At Mandarin Homeschool, we have read a lot of Chinese readers. I like to divide our Chinese books into two categories: reading for interest, and reading to learn how to read. That’s when Chinese levelled readers come into play. One that we have thoroughly enjoyed that manages to do both are these early Chinese readers 幼儿首1200字 by Malaysian publisher Odonata.
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What’s good about these readers?
- simple progression of new Chinese vocabulary
- cute pictures and adorably endearing characters
- engaging storyline
- Chinese characters only for the sentences
- pinyin aid is only at the bottom of each page for new Chinese vocabulary*
There are five levels within this series coded by colour:
- 100 Chinese Characters (Yellow)
- 200 Chinese Characters (Green)
- 300-400 Chinese Characters (Blue)
- 500-800 Chinese Characters (Pink)
- 900-1200 Chinese Characters (Purple)
The readers are designed to build progressively onto previously learnt words, so you have to read them in the exact sequence. In each series, you have 8 story books that target the most commonly used Chinese characters.
While they are grouped as “hundred words”, it really is an approximation. For instance the “First 100 Chinese Characters” teaches 103 words, while the “500-800 Chinese characters” covers 414-812 commonly used Chinese words.
We read it on the Wawayaya JoyReader Pro app, and you can see from the sample pages of all five series in the images below.
*a note about pinyin: while it is important for children to learn pinyin at some stage of their Chinese learning. I find that introducing it too early in books can create an over-reliance on reading pinyin, instead of reading the Chinese characters. Which should be the main focus in any Chinese readers.
Where we read the Odonata Chinese Readers
We read it on the Wawayaya JoyReader Pro app, and these are screenshots from it. Wawayaya JoyReader Pro App is a Chinese digital library of Chinese readers that is widely used in Singapore primary schools. You can read the full description of the app in this blog post.
In addition to the readers, on the Wawayaya JoyReader Pro App, there are conversational stories for each level from Odonata that complements each Chinese reader level. Parents are meant to read the back story, to give context for the characters’ conversational statements. Please see the images below for sample pages for Series 3 (Blue) for these conversational books.
Simplified Chinese and pinyin
Progressive Teaching of Chinese Characters in the Odonata Chinese Readers
As you can see from the images below, at the first level, there are only 12 words in the first book. However by the time your child reaches the fourth series, there are 50 new words within one book. That is a lot of new Chinese vocabulary in one tiny book!!
Generally, I don’t speed through any reader series from beginning to the end. Instead, I have my children read other Chinese readers of a similar level to ensure that they are getting enough repetition and learning the Chinese words sufficiently. It’s not a reading race! I prefer them to really understand the Chinese characters than to read for the sake of finishing.
Read on for other Chinese readers we use and recommend.
Our Progress on the Odonata Chinese Levelled Readers
We have been using the Odonata Chinese Levelled Readers since April 2022, which is when it was first made available on the Wawayaya JoyReader Pro App. 4 months in, Xiao Bao (4.5YO) has just finished the green level (200+ words), Er Bao (6YO) is on the blue level (300+ words) and Da Bao (7.5YO) is on the pink level.
Odonata Chinese Pre-Readers
Prior to using the Chinese Levelled Readers, we had used the pre-readers 幼儿学句型Learn Sentences Series to good effect when my children were younger. As the title suggests, it targets the basic Chinese sentence structure, so each little reader uses the same sentence throughout the entire book. You can read all about this series in this blog post, and I recommend this for very young Chinese readers aged 2 to 4.
Odonata Readers Old vs New
Please know that the Odonata Readers in this review is based on the older pre-2020 version. In 2020, Odonata publishing house has updated the readers. Owlissimo has a detailed blog post comparison between the two versions which I will refer you to. As far as I can tell, the newer books are very similar in its learning structure.
Quick Comparison between Sage Book Basic Chinese 500 and Odonata Readers
These 2 Chinese Levelled Readers are very popular with Mandarin Chinese homeschoolers and for good reason! Sage Books come highly recommended by Chinese homeschoolers/educator bloggers such as Chalk Academy, Guavamama, and MandarinMama, and Odonata has received good reviews from Chalk Academy
(and yours truly!).
Having used both, frankly, I prefer the Odonata Readers to Sage Books. The graphics are cuter, the characters are more relatable and the storyline is more engaging, and funny! One of the pink levelled readers was about a little girl who was upset and pouting “嘟嘴巴”, the kids thought it was the funniest thing ever and was pouting any chance they get for the next week. It was slightly harder to get my children interested.
My biggest criticism with Sage Books has always been the (slightly weird) graphics and random storyline. You can read the full review on the pros and cons of the Sage Book Chinese Levelled Readers. I also personally don’t like pinyin aid in Chinese books, as I find that my children will read the pinyin instead of reading the Chinese characters. I really want the focus of their reading to be on the Chinese characters. This is the main reason why I prefer the Odonata Chinese Levelled Readers.
I find Sage Books to be more suitable for younger Chinese readers because of the frequent and constant repetition of new Chinese characters in the first and second level. Having the pinyin is also more helpful for parents who are non-native Mandarin Chinese speakers.
Where to purchase
You can purchase physical copies from the Odonata website, Owlissimo website or bookstores in Malaysia and Singapore. These readers are widely used in Singapore and Malaysian schools. Alternatively the digital versions are available on the Wawayaya JoyReader Pro App.
Each set is approximately MYR$44(AUD$14/USD$10), so the entire set will set you back MYR$220(AUD$70/UD$50) and they ship worldwide. Expect to pay the same price in books for shipping… To make full use of these readers, you can also get the textbooks, workbooks, flashcards, audio CDs, and writing exercises.
🧐 Have you read these Odonata Chinese Levelled Readers before? Or do you have any others that you recommend? Please leave a note to let me know!