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》.
7-year-old 老大 finished Sagebooks when she was 3 years old and has since become a voracious reader of Chinese chapter books. For the past year, my 4-year-old 老二 (lǎo èr / second child) has been 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 November 17, 2020 to reflect new information.
I was gifted a new set of Sagebooks 500 from Sagebooks 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.
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 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).
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.
Why do we recommend Sagebooks 500《基础汉字500》?
I was convinced to try Sagebooks after strong recommendations from the Guavarama blog. Her family used the traditional Chinese version, so I wanted to share my experience using the simplified Chinese version of the books.
Focus on Chinese characters
In contrast to other curricula that first teach radicals or phonics (eg, Pinyin, Zhuyin), this series teaches each character as its own component.
- 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.
Reading each new word multiple times in different contects helps with memorizing 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.
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!
Mandarin and Cantonese Audio
- Read-along app:
- Web-based audio: Registration is required for audio recordings on their website.
What about Sagebooks Treasure Box Books?
Sagebooks all 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.
Personally, we decided not to get them due to cost and my first child memorized the characters quickly. For my second child, we have many short Chinese picture books that he can read.
I was surprised that the author, a Montessori teacher, chose cartoons for illustrations. Realistic illustrations are more educational and support text better than abstract cartoons. This is especially true for young children.
The lack of a storyline may be boring. My first kid didn’t mind, but my second child has been less intrigued.
The full set is very expensive.
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:
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 environmental print and various hands-on activities shared on my blog.
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 with 6+ month break
When 老二 was 3 years old, he knew about 50 Chinese characters when he seemed ready and showed interest in Sagebooks. However, we took a 6 month break from this series and restarted only recently when he turned 4 years old.
Compared to his sister, he has the benefit of having hundreds more Chinese picture books to choose from at home, so reading Sagebooks has been less exciting. He would much rather read books about cars and animals!
Also, I noticed he was not able to retain words long-term as well as his sister. Waiting a few months made a big difference in maturity, so please don’t feel discouraged if you need to take a break from Sagebooks and try other books!
In contrast to big sister, my son is not interested in tracing the first characters, so sometimes I trace it by myself or we just skip it. Our typical reading sessions run in the following sequence:
- Flipping through and looking the “big characters” from last few lessons to see which he remembers.
- When we hit one that he’s not too sure of, we review the chapter.
- If he knows most words, we keep moving on.
He recently finished orange level 3 Sagebooks, and I’ll update this post if and when we finish the series!
Free printable Sagebooks flashcards
Years ago, a mom asked me to make Chinese flashcards with Pinyin and English definitions. With the Arch Chinese program, we made plain flashcards to keep the focus on the Chinese character. Black font is used for maximum contrast, and KaiTi script shows where strokes begin and end.
While we ended up not using them for ourselves, we’re happy to share them with other families. If there are any typographical or translation errors, kindly let me know, and I’ll try my best to fix them as time permits.
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- Simplified Chinese with Pinyin and English
- Traditional Chinese with Pinyin and English
- Simplified and Traditional Chinese with Pinyin and English
Special thanks to Vivian Liu and Jeannie Truong for helping with translations and revisions of the traditional Chinese version!
Sagebooks flashcards on Quizlet
On Quizlet, online Sagebooks flashcards have traditional Chinese characters and Zhuyin.
Free Sagebooks writing worksheets
More printable activities
Guavarama has many printable supplemental materials for Sagebooks.
These include a Chinese characters hundred board, heteronym reference sheet, and Skritter characters lists.
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 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)
- Little Kozzi (Based in Canada)
I have heard other parents share positive experiences of ordering 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.
We bought our Sagebooks set elsewhere but won’t recommend that location due to other parents sharing negative shopping experiences.
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!