Review of Sagebooks Chinese for Kids Beginner 500
- Simplified Chinese with pinyin and English 基礎漢字500 简体版 – 978-988-8239-72-6
- Traditional Chinese with pinyin and English 基礎漢字500 繁体版 – 978-988-8239-73-3
Author: Lucia L. Lau
Publisher: Sagebooks HK
Almost a year ago, despite being illiterate in Chinese, I taught 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) how to read Chinese at age 3. Now 老大 can read short stories on her own, and I can read almost as well as her! This dream came true thanks to Sagebooks Sage Formula Beginner 500.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Sagebooks HK and have received no compensation for this review. All opinions here reflect my personal experience.
Before I had even heard of these books, my daughter could read ~100 Chinese characters. She memorized flashcards in boredom while I quickly forgot whatever she learned. Understandably, showing random, out-of-context characters can leave anyone feeling frustrated and uninterested.
Then Sagebooks saved the day and unlocked the gates of Chinese literacy!
I heard about Sagebooks through other parents (eg, GuavaRama and Mandarin Mama) who successfully taught their children how to read traditional Chinese characters. Grateful for their recommendation, I wanted to echo our positive experience with learning simplified Chinese.
What is Sage Formula Basic Chinese 500?
This story-based curriculum for children 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 (5x5x20=500 Chinese words).
Take a look at the video below to preview the first book (traditional Chinese version).
Why do we recommend Sagebooks?
- Spaced Repetition: Retention occurs naturally while the reader gains confidence from practicing familiar words in various sentences:
- Each lesson focuses on 1 new 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 are learning how to read phrases and sentences immediately. This is better than the flashcards which offer no context.
- Large font: The Chinese characters are in large font while the pinyin or Zhuyin and English are in small font. As a result, the characters are the main focus.
- Simple illustrations: The 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.
- Parent guide: A complete guide is available on their website in both English and Chinese with detailed tips on how to incorporate Sagebooks into your daily routine.
- Freebies: Free coloring pages, writing grids, and other learning resources are available on their website.
- Customer service: I’ve contacted them a few times by email and through their Facebook page with quick replies each time. For example, although I had ordered all of our books through China Sprout who had sent one of our sets without a box cover, Sagebooks HK immediately shipped me a brand new replacement!
How did we use Sage Formula Basic 500?
老大 and I read 1-2x per day for a few minutes at 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. Every day, 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) as my daughter was going through 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.
One concern I had with the speed at which we finished the series was long-term retention, but 老大 retained almost all characters and can read many other books independently! However, Sagebooks recommends that most children should not rush and would benefit from 1 lesson per day, thereby completing the series within 18 months.
Here are pictures of the simplified Chinese books we used:
- I wish there were page numbers in the version that we read. However, when I provided feedback to Sagebooks, they said “We had initially wanted to keep things simple for the child. But after receiving many requests from teachers and parents, we have since added page numbers to the later editions.”
- I prefer realistic illustrations over cartoons, especially for young children. And the illustrations are unattractive.
- Lack of a storyline. The stories would be boring for older children.
- The set is very expensive.
How does Sagebooks compare to other beginner readers?
The other popular readers that I recommend to parents include:
老大 and I have enjoyed reading each of these books, but I think these are better for reading practice after Sagebooks. Greenfield doesn’t do as well with spaced repetition, and 四五快读 has too many Chinese characters on a page for new learners. Also, 四五快读 does not have audio.
How much does Sagebooks cost?
In summary, I highly recommend Sagebooks Basic 500.
Still undecided? Check out these helpful Chinese homeschooling blogs Mandarin Mama and GuavaRama for their detailed reviews on how their children used Sagebooks to learn Chinese. Also check out the review by Motherly Notes and what they think of the series as a native-speaking family!
If you’d like to see our other favorite books, click here to see our other book recommendations! Happy learning, friends!