Sagebooks Teach Children How to Read Chinese Review

Sagebooks Chinese leveled readers teaches 500 Chinese characters

Despite being illiterate in Chinese, I surprised myself by teaching my children how to read Chinese. This dream was accelerated with the help of Sagebooks Sage Formula Beginner 500《基础汉字500》.

One of my children finished Sagebooks at age three and quickly became a voracious reader of Chinese chapter books. My other child (and myself!) took a little longer to learn how to read Chinese, but Sagebooks was helpful for us, too.

Although my wallet was reluctant about splurging on this Chinese curriculum, in hindsight, it was worth trying. In this review of Sagebooks, I’ll share the pros and cons to consider to help you consider whether or not it’s right for your family.

Review of Sagebooks Chinese for Kids Beginner 500《基础汉字500》

Review of Sagebooks Chinese for Kids Beginner 500《基础汉字500》

  • ISBN:
    • Simplified Chinese with pinyin and English 基礎漢字500 简体版 – 9789888239726
    • Traditional Chinese with pinyin and English 基礎漢字500 体版 – 9789888239733
  • Author: Lucia L. Lau
  • Publisher: Sagebooks HK

This post was originally written on November 25, 2017, and has since been updated with new information. I have no affiliation with Sagebooks. We purchased the full set of the simplified Chinese edition, and I do not earn a commission by sharing this honest review.

Overview of Sage Formula Basic Chinese 500 《基础汉字500》

The Sagebooks curriculum teaches commonly used 500 Chinese characters.  The books are color-coded into five sets:

  • Blue = Beginning Reader
  • Green = Budding Reader
  • Orange = Building Reader
  • Pink = Confident Reader
  • Red = Fluent Reader

Each set has five books with 20 lessons per book (5 x 5 x 20 = 500 Chinese words).

3-year-old daughter tracing Chinese characters in Sagebooks

When should kids use leveled readers like Sagebooks?

Leveled Readers are books for children with a good foundation in Chinese speaking and ready to learn Chinese characters.

The age range will vary depending on the child’s spoken fluency, print awareness, and attention span. Some children are ready to read Chinese at age 3. My children knew dozens of Chinese characters before starting Sagebooks and thus felt confident with the initial levels. Other children will be ready at older ages, and I found the series helpful in my 30s!

For advice on when your child might be ready to read, please refer to “When and How to Teach Chinese Characters to Kids?

Sagebooks are not designed for babies and young toddlers who would benefit from stories with realistic images rather than cartoons. Also, these books should not replace regular picture books that parents should read daily with children.

Picture books have an intriguing plot. They expand vocabulary and grammar beyond routine conversation and encourage families to bond over books.

See the “Chinese Books We Love” section of my website for recommended Chinese picture books for kids.

Chinese characters Chinese character 高山, toilet paper rolls on stepstools, DIY mini golf game
Months before my son officially began to read, he learned the Chinese characters in Sagebooks 高山 through play.

Why do we recommend Sagebooks 500 《基础汉字500?

Here’s what we liked about the Sagebooks 500 Chinese learning curriculum.

Focus on Chinese characters

In contrast to other curricula that first teach radicals or phonics (eg, Pinyin, Zhuyin), this series teaches Chinese characters only.

Spaced repetition

  • Each lesson focuses on one new Chinese character and begins with an enlarged character showing stroke order.
  • The new character appears several times within a lesson
  • Subsequent lessons build on earlier lessons

Context

Except for the first lesson, new words are always introduced with earlier words so that children learn how to read phrases and sentences immediately. Reading each new word multiple times in different contexts helps kids memorize Chinese characters.

Chinese characters in large font

The Chinese characters are in large font, while the Hanyu Pinyin and English are in small font. As a result, the characters are the main focus.

However, children or adults who can fluently read English may still find the Pinyin distracting. Covering the supplemental text with paper might be necessary.

Simple illustrations

Cartoons serve as contextual prompts for new words, but their simplicity keeps the focus on the characters. Initially, the pictures may seem random, but 老大 quickly noticed that the same family, friends, mountains, and animals are present throughout the series. Also, 老大 noticed that all females have pink ovals on their cheeks while all males have swirls!

Related: Greenfield Chinese Books for Learning Mandarin and Cantonese

Sagebooks Chinese Leveled Reading Books for Children

What about Sagebooks Treasure Box Books?

Sagebooks sells accompanying reading practice books for each level. These are listed on their website as “Treasure Box Set”. Many parents strongly recommend these extra books.

For example, my friend Diana mentioned that since she works full time and doesn’t have time to prepare activities, these books were great for her son to review and boost his confidence.

We decided not to get them due to cost. We also have other short Chinese picture books for fun reading practice.

Potential downsides

Cartoon illustrations

I was surprised that the author, a Montessori teacher, chose cartoons for illustrations. Realistic illustrations are more educational and support new Chinese words better than abstract cartoons. This is especially true for young children.

But honestly, the pictures are so bad that they are kind of great!! Haha!! My kids discovered little quirks, and a few of the strange gems include:

  • 他 (he/him) always referred to all people (e.g., 小明 cartoon) and animals swirls on their cheeks. 她 (she/her) consistently refers to people and animals with ovals.
  • Some of the pages feature colorful triangles next to the male characters. We guessed that it was supposed to mean that boys are loud and strong, even though girls can be loud and strong, too!!!
  • For unclear reasons, many people in the book do not wear pants.

No plot

The lack of a storyline may be painfully boring for some children. My first kid didn’t mind, but my second child was less intrigued.

Cost

The full set is very expensive.

Related: 四五快读 Chinese Curriculum Review From an American Family

Photos inside Sage Formula Basic 500 基础汉字500》

Watch the video below to preview the first book (traditional Chinese version).

Here are pictures of the simplified Chinese books we used:

Sagebooks Chinese leveled readers for kids

Personal experiences with Sage Formula Basic 500《基础汉字500》

Read How I Taught My Child 1000 Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker for full details and tips on my Chinese teaching methods.

Sample “lesson” with Sagebooks

Our Sagebooks reading sessions would generally follow this order:

  • Flip through the “big characters” from the last few lessons to see which words were remembered.
  • When we saw a Chinese character that my child was unsure of, we would review the chapter.
  • One of my children loved to start a new chapter by tracing the big Chinese character with her fingers. Meanwhile, my other child had no interest. Sometimes, I would model tracing Chinese stroke order. Often, we would skip right to the sentences.
  • If my child knew most of the words in the chapter, we kept moving on.

Key takeaways

After using Sagebooks with my children and hearing from countless parents in the Chalk Academy community, here are my key takeaways:

  1. The best age to start varies for each kid, including siblings. Some kids are ready to read later than others.
  2. Some kids can finish the books in a few months; others take a few years. Every child learns at their own pace.
  3. If your child seems intimidated or overwhelmed by Sagebooks, consider starting later and building a base of ~50 common Chinese characters through other activities.
  4. Planning a few hands-on Chinese activities is fun to get kids interested before, during, and after using Sagebooks.
  5. It’s okay to take breaks with the Sagebooks Chinese curriculum. My children hit plateaus of various durations. This is common for many families.
  6. When you have other Chinese picture books at home, reading Sagebooks will probably be far less exciting. Your kids would probably prefer to read books about cars, animals, or whatever interests them. That’s okay! Follow your child’s lead, and keep reading great stories together.

Sagebooks flashcards

  • Quizlet has online Sagebooks flashcards with traditional Chinese characters and Zhuyin.
  • Physical flashcards can be ordered from the Sagesbooks HK online shop.

Sagebooks Worksheets

Guavarama has many printable supplemental materials for Sagebooks.  These include a Chinese characters hundred board, a heteronym reference sheet, and Skritter characters lists.

Chinese Leveled Readers - Comparison of graded books for kids

How does Sagebooks compare to other beginner readers?

Please see Chinese Leveled Readers: Comparison of Graded Books for Kids for a detailed side-by-side comparison of major Chinese leveled readers.

Where to buy Sagebooks 500《基础汉字500》

You can buy the full Sagebooks Chinese curriculum at the following locations. Please contact the stores to inquire about international shipping.

Does your family or school use the Sagebooks Chinese curriculum?

How was the experience for your family? Were you able to complete the curriculum, or did you use another Chinese leveled reading system? Please share in the comments below! We’d love to learn about your experience.

Fun ways to teach kids Chinese language

38 Comments

  1. Hi Betty, great stuff and an inspiration to parents wanting to teach their children Mandarin. Just wondering, I am hoping to download your simplified chinese flashcards but just could not find them. Are you able to direct me in the right direction?
    Thanks heaps,
    Karren

    1. Hi Karren! Thanks for reaching out. I do not work for Sagebooks, but the simplified Chinese Sagebooks flashcards are available at their online shop here.

  2. Thank you for all your great insight on sage books. I’m interested in purchasing a used set if possible but don’t know where to go to post my interest. Would you have any feedback on this? Also, is there an audio recording for each book and if so, is it fairly user friendly?

    Thanks!

  3. Hi may I know when can i buy the full set , which is in the simplified Chinese version? The hk one is the traditional version.

    1. Hello! These books are available in simplified Chinese from the Sagebooks website listed in the post. In the Sagebooks online shop, there is a drop-down menu where you can choose your desired language.

  4. Thank you for this! Is the link for the flash cards in simplified Chinese supposedly going to the HK Sage website? I am looking for your [simplified] flash cards instead of the Sage ones. Thank you!

  5. Hi Betty! I found your website recently and have been so inspired to work on my Chinese and try to teach my two little ones! What are your thoughts on teaching traditional vs simplified Chinese to kids? When you started out with the sagebooks series, what prompted you to purchase the simplified Chinese version verses the traditional one?

  6. Hi,

    May I ask if you know anything about the Readers book?

    Just wondering if I should get this on top of the flash cards and the basic 500 sagebooks I just ordered today.

    1. Hi Jenny, We don’t have them as we have a lot of other books, but I’ve heard from many parents that the Treasure Box books are great for reading practice and building confidence. Hope that helps!

      1. Thank you !! Sorry one last question, do your worksheets work in the same order of appearance of the Chinese characters in the Sagebooks? I just ordered everything last night and I just discovered all these wonderful additional resources like these worksheets. I am like you β€” I am an ABC, illiterate and I am hoping to teach my child Chinese haha.

  7. Hi! We are so inspired by all that you are doing, and very much appreciate the detailed review. Do you know if the coupon codes are available? We are wanting to purchase the set of 5 and they sure are pricey! Thanks so much!

    1. I am interested in promo codes as well. Thanks!

  8. Hi Betty,

    When you used Sagebooks with your daughter, did you move onto the next book only when she had mastered all the characters in the previous book?

    Thanks!

  9. Thanks for this review (and the one comparing leveled readers). You mentioned your daughter was confident with the initial levels because she knew around 100 characters already – is there a list of the first 100 characters that can help set a child up for success? Either a well-known one or one you used? (I’m looking ahead to next year since we will most likely be moving and may not have access to weekend school. Leveled readers seem like a possibility since we’re big fans of books around here.)

  10. Sing Your Wang says:

    Thank you for your guidance and for the beautiful flashcards you made, which is exactly what we needed and more suitable for us than the ones from SagebooksHK. We really needed your help!

  11. Thank you for the review! If anyone out there has the Sagebooks 500 SC and are wanting to sell them we are interested in buying!

  12. Thanks for sharing. Your review is a one of the reasons why I ended up purchasing the SageBooks.

    1. Hi Stephanie! I’m glad to hear the review was helpful! We are going through them with my second child now! Hope it goes well for your family, too!

  13. Annette W says:

    I tried all links. All sites are showing sold out.

    1. Hi Annette! I asked Gloria’s bookstore and the owner said “I plan to have them pre-ordered in Nov and arrive usa in Dec. If they would like to wait, i could open for back order.” You may want to email the other stores to see when they plan to restock. In the meantime, you may want to check out other Chinese leveled readers which are more readily available. Hope you are able to get the books you need soon!

  14. Annette W says:

    Did the publisher stop publishing these books? Popular does not have any stock and so are other sites. Just wish I could find the books whether they are new or used.

    1. Hi Annette! Thanks for your question. I heard from another parent that Popular in Singapore has stopped carrying Sagebooks, but Sagebooks is still available on their website. I suggest shopping directly from the Sagebooks link listed under “Where to Buy” in the post.

  15. Nadia Roringpandey says:

    Hi Betty, thank you so much for the review. Your articles really help me a lot, since I am raising a multilingual daughter and I am not fluent in Chinese at all. Just a quick question on sage book, if it says traditional Chinese, does that means cantonese? cause I am currently looking for a book that can taught my daughter Cantonese. Thank you again!

  16. Wow this is so helpful! thanks for posting such a detailed review and reflection on Sagebooks. I’ve heard many parents talk about Sagebooks on the bilingual FaceBook group but it’s confusing just hearing people talk about it and not having many visuals. Their website isn’t much better. When I’m going to dish out that much money to buy something, I want to know what’s inside. All that to say thank you for taking time posting this!

    1. Hi Sunny! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I really appreciate it! I also have found it difficult to shop for most Chinese books since online stores generally show tiny photos for the cover and no photos of the inside! So glad to hear that my photos were helpful, I’ll try to keep sharing more reviews! πŸ™‚

  17. Did you end up purchasing the treasure boxes or skipping them since they are in TC? I am currently debating what to do.

    1. At that time, there was an online version of the SC treasure boxes. I only bought the first set. However, we used it only once since I try to minimize screen-time. So I wrote a lot of my own stories to give her reading practice for the early sets. Sometimes it would just be a few lines on our easel for practice with certain words repeated. I heard that they might be coming out with SC treasure boxes soon though.

  18. Hi Betty, I don’t see the link to the link we can use to input the promo code. Did you take it off this post? Thank you!

    1. Hi Vivian! Yes, I removed the code from the post as Sagebooks decided to end the sale early. Sorry for any inconvenience πŸ™

  19. Thank you for posting the review and the promo code for a discount. May I ask what is Sage Formula – TC? Is this the treasure chest? How does it differ from or supplement the Basic Chinese 500 set? Many thanks again!

    1. Hi Janine! TC = traditional Chinese. I think it’s the treasure box set since that’s the only other option on the sale website. I don’t have it since they don’t have ones for simplified Chinese, but Mandarin Mama & GuavaRama have good reviews on the treasure box set. Hope that helps!

  20. Thank you so much for this review! REALLY helpful. The Sagebooks website doesn’t seem to have a place to enter the Promo Codes – do you know anything about this? I have reached out to Sagebooks directly, but not received a response from them yet. Any tips are greatly appreciated – thanks again!

    1. Hi Becky!! I’m glad you found the review helpful, thank you for reading! Sorry for the confusion – Sagebooks has 2 different websites – one where you can use the code (click on the first “CLICK HERE” link at the end of the post). The code doesn’t work on their regular website. I just edited my post so that hopefully it is more clear!! Please let me know if I can help in any other way! <3

      1. Awesome, I got it to work. Thank you!!

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