Skip to content

Some more easy-to-read novels in Chinese

July 28, 2013

Anna 没办法

After I wrote about finding books for immersion students to read in Chinese I found out that there exists an entire universe of easy-to-read novels in Spanish and French for new learners. These sometimes go under the moniker TRPS (for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.) It’s a method of teaching foreign languages in which teachers focus on stories with comprehensible input rather than a textbook.

That’s exactly what happens in an immersion classroom—teachers use language the students can understand, limiting vocabulary, constantly asking easy comprehension question and short grammar explanations to help broaden and deepen students’ understanding of the language.

The TRPS method has its origins in the theories of Stephen Krashen, a professor of second-language acquisition, bilingual education and reading at the University of Southern Calif. whose research has heavily influenced immersion education in this country.

A Spanish teacher named Blaine Ray in California took Krashen’s ideas and ran with them. Ray began writing very easy to read stories in Spanish for his students. There now exist dozens of these novels, in Spanish, French and other languages. Some are set entirely in the present tense, some also use the past tense, each gives the number of words used. Here’s an example of a Level 1 Spanish novel on the TPRS website:

Felipe Alou: Desde los valles a las montañas

Under ordinary circumstances, the odds of being struck by lightning are greater than the odds of becoming a Major League Baseball player, but Felipe Alou’s circumstances in 1955 were anything but ‘ordinary’… He was a black athlete living in the Dominican Republic, and he spoke no English- not exactly a recipe for success in the U.S., especially during the height of the civil rights movement.  This is Felipe’s amazing (true) story of perseverance and determination to beat overwhelming odds and insurmountable obstacles to become one of baseball’s greatest players and managers.

Total word count: 6500   Unique word count: 150。 Page count: 60

Now in Mandarin

Some of these stories have been rewritten for beginning Chinese students. I ordered one last week for my fourth grader and she read it in the course of two summer days without having to look up a single word. Her review:

“This was kind of boring but I read it and it wasn’t hard, and I didn’t even know there was a glossary in the back. Anna lives in America but she goes to China. Her friends have expensive stuff. She’s a teen-ager.”

Well, boring or not it was the first novel without pictures that she’d sat down to read so I say Hurray!

The books are nicely done. The stories are set in easy-to-understand situations, often in the United States. And in a touch I really liked, English words such as names like Anna and Los Angeles were written in English, not Chinese. That’s helpful because often the characters used to transliterate from Chinese are complex and rarely-seen, making them difficult for beginning readers to comprehend. The book is in both characters and pinyin (on facing pages) and features a full glossary in the back.

The site has six of these novels listed, which you can find here

The books:

Susan you mafan: Susan有麻烦

Susan is caught on the treadmill of life in her boring town — dealing with an obsolete computer, a nagging mother, and that nice guy at the ValuMart who just doesn’t know she exists. Until one day, that is — when a chance errand brings her family something that will change their lives — well, not forever, but at least for a few months!

“Susan you mafan” is a true first-year Chinese reader. The first chapter can be read in the first month of Chinese study, and each chapter builds on the language that has been used in earlier in the book. The story is 9,871 words long, uses 207 unique Chinese characters, and contains 431 words.

“Anna Mei Banfa!” Anna 没办法!

is a short, simple novel in Chinese characters and Pinyin that emphasizes and repeats the highest-frequency words and phrases of the language while telling a story. First in a series for Chinese learners, “Anna Mei Banfa” tells the story of Anna, a high school freshman living in upstate New York, who is frustrated with her family and her problems. An unexpected opportunity presents itself when her high school announces a chance for a student to travel to Taiwan for a summer. While living in southern Taiwan, Anna experiences the local culture and makes new friends.

Learners of Chinese may choose to read the Chinese characters or turn the page to see the Hanyu Pinyin romanization.? A full glossary of the words as they appear in the text makes this reader accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of Chinese.

The Three Pandas

Based on the Three Bears, this story is about three pandas who dart out of their suburban Beijing home for just a few minutes to do a little shopping, but when they get back…they discover an unexpected visitor!

This 700+ character story is told in simple Chinese, using only 114 unique words and 89 Chinese characters in all. The text systematically repeats the highest-frequency vocabulary while still telling a coherent story, complete with unexpected twists and turns. A great little read for a classroom library or for someone learning Chinese on his own. A full glossary is provided at the end of the story. Color-coding, word spacing and turn-the-page Pinyin support (not visible, but accessible) ensure that the text is made comprehensible to every reader.


The nearly-classic tale of the hardworking girl who just wants to go to the biggest party of the year…and might get to, with some help from a celebrity’s little brother!

Pandarella draws on the familiar but inserts twists and turns to keep readers engaged. Words are repeated in novel ways. The 1072-word text of the story contains only 88 unique words and 87 unique Chinese characters.

A full glossary is provided at the end of the story. Color-coding, word spacing and turn-the-page Pinyin support (not visible, but accessible) ensure that the text is made comprehensible to every reader.

Herbert’s Birthday

It’s Herbert’s birthday…but life is a drag when your friends don’t give you what you really want…

This easy-to-read story helps new readers of Chinese become confident and fluent. Told in just 46 different words and 50 Chinese characters, the book is over 300 words long. Repetition helps the reader become familiar with and instantly recognize the most important, most frequently used characters in the language.

A full glossary is provided at the end of the story. Color-coding, word spacing and turn-the-page Pinyin support (not visible, but accessible) ensure that the text is made comprehensible to every reader.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: