Are you a total bookworm?
If so, rock on. If not, stay with me for a second.
I don’t have to convince those of you who dig books already. But if you’re not “into” reading and you’re learning Mandarin Chinese, then you’re missing out on one of the best possible ways to learn the language.
C’mon—I promise it isn’t so bad. A nice, casual reading experience can be very enjoyable. That’s because I’m not talking about reading thick, formal language textbooks. I’m talking about reading regular ol’ books. You know, those books people read for fun, like these.
Of course, when you’re first learning how to read in a new foreign language, it’s always good to start off slow and easy by taking baby steps.
While learning to read Mandarin Chinese can be a challenge, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the written characters used by the language, this concept still applies.
Once you get the hang of how sentence structure works in Chinese and you grow your knowledge of Chinese vocabulary, learning how to read in Mandarin becomes a lot easier. Before you know it, you’ll be able to read novels all in Mandarin Chinese without the English translation or even the pinyin.
There are thousands of Chinese books out there, but if you’re looking for a list of books in Chinese that are simply delightful, then this post will be of use to you.
Here are 16 fun reads (some easy, some a bit less easy) that are all great for helping you learn Chinese while providing you wonderful sources of entertainment. This list is comprised of all sorts of genres ranging from fairytales and romance novels to mysteries and poems. There are options for Mandarin learners of all reading levels.
These books are categorized by levels 1 to 3, with 1 being the easiest and 3 being the hardest.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
16 Delightfully Easy Reads to Help Anyone Learn Mandarin Chinese
Level 1 (Easy Reads for Beginners)
1. “My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book” by Faye Lynn Wu
If there were only one book to recommend to Mandarin beginners, then this children’s book would definitely be it. Not only does this book do a terrific job of introducing readers to Chinese culture, but it also teaches Chinese words for common items that most people use or encounter daily in a fun, rhyming fashion.
In addition, readers will learn all of the basic sounds and written characters of Mandarin Chinese while seeing how they differ from English words throughout the entire book. They even explain right at the beginning how letters are pronounced by comparing them to pronunciations of English words.
As for the book’s formatting, here are three examples of how the Chinese words are taught:
A is for Ài 爱. Ài means Love.
B is for Bāozi 包子. Bāo zi is the name of a popular Chinese snack that consists of a stuffed bun.
C is for Chá 茶. Chá means Tea.
This goes on until the letter Z is reached and, by the time the story is over, readers will have a better understanding of a lot of words, therefore expanding their vocabulary in the process.
Seriously, if you haven’t done so already, please get this book. You’ll be glad you did.
2. “Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages” by Faye Lynn Wu
Another great children’s book by the author Faye Lynn Wu, “Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes” teaches readers basic vocabulary and simple sentences through popular nursery rhymes. Readers will continue to grow their Mandarin Chinese lexicon and work on sentence structure by following classic Mother Goose rhymes.
This book breaks the language down quite nicely, and has the English words on the first line, followed by the Chinese pinyin on the second line and then the actual Chinese characters on the third line.
Like Ms. Wu’s other book, “My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book,” also recommended, it has attractive pictures, large readable font and a brief guide that explains the purpose of the book and what the readers should learn from it.
3. “Slangman’s Fairytales: Cinderella (Level 1)” by “Slangman” David Burke
What’s so awesome about this children’s book, along with all the other books in the “Slangman’s Fairytales” series, is that it’s designed to help readers learn their new language by starting off the story in English and then slowly transitioning to all Mandarin Chinese.
The story of Cinderella is told well and, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot, it’s about a young woman who wishes to escape from her mean stepmother and stepsisters and finally does so with the help of a special fairy godmother. She even gets to marry her true love in the end. You need to know this, because I’m about to share some of the Chinese vocabulary you’ll learn from this book!
Fairytale – 童话 (Tóng huà)
Cinderella – 灰姑娘 (Huī Gū Niáng)
Fairy Godmother – 仙女教母 (Xiān Nǚ Jiào Mǔ)
Fairy – 仙女 (Xiān Nǚ)
Godmother – 教母 (Jiào Mǔ)
Glass shoe – 玻璃鞋 (Bō Lí Xié)
Glass – 玻璃 (Bō Lí)
Shoe – 鞋 (Xié)
Stepmother – 后妈 (Hòu Mā)
Stepsisters – 异父姐妹 (Yì Fù Jiĕ Mèi)
Prince – 王子 (Wáng Zǐ)
Midnight – 午夜 (Wǔ Yè)
The book also comes in MP3 format which is perfect for those who like to listen to books on the go.
The folk story of the legendary Hua Mulan is one that has been around since the Han Dynasty and is popular in both eastern and western countries due to Disney’s 1990s rendition of the classic tale. The story of Mulan is about a young woman who dresses up like a man to take her aging father’s place during a war to help protect China.
Using this story to help you learn new Chinese words can be very effective, and you’ll also be learning about some traditional Chinese customs. With this bilingual edition by Sela Gu, you’ll be building up your Chinese knowledge in no time.
This particular version is an e-book for the Kindle, so if you have a Kindle or any other mobile device, then consider this book. It’s filled with beautiful pictures, side-by-side English and Chinese narratives and an emotional story about patriotism, filial piety and being true to oneself.
If you’re interested in reading this book, here are several words to know before you begin:
Mulan – 木兰 (Mù Lán) Mulan means “Magnolia,” which is a type of flower.
Hua – 花 (Huā) This is Mulan’s surname. It’s a popular Chinese surname that means “flower.”
Warrior – 战士 (Zhàn Shì)
Hero – 英雄 (Yīng Xióng)
China – 中国 (Zhōng Guó)
Folk Story – 民间故事 (Mín Jiān Gù Shì)
Folk – 民间 (Mín Jiān)
Story – 故事 (Gù Shì)
Once you’re able to successfully read these books backwards and forwards with no trouble, consider trying to master these next five reads that are a bit more challenging.
Level 2 (Easy Reads for Intermediate Learners)
5. “The Apple Tree” by Jane Thai
“The Apple Tree” is a short story geared towards children and beginners. It’s about two children and—you guessed it—an apple tree. This book will teach readers a lot of vocabulary words including words for the four seasons, which are listed below:
Spring – 春天 (chūn tiān)
Summer = 夏天 (xià tiān)
Fall – 秋天 (qiū tiān)
Winter – 冬天 (dōng tiān)
Also, in case you didn’t know, here is what the title of the book means in Chinese:
The Apple Tree – 苹果树 (Píng Guǒ Shù)
Apple – píng guǒ
Tree – shù
Similar to “Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages,” the story is told with three lines on each page with huge, colorful pictures at the bottom. The first line is in English, the second line is in Chinese characters and the third line is the pinyin (with tones) for the characters above.
6. The Mandy and Pandy Series by Chris Lin and Ingrid Villalta
Ever wondered what it would be like to have a giant panda bear as a best friend? Find out while also learning basic Mandarin words for various topics with the Mandy and Pandy series by Chris Lin.
The first book in the series is “Mandy and Pandy Say, ‘Ni Hao Ma?'” and the main focus of the book is learning how to say “Hello” among other greetings.
Here’s the breakdown of how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in Mandarin, all things you’ll learn through context in these books:
“Hello” or “How are you?” – 你好吗？(Nǐ hǎo ma?) This translates to “you good?” and is a common form of greeting in Mandarin Chinese.
You – 你 (Nǐ)
Good – 好 (Hǎo)
吗 (Ma) is a question particle
Goodbye – 再见 (Zài Jiàn)
What’s also great about the Mandy and Pandy series is that each book comes with their own audio CD with both English and Chinese narration. Many people have praised the series for teaching the material in a creative and colorful way, so it’s totally worth looking into.
7. The Gordon and LiLi Series by Michele Wong McSween
Just like Mandy and Pandy, the Gordon and Lili series follows the adventures of the lovable characters, Gordon and LiLi, two bears who take pleasure in meeting new friends and having lots of fun. There are about three books in the series so far, and each book focuses on one topic whether it be animals, numbers or just general everyday words.
8. “Princess Snow White” by Gisel Vasquez and Cristina Papadopoulou
This fairytale classic has been written in a format that can be read in a bilingual fashion. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a brief summary:
Princess Snow White is about the eponymous character who is hated by her stepmother, The Evil Queen, and ends up living in a cottage with seven dwarves after a failed murder attempt by one of the Evil Queen’s henchmen. Once the wicked queen finds out she’s still alive, she tries to get rid of Snow White for good on her own but fortunately Snow White has the dwarves, the forest animals and a handsome prince on her side.
Here’s a preview of some words you’ll learn across while reading:
Snow White – 雪 白 (Xuě Bái)
Snow – 雪 (Xuě)
White – 白 (Bái)
Seven – 七 (Qī)
Dwarves – 矮人 (Ǎi Rén)
Evil – 邪恶 (Xié’è)
Queen – 女王 (Nǚ Wáng)
9. “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1” by Renjun Yang (adapter), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (original author) and John Pasden (editor)
For Sherlock Holmes fans (or any fans of mystery books) that are trying to become fluent in Chinese, there’s great news! There’s an entire book series dedicated to teaching beginners Mandarin while reading about the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and his adventures.
Since this is a mystery book series, here are a few helpful words you should know in Mandarin in case you want to give them all a read:
Mystery = Shén Mì 神秘
Clue = Xiàn Suǒ 线索
Case = Àn Jiàn 案件
Detective = Zhēn Tàn 侦探
Police = Jǐng Chá 警察
London = Lún Dūn 伦敦
Level 3 (Easy Reads for Advanced and Fluent Readers)
Despite the last few books being slightly harder to read than the books before them, these next seven books (which still might be pretty easy to some) are recommended for those who have a good understanding of Mandarin already and just want to read some books in Mandarin for leisure while brushing up on their skills.
Beginners can attempt to read these too, of course, but they’ll challenge you. The best ways to learn how to read these books are to take your time, use context clues and try to match the English words to the Chinese characters.
Wild Grass is a book comprised of a series of short stories by the famous historical Chinese writer, Lu Xun. This book is a great way to help readers learn more advanced words in Mandarin while enriching themselves with classic literature.
Wild grass or weeds – 野草 (yě cǎo)
Wild – 野 (yě)
Grass – 草 (cǎo)
Lu (surname) – 鲁 (Lǔ)
Xun (given name) – 迅 (Xùn, which means “fast” or “sudden” in Chinese.)
11. “The Hunger Games (Chinese Edition)” by Suzanne Collins and translated by Gengfeng
If you’re a fan of this famous book series by Suzanne Collins and you love all of the movies (just kidding, you don’t have to like all the movies), then why not try to learn how to read them in Mandarin?
There are several different translated copies of the series that you can find online. One translated version that has been well received is by Gengfeng.
And here’s what the title “The Hunger Games” translates to in Mandarin Chinese:
The Hunger Games – 饥饿游戏 (Jī’ É Yóu Xì)
Hunger – 饥饿 (Jī’ É)
Games – 游戏 (Yóuxì)
If you ever wanted to read all 307 beautiful Chinese poems by the highly talented Buddhist poet, Cold Mountain (Han Shan), then “The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain” might pique your interest.
This particular book—which was translated by the company Red Pine—has gotten great reviews for its excellent translations that make all of the poems very understandable and easy to read (not to mention inspiring).
Chinese poems differ from Western poems in terms of writing style, and this book may take time and patience for some readers to get into. However, many reviewers of this book have noted that while it did take them around two or three tries to get the feel of the book, they say that it’s very enjoyable to read after gaining familiarity with it.
“The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain” features poems by not only Cold Mountain himself, but also two of his very close friends who were also gifted poets. These three are known as the famed “Tiantai Trio” (天台三聖 – tiān tái sān shèng). Their names and their English meanings are below:
Cold Mountain – Hán Shān
Cold – Hán (Cold can also be 冷 lĕng in some cases.)
Mountain – 山 (Shān)
Big Sticks – 丰干 (Fēng Gān)
Pick-up – 拾得 (Shí Dé)
If you’re a fan of nonfiction and a history buff, then this book of bilingual essays may appeal to you. This is one of the more difficult books on this list, but it can be an easy read for readers who are above the intermediate level. Each of these essays is written in both Mandarin and English so that readers can look back and forth to match the words and sentences up.
14. “The Birdy Lady” by Pu Guo, Tingjia Liang and Fa Chang
This Kindle e-book (which can also be read on iPads and other tablets) was specifically written to help Mandarin learners strengthen their Chinese reading comprehension. While noticeably harder than other Mandarin lesson books for kids and beginners on this list, it’s still relatively short and to read. Beginner, intermediate and advanced Mandarin readers alike shouldn’t have problems successfully finishing the book with practice.
Pu Guo’s “The Birdy Lady” is an interesting tale about a Guhuo (or Ghost Bird) who has the ability to transform between a bird and a woman but is one day forced to marry a man who steals and hides her bird fur (which gives her the power to transform).
The story then fast forwards to many year later and the Guhuo now has three daughters which she raises while secretly searching for her missing fur so she can once again become a bird and be free. This story will tug at your emotions so be prepared and have your tissues on standby.
A sampling of words that you’ll learn while reading:
Ghost Bird – 蛊惑 (Gŭ Huò)
Ghost – 鬼 (Guǐ)
Bird – 鸟 (Niǎo)
Lady – 淑女 (Shū Nǚ)
Fur – 毛皮 (Máo Pí)
Husband – 丈夫 (Zhàng Fū)
Wife – 妻子 (Qī Zi)
Daughters – 女儿 (Nǚ’ Ér)
15. “First Love (Bilingual English-Chinese Edition)” by Ivan Turgenev
For all of the romantics out there, this is the perfect book for you. “First Love (Bilingual English Chinese Edition)” is an adaptation of the short story written by Turgenev in the late 1800s. It’s about a man reminiscing about his first love as a teenage boy to a group of party gatherers. It’s really sweet, mushy and dramatic, so if you enjoy reading this type of stories, then you should give this one a go.
16. “The Metamorphosis (English-Chinese Bilingual Edition)” by Franz Kafka
“The Metamorphosis” is a strange science fiction short novel that’s commonly used as literature to teach high school and university students. It’s about a young salesman who wakes up one day to find out that he’s been turned into a bug. (Yep, you read that right.)
What’s also strange is that after his mysterious transformation, both the man and his family quickly adapt surprisingly well to his predicament and they all carry on like nothing ever changed although the tables have turned because the man used to be the sole provider for his family. Now the rest of his family has to learn how to take care of not only themselves, but him as well.
If you’re at least on the intermediate reading level in Mandarin and you’re already somewhat familiar with the story, then this book should be a piece of cake. This particular book has both English and Chinese writing in it.
A few words that you’ll learn include:
Metamorphosis – 变态 (Biàn Tài)
Bug (Insect) – 昆虫 (Kūn Chóng)
Travel – 旅游 (Lǚ Yóu)
Salesman – 业务员 (Yè Wù Yuán)
Bed – 床 (Chuáng)
Room – 房 (Fáng)
Mother – 母亲 (Mǔ Qīn)
Father – 父亲 (Fù Qīn)
Younger Sister – 妹妹 (Mèi Mei)
So there you have it, a nice list of books to help you bring out your inner bookworm while you learn Chinese.
Remember, if you ever find yourself having trouble reading the books on this post or any other reading material in Mandarin, make sure to reread what you don’t understand, read aloud and, most importantly, take your time. You’re not in a race so just focus on learning and don’t get frustrated! (By the way, if you really want in-depth advice on how to practice reading, then click here for even more foreign language reading strategies).
Good luck on your journey to Mandarin Chinese fluency, and thanks for reading!
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