Three years ago, despite being illiterate in Chinese, I taught 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) how to read Chinese. This dream was jump-started with the help of Sagebooks Sage Formula Beginner 500《基础汉字500》.
6-year-old 老大 has since progressed to reading Chinese chapter books independently, and now 3-year-old 老二 (lǎo èr / second child) is learning Chinese characters with Sagebooks!
Review of Sagebooks Chinese for Kids Beginner 500《基础汉字500》
- 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 繁体版 – 9789888239733
Author: Lucia L. Lau
Publisher: Sagebooks HK
This post was originally written on November 25, 2017 and last updated on February 27, 2020 to reflect new information.
I was gifted a new set of Sagebooks 500 from Sagebooks as a thank you for providing a testimonial excerpted from my original review. We have not used the new books, and there was no expectation for a new review or social media shares. All opinions here are honest reflections of my family’s personal experience.
Contents of this review:
- Overview of Sagebooks
- When should kids use Chinese leveled readers?
- Why we recommend Sagebooks 500《基础汉字500》
- Mandarin and Cantonese Audio
- Downsides to consider
- Photo samples of Sagebooks
- How my 2 kids and I used Sagebooks
- Sagebooks Flashcards
- Sagebooks Worksheets
- Comparison with other Chinese leveled readers
1. Overview of Sage Formula Basic Chinese 500 《基础汉字500》
The Sagebooks curriculum teaches the most commonly used 500 Chinese characters. The books are color-coded into 5 sets:
- Blue = Beginning Reader
- Green = Budding Reader
- Orange = Building Reader
- Pink = Confident Reader
- Red = Fluent Reader
Each set has 5 books with 20 lessons per book (5 x 5 x 20 = 500 Chinese words).
2. When should kids use leveled readers like Sagebooks?
Leveled Readers are books for children who have a good foundation in Chinese speaking and are ready to read Chinese characters.
The age range will vary depending on the child’s spoken fluency, print awareness, and attention span.
Some children, including my own, 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.
These books should not replace regular picture books that parents should read everyday with children.
Picture books have an intriguing plot and give parents the chance to model good reading habits. They also expand vocabulary and grammar beyond routine conversation and encourage families to bond over books.
3. Why do we recommend Sagebooks 500《基础汉字500》?
Whole word method
In contrast to other curricula that first teach radicals or phonics (eg, Pinyin, Zhuyin), this series teaches each character as its own component
Retention occurs naturally while the reader gains confidence from practicing familiar words in various sentences:
- Each lesson focuses on 1 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
Except for the first lesson, new words are always introduced with earlier words so that children are learning how to read phrases and sentences immediately.
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.
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, mountain, 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!
4. Mandarin and Cantonese Audio
- Read-along app:
- Web-based audio: Registration is required for audio recordings on their website.
- You can preview Sagebooks on their YouTube channel.
5. Downsides to consider
I was surprised that the author, a Montessori teacher, chose cartoons for illustrations.
Realistic illustrations are more educational and support the text better than abstract cartoons, especially for young children.
Lack of storyline
The stories may be boring for older children, but this was not a problem for my toddler.
The set is very expensive.
Why is Chinese learning so expensive? My parents would not have been able to afford this series during my childhood.
6. Photos inside Sage Formula Basic 500《基础汉字500》
Take a look at the video below to preview the first book (traditional Chinese version).
Here are pictures of the simplified Chinese books we used:
7. My family’s experience with Sage Formula Basic 500《基础汉字500》
Please read How I Taught My Child 1000+ Chinese Characters as a Non-Fluent Speaker for full details and tips on my Chinese teaching methods.
Learning with and teaching 老大
Time period: March 2017-July 2017 with a several week break
老大 knew a little over 100 basic Chinese characters before starting Sagebooks through various hands-on activities.
At that time, I could only read Pinyin, so I would read the Pinyin while she memorized the Chinese characters.
We read 1-2x per day for a few minutes before her nap and again at bedtime.
At the start of each lesson, we traced the new character with our fingers following stroke order. Then, we would take turns reading each page.
I’m so glad that we bought the whole set because 老大 was very motivated to progress to “the next color”.
She would peek at the pictures and be curious to learn about the next stories.
Everyday, she read the books in the bathroom and car, and we completed the 4th book (pink confident reader) after about 3 months.
However, we had to take a break before the 5th book (red fluent reader) when she hit an anti-reading phase.
During this time, we focused on hands-on Chinese activities to rekindle her interest. After a few weeks, we got back into our reading groove and finished the last set.
Sagebooks recommends that most children should not rush and would benefit from 1 lesson per day, thereby completing the series within 18 months.
Although my 老大 had finished the series rather fast, she retained almost all characters and continues to read fluently!
Time period: November 2019 to present
On the other hand, 老二 knew about 50 Chinese characters when he showed interest in Sagebooks.
Compared to his sister, the pace is more relaxed as he read Sagebooks much less often and does fewer reading crafts and activities.
If he’s in the mood, we will read Sagebooks at bedtime. I introduce the new character, and he reads the sentences on his own unless he forgets a Chinese character.
Some days, he flies through lessons, and other days, we review only 1 lesson.
As he has the benefit of having hundreds more Chinese picture books to choose from at home, he is generally not interested in reading Sagebooks at other times of the day.
He would much rather read books about cars and animals!
I’m not worried about sticking to a strict schedule as I know that he is still getting exposed to Chinese characters through reading other books, environmental print, and play.
8. Sagebooks flashcards
Official Sagebooks flashcards
Sagebooks now sells flashcards in both simplified and traditional Chinese:
The laminated flashcards are in black, KaiTi font, and the edges are color-coded to match the book level.
Free printable Sagebooks flashcards
For my own reference, I made Chinese flashcards with Pinyin and English definitions which you can download below.
My flashcards are plain to keep the focus on the Chinese character.
Black font is used for maximum contrast, and KaiTi script shows where strokes begin and end.
Please review Terms & Conditions before downloading any materials
- Simplified Chinese Sagebooks flashcards
- Traditional Chinese Sagebooks flashcards
- Simplified Traditional Chinese Combined Sagebooks Flashcards (For families learning both scripts, simplified and traditional Chinese characters are on the front face of each flashcard).
Sagebooks flashcards on Quizlet
On Quizlet, online Sagebooks flashcards have traditional Chinese characters and Zhuyin.
9. Sagebooks Worksheets
Official Sagebooks worksheets
Free coloring, pages, writing grids, and other learning resources are available on their website.
They also offer a 12-lesson homeschooling course with printable worksheet activities in this link.
Also check this link under the “免費下載練習 Free Practice Sheets” section.
Unoffocial writing worksheets
Our writing worksheets also have Pinyin and English definitions which you can download below.
Please note that these are not official Sagebooks products and my children have not used them. Both of my children learned to read Chinese before writing.
More printable activities
- Guavarama has many printable supplemental materials for Sagebooks. These include Chinese flashcards, hundred board, heteronym reference sheet, and Skritter characters lists.
- Mama Baby Mandarin has printable stroke order worksheets and character searching games.
10. How does Sagebooks compare to other beginner readers?
Click on the below links to see my reviews of other popular Chinese leveled readers that we have used:
- Greenfield – I Can Read Myself Series* + audio CD (Mandarin + Cantonese)
- Odonata Chinese Readers
- 樂樂文化 Le Le Chinese Reading Pen
Please see Chinese Leveled Readers: Comparison of Graded Books for Kids for a detailed side-by-side comparison of major Chinese leveled readers.
11. Where to buy Sagebooks 500《基础汉字500》
You can buy Sagebooks at the following locations:
- Sagebooks online store (Based in Hong Kong)
- Seeds Hong Kong Children’s Bookstore (Based in Hong Kong)
- Gloria’s Online Bookstore (Based in USA)
- Popular Bookstore (Sold only in stores and not online in Malaysia)
I have heard other parents share positive experiences of ordering from complete Sagebooks sets and supplemental materials directly from Sagebooks.
Parents have also reported good shopping experiences at Seeds HK, but this store only sells traditional Chinese books.
Popular Bookstore in Singapore in Malaysia carries the simplified Chinese version of Sagebooks. However, the books are usually sold individually and not in sets.
Although Sagebooks sets are sold at China Sprout, several parents have reported negative experiences with waiting for backordered books.
For this reason, I recommend parents to shop elsewhere for Sagebooks.
Does your family or school use Sagebooks?
How was the experience for your family?
Were you able to complete the curriculum, or did you end up using another Chinese leveled reading system?
Please feel free to share in the comments below! We’d love to learn about your experience!
Happy reading, friends!