Reading Chinese children’s books is one of the best methods to teach Chinese at home. It’s even better when you start early when they are babies and toddlers.
In this blog post, I share tips and methods for reading aloud and how to build a foundation for babies and toddlers.
Also, I will introduce 6 of the best Chinese children’s books to help you get started. Plus, other activities enhance language learning for babies and toddlers.
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Table of Contents
5 Essential Early Reading Skills to Aware
Reading and language skills begin to develop even before babies are born. The University of Texas at Austin has identified five early reading skills essential to learning:
- Phonemic awareness — being able to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds in spoken words
- Phonics — being able to connect the letters of written language with the sounds of spoken language
- Vocabulary — the words children need to know for effective communication
- Reading Comprehension — being able to understand and get meaning from what they read
- Fluency — being accurate and quick when reading text
“Reading aloud is a form of conversation and conversing with children matters.” Reading to children allows them to gain all five early reading skills naturally. We should read to them as often and as young as possible.
My Reading Experience
Reading at home wasn’t emphasized growing up. My parents were not educated, and they both work hard every day. So, I only read books assigned by teachers to complete school assignments.
Since becoming a mother I learned the significance of reading. I grew to understand how important it is for a child’s development and language learning. So, we borrowed books from the library and started to collect books for our home library.
We have personal reading time and family reading time before bed almost every day. We have 15-30 minutes sitting together while reading our own books. Then my husband and I take turns reading aloud as a family.
Buying books as gifts instead of toys or carrying books on outings has become normal for our family.
We focused on teaching our children to read in whatever language they wanted first. My girls learned to read in English first. We encouraged them to read more and more. Learning to read in one language helps them to learn to read Chinese later on.
Because they know how to read and get information from books. They already have the skill of comprehension when they start learning to read a second language.
Are you too busy and overwhelmed with activities, prep, finding time to be with your children? Drop everything but keep reading with your children.
When children love reading and learning from books, the world opens up to them. The activities and other things come later.
How to Read to Babies and Toddlers
It can be difficult to read to babies and toddlers. You may be even wondering if it is necessary since they won’t respond much. Or toddlers will only spend 5 minutes flipping the books, and then they may want to chew them or destroy them.
The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers
Here are several benefits of reading aloud, there are many more than listed here.
- Create family bonding
- Build family culture and traditions
- Expands vocabulary
- Helps develop language skills, cognitive thinking skills, and enhances memory
- Exposed to different cultures and places
- Improve reading comprehension
- Opportunities to start conversation and discussion
- Encourages imagination and creativity
- Encourages learning
- Enjoyment and reduce stress
Benefits specific to reading Chinese books aloud to babies and toddlers
- Exposes and connects them with new vocabulary
- Exposes a different kind of cultural background
- Provides opportunities to hear different sounds and tones and expression
- Encourages learning Chinese at home
- Make learning Chinese natural
Reading to Babies
Why Read to Babies?
abies seem to only eat and sleep all day. But there is a lot of learning going on, especially in their senses.
Their hearing is far more developed than other senses. Babies respond to their mother’s voice during the third trimester of pregnancy.
The more words your babies hear over time, the more words they learn and understand.
Birth – 6 months
- Use small, chunky board books, soft fabric books, or vinyl bath books that your baby can hold onto.
- Talk about the pictures with your little one.
- Sing the text to keep their attention.
- Play peek-a-boo with lift-the-flap books.
- Help your baby to touch, feel, even chew the books.
- They may not pay attention to the story, and it’s fine. So take a break when they get bored. We are trying to create the habit.
- Offer short, simple stories with colorful pictures and images board books
- Let them explore books by looking, touching, opening, and closing the books.
- They may have a favorite story they want to read over and over
- Talk about the pictures and ask them simple questions about the pictures
- Sing the text to keep their attention.
- Use different voices and expression
- Have your child help turn the pages.
Reading to Toddlers
It’s an important period for developing routines and good habits. It also helps them to explore the world and sate their curiosity. Reading will help expand their vocab and comprehension. They will find joy and comfort from reading books and learning.
12 -18 months
- Offer board books with simple stories, stories with rhymes, and repeated phrases
- They love stories and pictures about babies and familiar objects. Things such as animals and toys.
- Start reading word by word while pointing to the picture or acting it out
- Use different voices and expressions
- Point to the pictures and say the names of objects and colors.
- Introduce longer stories with more plot and content.
- They love humor, funny stories, and silly rhymes at this age.
- They love to run and move around during reading
- Read word by word while pointing to the picture or act it out
- Use different voices and expression
- Allow them to turn the pages and hold the book
- Take time to discuss what’s happening in the books
- Ask your child to describe the pictures. Repeat phrases used in the story and predict what will happen next
- Take time to answer questions.
- Follow the words with your finger as you read.
What Chinese books are suitable for 0-3 years old?
I get this question quite often.
For little kids, I prefer books that are easier for little hands to hold and flip, such as board books, soft books, etc.
Also, bright colors with clear big images will be more attractive.
Of course, simple vocabulary or phrases are plus as well.
If you don’t have a Chinese library at home
Use family albums, magazines with fun photos, any books your kiddos show interest in. Go for it.
You can translate and describe the images in any language you want.
Here is a list of amazing bilingual Chinese-English children’s books. They are interactive, fun, and perfect for little kids for fluent or non-fluent families to use.
Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin
I won this book from a giveaway on Instagram! I was so happy because we had begun to introduce Mandarin to my children, so it was a perfect book to first with.
- Title: Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin
- Author: Michele Wong McSween
- ISBN-10 : 0982088124/ ISBN-13 : 978-0982088128
- Age level: Birth – Age 6
- Where to buy: you can get it from Amazon here
Learn English and Mandarin words with panda cousins Gordon & Li Li in this charming and colorful bilingual first words book series.
What to Expect?
Each page highlights a single animal using colorful images. It has simplified Chinese characters with pinyin, an English translation, and phonetic pronunciation to help parents to read along.
In this book, you and your child are going to learn about the following animals:
- Killer whale
- Polar bear
This is also a hard-board book, it’s perfect for babies to touch, flip, and play with.
Other Books & Resources from Gordon & Li Li
They also have other Chinese bilingual board books & resources:
- My First Mandarin Words with Gordon & Li Li
- Gordon & Li Li: Celebrate Chinese New Year
- Gordon & Li Li: Count in Mandarin
- Gordon & LilLi: Words for Everyday
- Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin Coloring & Activity Book
- Gordon & Li Li: Learn Animals in Mandarin App – Apple App Store & Google Play
If you want more information about them, click here to go onto their official site.
Bitty Bao Bilingual Board Books
I have received the Round 1 book bundle (with a total of 3 books) from Bitty Bao. When I opened the boxes and looked at the books, my kids fell in love with them.
We love the quality, the images, the contents, pretty much everything.
These two moms did an amazing job creating wonderful Chinese bilingual books.
- Title: The Colors of Snow Ice 彩色雪花冰
- ISBN 978-1-7349664-1-1
- Title: Counting with Dim Sum 跟著點心數數
- ISBN 978-1-7349664-0-4
- Title: Everyday Heroes 生活中的英雄
- ISBN 978-1-7349664-2-8
- Author: Lacey Benard & Lulu Cheng
- Age level: Birth – Age 6
- Where to buy: you can get it from their online store
Book 1: The Colors of Snow Ice 彩色雪花冰
This book teaches 10 color words in Mandarin Chinese while putting the Taiwanese snow ice dessert together.
Book2: Counting with Dim Sum 跟著點心數數
This interactive book teaches children to count up to 10 in Mandarin. It uses different delicious dim sum to do so.
Book3: Everyday Heroes 生活中的英雄
This book introduces different vocabularies of the community helpers and people and different Chinese food, vegetables, and fruits at the same time.
What to Expect?
First, you will fall in love with the images they created. Guess how they created these cute images? They drew it and cut it all by themselves. That’s very creative and original. Interested in their creation process? Click here to learn more.
They also have Traditional Chinese characters with Zhuyin, pinyin, and English translation. The font is very clear, easy to read, perfect for little kids.
At the end of each book, there is a bonus page.
Counting with Dim Sum: a dim sum picture glossary with real photos of yummy dim sum
The Colors of Snow Ice: a step-by-step recipe to make fluffy ice with photos
Everyday Heroes: a couple of sentences for you to fill in the blank
Other Books from Bitty Bao:
There are another 3 books from Round 2 which are about Chinese festivals
If you would like to find out more click here to get on their official site.
Chinese Sound Book: Bao Bao Learns Chinese
- Title: Bao Bao learns Chinese
- Author: Peipei Zhou
- ISBN 978-0-692-16430-3 (red book) 978-1-7342089-0-0 (blue book)
- Age level: Birth – Age 6
- Where to buy: you can get the red sound book and the blue sound book at Amazon.com
Each sound book contains 6 classic nursery rhymes in Mandarin Chinese. They are perfect for introducing Mandarin Chinese to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
What to Expect?
Excellent choice of songs
Both of the Bao Bao Learns Chinese sound books contain a lot of my favorite childhood Chinese and English nursery rhymes. I love how they incorporate both Eastern and Western children’s songs together.
In the red sound book, you’ll learn:
- Itsy- Bitsy Spider
- Two Tigers
- Find a Friends
- Row Row Row Your Boat
- Mama Is The Best In This World
- Twinkle Twinkle Littler Star
In the blue sound book, you’ll learn:
- I’m a Little Teapot
- Good Baby Rabbit
- If You’re Happy And You Know It
- Happy New Year
- My Dear Mama
- You Are My Sunshine
They are beautiful, durable, well-made board books. Each book has Simplified Chinese characters, pinyin, and an English translation.
Press a button to hear a calming mother’s singing voice and musical accompaniment. The sound is clear and high-quality. I also love their volume choices, we have the options of quieter or louder. The books make it easy to follow and sing along with the songs, even if you’re a beginner.
Pronunciation Guide Video
I recently found out they created videos. They show how to pronounce each character in the nursery rhymes for free! Find them HERE. That’s huge! It is so helpful when learning Mandarin Chinese.
If you want to find out more about them, click here to get on their official site.
Cantonese-English Bilingual Books
For those who want to teach your kids Cantonese, I have something special for you.
These Cantonese-English bilingual books are perfect for teaching babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. They use spoken Cantonese/colloquial Cantonese. It also has Jyutping pronunciation, phonetic pronunciation, and English translation.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Chinese/English bilingual books are an excellent choice for babies and toddlers! Don’t forget these classics your kids are already familiar with.
I created two sets of Chinese printable to go along with this book. You can teach your kids Chinese with the book and this printable.
Guess How much I Love You
I also created two sets of Chinese printables to go along with this book, and it is FREE for you to download.
I hope you can start teaching Chinese at your home with these familiar children’s books.
How do we make reading a memorable experience?
Reading books wasn’t a pleasant experience when I was growing up. My English teacher read for the whole class almost every week, but with a boring robotic voice.
There wasn’t any explanation or time to ask questions, nothing but reading word by word.
As English was our second language, most of us fell asleep or daydreamed. It has a horrible experience and many grew to hate English books.
So, don’t read aloud because to check it off the list, but make it fun for you and your child. If not, it can have a negative result and experience for your child.
Here are suggestions to make reading aloud a positive memorable experience:
- Add props
- Movement & music
- Find media to watch ( for 3 years old and older)
- Read & talk about it over and over
- Display the books
- Create life experiences from the book (living book). Go visit the actual site, re-create a site, pretend play
- Read using different voices
- Hold a tea party using the theme of the book
Other activities to enhance Chinese learning for babies and toddlers
- Create a Chinese-rich language environment at home
- Speak to them and let them see your mouth movement (talk about your day, pointing to different objects)
- Ask them questions
- Repeat what they say in Chinese and ask them to repeat with you
- Use conversational phrases to show encouragement, love, and support
- Sing Chinese children songs with your child
- Show video of other kids’ speaking Chinese
- Let your child try different Chinese cultural foods and snacks
- Show your child you are also learning Chinese and love the culture
What’s the Next Step? Suggestions from me
My suggestion is to enjoy speaking and reading books with your kids. Reading helps kids fall in love with learning the Chinese culture and language.
Then, when they are around 4 years old, use a Chinese Theme-based approach. Expose them to the Chinese language through hands-on activities, simple games, and activities. It can all be done at home.
When they are 5 years old start having them recognize Chinese characters. Start more formal Chinese character learning together for about 15-30 minutes each day.
When they are learning Chinese characters, don’t forget to keep reading Chinese books for fun. It can speed up and solidify their progress in character learning as well.
Have a struggle or question about reading and teaching Chinese to your little ones? Let me know!
If you got a chance to read these books, feel free to share your experience and thoughts with me and my family.
We’d love to hear from you as well.
You Might be Interested in
- What to Expect When Your Bilingual Child Starts Learning to Read from ekidz
- Chinese Books for Babies from Mandarin Mama
- Top 10: Chinese American Children’s Books (ages 2-14) from Moms Rising
- Choosing Chinese Books for Babies and Toddlers – Montessori-Friendly Tips and Examples from Chalk Academy
More Tips for Teaching Chinese at Home
- How to Start Teaching Chinese at Home
- How to Create a Language Rich Environment to Learn Chinese at Home
- Resources and Activities to Teach Young Kids Reading in Cantonese
- Teaching Chinese with Theme-Based Approach: Chinese Theme Packs
- Writing Chinese Characters: 10 tips for teaching young children how to write Chinese characters
More Tips for Homeschooling
You Are Not Doing it Alone
Join my Facebook support group to meet and get connections with parents and educators with the same goals.
After being a member, you can attend all the special LIVE training, events, and activities together.
身为职业妈妈的我,常常牺牲睡眠来自作教材。版主全方位学习的新年教材真让我省下不少宝贵的时间找资料。四岁的女儿对中文学习有点抗拒。我们善用版主提供的迷你故事书和生字卡来增强她对语文的认识。版主的中文单词棋盘游戏更让女儿投入学习, 因为她想赢嘛！版主的教材可让小孩边玩边学, 太棒了。
This is the second 5-Day Challenge that we have done with Fortune Cookie Mom. Both have been very beneficial to our family. I am a homeschool mom of three little kids. We are not Chinese and do not speak any Chinese. With the help of Fortune Cookie Mom, we are slowly learning! The challenges have given me fun activities to do at home with the kids. Each one has reignited my kid's interest in learning. It has been a fun experience for everybody!