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》
- 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 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).
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The full set is very expensive.
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:
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.
After using Sagebooks with my children and hearing from countless parents in the Chalk Academy community, here are my key takeaways:
- The best age to start varies for each kid, including siblings. Some kids are ready to read later than others.
- Some kids can finish the books in a few months; others take a few years. Every child learns at their own pace.
- If your child seems intimidated or overwhelmed by Sagebooks, consider starting later and building a base of ~50 common Chinese characters through other activities.
- Planning a few hands-on Chinese activities is fun to get kids interested before, during, and after using Sagebooks.
- It’s okay to take breaks with the Sagebooks Chinese curriculum. My children hit plateaus of various durations. This is common for many families.
- 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.
- Quizlet has online Sagebooks flashcards with traditional Chinese characters and Zhuyin.
- Physical flashcards can be ordered from the Sagesbooks HK online shop.
Guavarama has many printable supplemental materials for Sagebooks. These include a Chinese characters hundred board, a 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 the full Sagebooks Chinese curriculum at the following locations. Please contact the stores to inquire about international shipping.
- Sagebooks online store (Hong Kong)
- Gloria’s Online Bookstore (USA)
- Yuto (Vancouver, Canada)
- Little Kozzi (Toronto, Canada)
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.