Chinese Leveled Readers: Comparison of Graded Books for Kids

Comparison of Chinese Leveled Readers

Leveled reading is a literacy strategy that encourages children to read books that match their reading abilities.  Also known as graded or guided readers, a leveled book series is organized by difficulty level.  Chinese leveled readers begin with simple words and phrases and progress to sentences, paragraphs, and stories.

Over the past few years, my daughter and I have read numerous leveled Chinese books, and I plan to use many of these with my son.  Leveled readers have been immensely helpful for teaching us how to read Chinese.

Many parents have asked for advice on which books to get, and I think the answer depends on the family’s circumstances.  I’ll try to be objective in this overview.

Before kids start using a program to learn Chinese characters, they should first be able speak Chinese consistently. You can also look for signs of readiness to learn Chinese characters.

For details about our personal experience, please read How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker.

Related: Luka Reading Robot is a Game Changer for Bilingual Chinese-English Families

Chinese Leveled Readers - Comparison of graded books for kids

Benefits of using Chinese leveled readers for kids

Leveled readers are effective in helping children and adults learn to read.  The main benefits include:

  • Growing confidence in the ability to read and understand most words on a page
  • Following a system without needing to plan your own curriculum
  • Feeling a sense of accomplishment as the learner progresses to the next book and level

Chinese leveled readers versus Chinese picture books

Leveled readers differ from regular Chinese picture books, which all children should be enjoying with their parents.  If your child doesn’t seem ready to learn Chinese characters, come back to this post later and focus on reading regularly and for fun. When your child is ready to learn to read, you should still continue reading other favorite picture books out loud and listening to Chinese audiobooks.

Leveled readers are designed specifically to target a goal number of Chinese characters by providing the following features:

  • Font: Large and standard KaiTi font for beginner readers; smaller at higher levels
  • Layout: Beginner readers should have comfortable spacing between words and sentences on plain white background, separated from images.  Complex books will have less images, and sentences may begin in the middle of lines or extend to the next page.
  • Length:  Single line per page and progressively increase to multiple lines of text per page to prepare a child for early chapter books.
  • Vocabulary: High-frequency words and phrases with repetition which progress to sentences with proper Chinese grammar and common idioms. Organized leveled readers generally have a goal of teaching a certain number of Chinese characters.
  • Illustrations: Images provide context and can help a child decode and understand new Chinese characters.  Advanced books will have less image support and require more decoding from text.
  • Content: Beginner books have relatable, common topics with simple plots.  Eventually, stories will have plots with a beginning, middle and end and require more interpretation.
  • Audio: Some leveled readers include word-for-word, sentence, and/or story narration through mp3, CDs, or reading pen.

Table comparison of book-based Chinese leveled readers

Although our family has numerous Chinese leveled reading sets, I will highlight the 5 series that have been most beneficial to our family and others. These book-based series require a range from some Chinese proficiency to native fluency. The links below are for each dedicated review, but please keep reading for side-by-side comparisons.

  1. 基础汉字 Sagebooks 500
  2. 我自己会读 Greenfield
  3. 樂樂文化 Le Le Chinese Reading Pen
  4. 四五快读 4, 5, Quick Read
  5. 学前阅读计划 Odonata
Table - Comparison of popular Chinese leveled readers for kids
*SC = simplified Chinese; TC = traditional Chinese; ^Approximate cost $USD in March 2019 excludes shipping and currency exchange rates.  Shipping rates may cost $100+ USD for some series.

Pros and cons are from our perspective as second language learners.

I have excluded other Chinese readers, such as Shapes, Taoshu, Chinese Library Series which lack Chinese character count goals.  However, these books have relatively large font and are great for reading practice.

We have not used popular digital Chinese reading programs such as Little Chinese Readers and Little Fox Chinese. However, these are good options to consider for those who have budget and space constraints and don’t mind screentime.

Comparison photos of Chinese leveled readers

Here are side-by-side photos of the aforementioned Chinese leveled readers. Please look carefully at the layout, content, illustrations, and other features to see which would best suit your family’s needs.

In these photos, you’ll see that Sagebooks and Greenfield teach children to read sentences, 四五快读 and Odonata teach children to read progressively longer narratives, and Le Le falls between these two groups for final difficulty level.

Photos of the first level of each Chinese graded reader

First book of Sagebooks (top) versus Odonata (bottom)

Both begin with single characters and end with simple, repetitive phrases.  Sagebooks introduces stroke order through a large block font and square grid.  Odonata shows stroke order steps in small font at the bottom of the page.

In Sagebooks, Pinyin and English are provided for all characters, while Pinyin is used only for new characters in the Odonata series.

First booklets of Le Le Chinese Series (top) versus Greenfield (bottom)

Both have realistic pencil illustrations (slightly more detailed and clear in Greenfield) and introduce several characters per story.  Greenfield books include tear-out flashcards.

First and last lessons in 四五快读 Book 1

Several characters are introduced simultaneously with more than one line per page.  Sentences overflow into subsequent lines.

Photos of the most advanced level of each Chinese graded reader

Last lesson in the last book of the Sagebooks series

Sagebooks consistently teaches 1 character per lesson with spaced repetition.  At the end of the series, the child should know approximately 500 characters and read 1 sentence per page.

Last book of the Le Le Chinese readers (top 2) versus Greenfield (bottom)

When a child reaches the green (advanced) level of the Le Le series, he or she should be able to read approximately 1000 characters.  Sentences are long and in paragraph form (3-5 lines of text).

After a child completes the Greenfield series, he or she will know about 840 characters and comfortably read 2 lines of text per page.

Last book of 四五快读 (top) and Odonata (bottom)

四五快读 teaches 825 characters while Odonata teaches 1200 characters.  Both of these books prepare children to read long picture books and early chapter books.

Questions to consider before buying leveled readers

  1. What is your family’s budget?
    1. Chinese learning is an expensive endeavor; Sagebooks, Le Le, and Greenfield cost several hundred dollars.
    2. Odonata and 四五快读 are among the least expensive options.
  2. Who will be reading with the child?  What is the fluency level of the caregiver/teacher?
    1. Sagebooks is helpful for non-fluent families due to the English translations and consistent Pinyin support.
    2. Le Le’s reading pen is the best audio option and a must-have for non-fluent families.
    3. Audio options are less important if the parent is fluent and can help the child with any questions.
  3. Which Chinese language is your child learning?
    1. Does your family speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese?  If both, the Greenfield series would be a fantastic option since narration of both languages are included in the CD.
    2. Does your family read simplified and/or traditional Chinese?  Odonata and 四五快读 are the least expensive options.
  4. What other books do you have at home?
    1. Do you have other simple books at home that can provide adequate reading practice?  Do you have time or skills to make your own personal books for reading practice?  Can your child read them independently?
    2. Consider your current options before investing in more leveled readers.
  5. Can your child read other languages?
    1. If your child has learned to read another language, consider their strengths and weaknesses during that process, what types of books they were drawn to, and how much practice they needed before advancing to higher levels.

Please note that it is NOT necessary to have all of these leveled readers, especially if you are a fluent family. Some children will need more practice than others depending on their speaking fluency, comprehension skills, and caregiver support.  No “one-size-fits-all” approach exists.

Which leveled readers should you get?

Most families will need at least one leveled reading program in conjunction with regular story books. Our children’s generation is lucky to have many options for Chinese reading practice!

It depends on language fluency

If you speak fluent Chinese and use simplified Chinese…

Save money and get 学前阅读计划 Odonata and/or 四五快读 4, 5, Quick Read.

If you cannot speak Chinese well or even at all…

Invest in the 樂樂文化 Le Le Chinese Reading Pen.  The reading pen will help speak Chinese and read simplified OR traditional script. These books also function as simple story books.

If you speak both Mandarin and Cantonese

Consider the 我自己会读 Greenfield which has audio narration in both languages.  These books also function as simple story books.

If your child is ready to learn to read…

Consider Sagebooks which teaches one simplified or traditional Chinese character per lesson.

Use 四五快读 4, 5, Quick Read as practice for reading early chapter (bridge) books.

It depends on your budget

Consider learning simplified Chinese since resources in this script are more widely available and affordable.

学前阅读计划 Odonata and/or 四五快读 4, 5, Quick Read are among the least expensive options.

It depends on your child

Every child is different and even siblings might prefer different leveled readers.

Some children will need more reading practice than others and thus, you may need to invest in more leveled readers.

More tips on creating a Chinese learning environment at home

Happy reading, friends!

16 Comments

  1. Hi, i really like your blog. They gave me so much inspiration for teaching Chinese at home. I wonder if you have any recommendations for such books on taobao as we have access to taobao and I’m able to read Chinese.

    1. Hi Michelle! Thank you for taking the time to write! You can find shopping information in every book review. This post is an exception because I was comparing various leveled readers, but if you click on the links to more detailed reviews, you can find popular stores that carry these leveled readers.

      The only leveled readers that we have used from Taobao is 四五快读.

      However, Taobao has a huge variety of Chinese picture books and Chinese bridge books that you can enjoy with your family! The hyperlinked text will take you to reviews of some of our favorite Chinese books for children!

  2. Hello, thank you for writing this review. I was wondering which series you think would be easiest to start with for a non-fluent family like ours. I was specifically thinking about Sagebooks vs the LeLe reading pen (although I’ve been told Sagebooks has been discontinued?!)

  3. Hi Betty – thanks so much for this detail review! It was really helpful to learn more about these Chinese leveled readers since I’ve been hearing more about it and I also hope to teach my son Chinese (he just turned 2!). I was planning on getting the Sagebook when he’s a bit older but after reading this, I’m now considering the Le Le. I can speak basic Mandarin but my reading level have probably deteriorated since I haven’t used it much. Which one do you think would be best? The Le Le pens sounds really useful but I also like learning one character with the strokes from Sagebook so I’m torn :p

    1. Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read, and I’m excited that your family is learning together! I personally think Le Le is much more convenient for the non-literate parent, and it’s also far more engaging than Sagebooks. Even before your child is ready to read Chinese characters, you will be able to get much more long-term use from the Le Le series, including more Chinese speaking practice!

  4. Hello Betty,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts. Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey!
    My husband and I are both non-fluent Mandarin speakers. How would you recommend we approach teaching these readers to our children, since many of the options do not have an English translation on them? Would it be necessary to hire a tutor to translate these books to my children and myself? It is wonderful that the LeLe pen readers can read the books to me, but it would be no benefit if I do not understand what it is saying.

    On one of your other posts, you recommended using italki for finding a tutor. May I ask if the hourly cost covers both your children or is it for just one child only? Thank you again! Your story has been very inspirational! 🙂 Blessings, Sharon

    1. Hi Sharon! Thanks for taking the time to write! Actually the LeLe readers now have English translations available on their website for customers. I need to update this old post! As for the iTalki tutors, the rate is according to time, and you can chose various time increments (eg, 30 min, 45 min, 60min). Please let me know if I can help with anything else!

  5. Hi Betty,
    Thank you for the detailed review on all the above resources. It’s super helpful and very inspiring for our Chinese learning journey! My kids (5, 8) are doing private Chinese tutoring and I am using the 四五快读 to assess their character recognition and review. I want to get a set of leveled readers to help literacy and repetition of character recognition. I can’t decided between Greenfield and LeLe. I myself can read and speak Chinese fluently so just looking for a set of interesting books because my 8 yr old started learning Chinese last year but she’s an advanced English reader. She will probably find beginner books really boring. For reference she can read up to characters in book 3 of 四五快读。My 5 yr old can read up to book 1. Would you recommend LeLe or the I Can Read/I Love to Read series from Greenfield? Thank you!

    1. Hi Sherry! Thanks for reaching out! They’re all great, but I would choose LeLe or Odonata over Greenfield, because they cover more characters. To be honest, all leveled readers might be a bit boring for an advanced English reader! Something more interesting with larger font that both of my kids love is the Shapes series – your 8 year-old might be able to read some of the words in this series. Cute and clever illustrations, big font.

  6. I love your blog and my four year old have benefitted from your review of 巧 虎 and Sage books! Just wondering do you have any recommendations for graded readers after they have learned the first 1200 words? What does your daughter read now that she has finished the Odonata series and the Le le series?

  7. Hi Betty! Thank you for providing such a detailed comparison of the readers. I was wanting to teach my child zhuyin as well. Do you know of any readers that use traditional Chinese and zhuyin? Many thanks!

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