ok)

笨狼的故事系列 Stupid Wolf series (Ok)

Bin 9:

青蛙和蟾蜍系列 Frog and Toad series (Ok)

我爱阅读 蓝色系列 I Love Reading Blue series (Ok) – Some people like this but I don’t. I ended up selling them.

Bin 10:

我爱阅读 黄色系列 I Love Reading Yellow series (Ok) – Some people like this but I don’t. I ended up selling them.

阅读123系列 Reading 123 series (R)

Bin 11: 

成语故事系列 Idiom stories series (NR)

十万个为什么系列 10,000 Why series (NR)

And finally… here is a bookcase in the basement that I refer to as my “dumping ground”. This is an old bookcase that I use to store books that are either too advanced or outgrown or books that are crap. We have a lot of books like Dr. Seuss and Elephant and Piggie that my son used to love but rarely touches anymore. So they get sent to this dumping ground for a year or so before they are purged. HAHA.

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Read the rest of my Chinese Home Library blog posts:

A special THANK YOU to Guavarama for her Building a (Traditional Chinese) Chinese Library posts. They are so informative and I refer back to them frequently.

Questions? Feel free to contact me via Facebook or Instagram

Learning to Read

How many characters should my child know?

I admit I’m a little bit obsessed with numbers. Must be an occupational hazard of being an educator because I feel a NEED to know reading levels. What level my son is at. What level he should be. How he compares to kids in Singapore and China.

#tigermom

Here’s what I’ve found so far in my research:

Anyway I’m really glad I did all that googling because I found out that kids in China know A LOT more characters than their Taiwanese counterparts in the early years. I assume that eventually in middle and high school they end up the same, knowing about 3500 to 4000 characters.

Kids in Taiwan use zhuyin (bopomofo) to aid reading from preschool all the way to about 4th grade. (Read Mandarin Mama’s informative article about this) Not so for pinyin. In China pinyin is used only for a very short period in 1st-2nd grade. There is a stronger emphasis on character acquisition and I read that kids learn 7 characters a day!

Traditional Chinese books, from picture books (e.g. Mr. Men) to beginning readers (e.g. Elephant & Piggie, Little Bear) to chapter books (Reading 123, Magic Tree House, Roald Dahl) are all accompanied by zhuyin.

In contrast, the same Simplified Chinese books DO NOT have pinyin. A quick browse on Taobao will show you that only 1st-2nd grade books like 笨狼的故事 and 米小圈 come with pinyin. Picture books? No pinyin. Early readers? No pinyin. Anything beyond 2nd grade? No pinyin! 😬

I guess what this tells me is… if I want my child reading Simplified Chinese books, he’s going to need to know A LOT of characters. Heck of a lot. Otherwise he will find himself unable to read the books he’d be interested in (age wise) at the elementary level.

My #tigermomgoal is to get my son to the level that is around Singapore Higher Chinese and maybe a little bit more. Because can I really expect my American child to compare to China/Taiwan children who eat and breathe Chinese every waking moment of every day? NOPE. Singapore Higher Chinese, for English/Chinese bilingual children, is a much more realistic and attainable goal.

FYI I’m from Singapore and took regular Chinese, not Higher Chinese. I think that Higher Chinese at the secondary level is much more rigorous than primary level but I have not found that data yet.

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Learning to Read, Pinyin

Pinyin Part I: Learning Phonemes

I had not planned on teaching Little Man pinyin since I want to focus on characters, and he can already read it pretty well due to similarities with English. However, I changed my mind because:

  • He needs serious help with his tones. Because Little Man joined the Chinese game late at 4.5 years old, his tone perception is often erroneous. This not only affects his pronunciation but also causes a lot of confusion during our reading lessons with 四五快读. Just yesterday we were learning “喊” and he exclaimed “汉字家园!”. Me: No this is 喊 hǎn not 汉 hàn! 😣
  • Pinyin and characters are complementary. He has surprised me a few times by recognizing characters that he has never been taught. Pinyin helped him independently learn characters from books!

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I’m not too worried about him relying too much on pinyin as most of our Chinese books, including 四五快读, are characters only.

Our main task for pinyin is learning the four tones as well as the sounds that differ from English. Most of the consonants are similar to English except for j, q, x, zh, z, c, s, y, w. The vowels however are completely different. We start with the basic six: a, o, e, i, u, ü and will slowly learn the diphthongs (e.g. ei) and triphthongs (e.g. uai).

I’m approaching pinyin the same way as I taught him to read in English. In English we learned letter-sounds easily by watching Leapfrog Letter Factory. For pinyin we are using the Youtube videos below.

We started with this one to learn consonants and six basic vowels:

Followed by this playlist. I really like this playlist as they cover the tones well, show the mouth position, and it’s broken down into bite-sized lessons. Each lesson is only 5-7 minutes long and covers 2-4 sounds. Very manageable.

  • Lesson 1: a, o, e
  • Lesson 2: i, u, ü
  • Lesson 3: b, p, m, f
  • Lesson 4: d, t, n, l
  • Lesson 5: g, k, h
  • Lesson 6: j, q, x
  • Lesson 7: z, c, s
  • Lesson 8: zh, ch, sh, r
  • Lesson 9: y, w
  • Lesson 10: ai, ei, ui
  • Lesson 11: ao, ou, iu
  • Lesson 12: ie, üe, er
  • Lesson 13: an, en
  • Lesson 14: in, un, ün
  • Lesson 15: ang, eng
  • Lesson 16: ing, ong

We are currently on Lesson 5. Every day we do a quick 5-minute review using our pinyin magnetic tiles (printable below) or I write the letters on a piece of paper and see if he can name them. We move on to a new lesson when I feel he’s mastered the previous sounds. So far everything is smooth sailing, but I’m sure we’ll have to spend a lot more time on Lessons 10-16 which are confusing even for me. I still have a hard time distinguishing in/ing.

These magnet tiles are inspired by Montessori and All About Spelling. They follow Montessori colors, red for consonants and blue for vowels. This makes it easy to see that most Mandarin words have the CV (consonant-vowel) structure. The tiles are about 1-inch in size, similar to All About Spelling tiles. I arranged the tiles in the order that pinyin is usually arranged, which is not alphabetical. Pinyin is arranged according to which part of the mouth you use to say that sound (e.g. bpmf with lips, dtnl with tongue tip, gkh with back of tongue).

This is a REALLY EASY DIY. Just print out the tiles on cardstock, laminate, cut, and stick magnets on the back. I used Lakeshore magnet dots because I already have them, but you can easily find magnet tape or sheets at any craft or office supply store.

magnet

If you’re feeling lazy and don’t feel like DIY, there’s also different versions you can buy on Taobao. (If you don’t know how to buy from TB then read my how-to guide here.)

Little Man enjoys playing with the magnet tiles and tries to make words and sentences. One of the first things he spelled was “wo ai ni”. My sweet boy. 😘

There are many ways to use the tiles, such as:

  • Have the child find the sound you name
  • See if the child can name the sounds
  • Teach blending, e.g. b + u = bu
  • Count the number of sounds in a word, e.g. bu has 2 sounds, jiao has 3 sounds.
  • Distinguish real words vs. nonsense words (e.g. tue, fiong)
  • Make new words by changing the consonant (bo, po, mo), changing the vowel (ba, bi, bu) or changing the tone (bā, bá, bǎ, bà)
  • Write characters using dry erase markers and have the child sound out

And many more! Have fun. 😀

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Learning to Read, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读:Organization Tips 

When we first started《四五快读》(description here) I kept misplacing our flash cards and it was a frustrating and time-wasting endeavor every day. 😖 Seriously, it sucks to dig through piles of little cards to find the ones you need.

Anyhow I figured out a system to stay organized. I got these supplies from Dollar Tree during back-to-school shopping in August:

#1. Zippered pencil pouches

I got six of these 3-ring pencil pouches, one for each 四五快读 book (there are 8 books but only the first 6 books come with flash cards).

All nicely labeled and stored in a 1.5-inch binder:


#2. Accordion card holder

All the flash cards we are currently learning go in this index card holder. We start our lesson by reviewing flash cards from previous days, and I move them backwards by one sleeve pocket every day. New words for the day are placed in the front.

The flash cards keep moving backwards until they are mastered (around 6-8 days), at which point I take them out and put them on the word wall (#4 below). 

#3. Working Tray

Our current book and everything we need go into this tray. We usually do our reading lessons in the dining room, but sometimes in his bedroom or basement school room, so this tray makes it easy to grab and go. We do flash cards and a few pages of the book every day.

#4. Pocket Chart

I put all the words that he has mastered on the wall in our “homeschool” area. We don’t review these daily, just whenever the chart gets full, which is about every two weeks. I then have him read all the words, and the ones that he remembers (80-90%) are taken off and put into permanent storage.

The ones that he forgot stay on the chart until the next time we review again.

Materials needed:

  • 6 zippered pencil pouches
  • 1 binder
  • 1 accordion card holder
  • 1 tray
  • 1 wall pocket chart

Total cost: $10

With this system in place, we have a nice rotation of learning new words and reviewing previous words until they go in his long-term memory. I really like these basic 四五快读 flash cards as they train him to recognize characters for what they are instead of using pinyin, pictorial, or context clues.

Generally he retains characters pretty well, but I’ve noticed lately that the more he learns (right now about 250 characters), the more interference and confusion there is. For example, he used to know 宝 (Book 1) really well until he learned 玉 (Book 3), and now he names 宝 as 玉. Anyhow I think this is a normal phase of learning and it will eventually work itself out.

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Curriculum Review, Learning to Read, Reviews, Si Wu Kuai Du 四五快读

Curriculum Comparison: 《四五快读》vs. 《基础汉字500》Sagebooks

There are two highly popular curriculum out there for parents to teach their child to read Chinese. In this post I will do a comparison of《四五快读》and《基础汉字500》, also known as Sagebooks or Basic Chinese 500, to help you decide which to get!

Disclaimer: I do not have personal experience using Sagebooks, just my extensive internet research and browsing them at the bookstore.

First, what are they?

They are curriculum designed for the child to learn the most commonly used Chinese characters, by the end of which they should be able to read simple reader books by themselves.

《四五快读》covers more characters at 552 (in the first six books) and 800+ by the eighth book compared to Sagebooks which has 500 exactly. Some parents buy both and use them concurrently, but I think one is sufficient. The characters covered are largely the same.

Cost Comparison:

The total cost for《四五快读》is ~$25, as compared to Sagebooks which cost at least $200-300. A huge price difference!

The other thing I really like about 《四五》is that you just buy one nice complete set of 8 books. Everything is included. Bam.

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In contrast, Sagebooks has 5 levels and 5 books per level, for a total of 25 books. At Popular bookstore in Singapore, they sell each book individually and a few books were not available. Meaning you have to run to several stores or buy from several sellers on Carousell to collate all 25 books. 😣 In addition, the parent guide is found separately on the website, and flash cards have to be purchased or you have to make your own.

chinese_readers__ji_chu_han_zi_basic_chinese_readers_500_very_popular_series_1507083662_4d0029a4

Alternatively, the complete set of books can be purchased online from the HK publisher for a whopping $243 USD, not including shipping. 😱

Teaching Style:

The primary difference between these two is the teaching style. 《四五快读》is more “textbook style”, and the child learns to read characters, phrases, sentences, and short stories (sample lesson shown below).

I really like that it teaches different 造词 combinations for each character. My son has learned a lot of new vocabulary like 大学生,小学生 which I don’t think he would otherwise encounter.

After the child reads each sentence, he points to the picture that matches what he read. A great way to check for comprehension!


Flash cards for the characters are included in the back of each book to cut out. Very convenient. There’s multiple of each character so you can make your own sentences.

I ❤️️ these reading charts which are found every few lessons. The intensive practice really helps my son differentiate similar looking characters like 白,日,目.


As the books progress, the font size gets smaller and smaller, pictures get fewer and fewer, and story gets longer and longer. I love this! It has really helped build up my son’s confidence and reading ability. Overall, I find 《四五快读》very similar to the book I used to teach my son to read in English. This is the main reason why I chose it, because I already know this method works for us.

Sagebooks on the other hand teaches through a “storybook style”. Every lesson introduces a new character and you read a story that has many repetitions of that character as well as previously taught characters. It is like the Chinese equivalent of Bob Books or Dick & Jane books.

set_of_basic_chinese_500__500__level_4_1454208686_6e7e2944

As you can see, each page has a picture and the sentence in characters, pinyin and English. I’m pretty sure my English-dominant son would rely on the pinyin, resulting in me not knowing if he is reading pinyin or characters.

Target Audience:

As the name suggests, 《四五快读》is ideally suited for 4-5 year olds. I think it would be okay for a 3-year-old who has strong Chinese background. The author actually taught her daughter to read 1000 characters before she turned 3!

《四五》was designed for Mainland China parents to teach monolingual Chinese children, however I am using it successfully to teach my American-beginning-Chinese-learner to read. So I would say that it is ok for use with children even if their Chinese is not strong, BUT the parent’s Chinese must be strong! This is because the parent guide is 30 whole pages in Chinese! 😂


This parent guide is a must read and full of important information. Please do not use 《四五》without reading the parent guide first. It would be akin to trying to build complicated furniture without reading the instructions.

I don’t know if there is an official recommended age for Sagebooks, but most parents also use it around 4-5 years old or slightly younger. There seems to be consensus that 3-5 years is the optimal age to teach Chinese reading.

Sagebooks seem to be designed for bilingual children and bilingual parents, because both the books and parent guide are Chinese-English. It is better suited for parents with limited Chinese proficiency.

Time Commitment:

Similar for both. It takes about 15 minutes practice a day, 5-18 months to complete, depending on child’s age, temperament, and how diligent you are!

In summary…

I do not think one is better than the other; there is no one-size-fits-all. If you are consistent with practice, I’m pretty sure either of these curriculum will succeed in creating a reader.

For me, I like things 1) affordable, 2) organized, 3) simple black-and-white, 4) focused on characters only, 5) pedagogy and research based, so needless to say I went with 《四五快读》and LOVE IT. ❤️

Have you used either of these? Share your experience in the comments!

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