Introducing Mandarin Companion

Ever since founding AllSet Learning in 2010, we’ve been steadily adding new products and expanding our mini-empire of resources. The Chinese Grammar Wiki was one of our most significant additions (and it’s growing nicely), and we also have two iPad apps out: AllSet Learning Pinyin and the Chinese Picture Book Reader. Last year, our expansion went in an all-new direction with our work on Mandarin Companion‘s brand new Chinese graded reader series.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have heard of Mandarin Companion already, but this is the first time I’m directly mentioning it on Sinosplice. I was waiting until all five of our Level 1 digital editions were released for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks, and now they are.

What is it and who’s it for?

Since I’ve gotten quite deep into extensive reading and graded readers over the past year, there’s a lot I could say here, but I’ll keep it simple in this post.

Mandarin Companion graded readers are for learners with 1-2 years of formal study under their belts (or the equivalent), looking for something longer and more interesting to read for pleasure, without having to constantly reference a dictionary.

Mandarin Companion’s Level 1 books assume a foundation of only 300 Chinese characters, and it’s 300 characters you will know if you’ve studied virtually any standard course.

To create this graded reader series, I’ve teamed up with a partner, Jared Turner, while also leveraging the tools and talent at AllSet Learning.

What are the titles?

We released five Level 1 stories in 2013, all based on western classics and adapted into Chinese stories (more on that in a future post). Here are the first five titles:

  1. The Secret Garden:《秘密花园》
    This was our first book, and it was an awesome choice. It’s an excellent story, free of complicated settings or plot twists. There are more characters in this story than in most of our other ones, but they all have easy (and very Chinese) names, and the story ends up feeling very Chinese itself, despite the British roots. (Just look at the cover!)

  2. The Sixty-Year Dream:《六十年的梦》
    You can’t tell from the name, but this graded reader is an adaptation of Rip Van Winkle. In adapting this and making it totally Chinese, we had a lot of issues to consider. The original work is about going to sleep as a colonist before the American revolution, and waking up afterward in a newly formed country. It’s a story about change. Well, what country knows change better than China? For maximum dramatic effect, we chose a 60-year time span, going from pre-Communist China to post-Mao China. The relevant Chinese history of the periods adds a lot of color to the story.

  3. The Monkey’s Paw:《猴爪》
    I remember reading this classic story as a kid, and it totally creeped me out. The first time you’re introduced to the idea of pre-determinism it kind of blows your mind, right? I initially had my doubts as to how well this story could be adapted into simple Chinese while preserving the feel, but we pulled it off pretty well, if I do say so myself.

  4. The Country of the Blind:《盲人国》
    This graded reader is based on a classic H.G. Wells story, and I actually blogged about it not long ago, in conjunction with China. (Now you know why I was thinking about the story so hard!) The text of the story doesn’t get into any of those details, really, though… I just wanted as close to an “adventure” story as we could do at the 300-character level (it really is a challenge), and this one fit the bill. The sci-fi connection was icing on the cake! This one is also notable because we altered the original ending just a little bit.

  5. Sherlock Holmes and the Red-Headed League:《卷发公司的案子》
    What if you adapted Sherlock Holmes to 1920’s Shanghai? Well, this what happens! This one was fun, because we had to research styles of the time to get the illustrations right, but actually none of that affected the text of the story itself. (But hey, details matter, right? Sherlock.. errr, 高明 would approve!) It was definitely a pleasure to create our own take on the world’s most famous sleuth.

I’m really proud of these books we’ve created, and I wish I had had material like this when I was just starting out on my journey of learning Chinese. You don’t have to wait until you can read a Chinese newspaper to enjoy reading Chinese, really.

Related Links

Mandarin Companion: the official website (FaceBook, Twitter)
Mandarin Companion graded reader grammar points: courtesy of the Chinese Grammar Wiki, of course
Chinese Breeze: another graded reader you may be familiar with (comparisons are welcome!)
Extensive reading (Wikipedia): good stuff here, including more on graded readers
AllSet Learning Product Newsletter: we just did a promotion where we gave away iBook versions of these 5 books. Sign up if you’re interested!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’m into the third page of 盲人国 and It’s starting out to be a good balance between characters I know and don’t. It’s more of a challenge than Chinese Breeze level 1 books which I like, but still easy enough for me to enjoy the story. I’m definitely buying the rest of the series when I’m done with this one, thanks again for the book! (I won it from the Facebook competition)

  2. Awesome work! Graded Chinese readers are extremely valuable and sorely needed–even better that they are good stories.

  3. […] Check these annotated graded readers out if you haven’t. This post is by one of the co-founders, John Pasden. Mandarin Companion graded readers are for learners with 1-2 years of formal study under their belts (or the equivalent), looking for something longer and more interesting to read for pleasure, without having to constantly reference a dictionary. from China Studies at Leiden University […]

  4. John, the “Mandarin Companion: the official website” link goes to instead of

  5. Are the books also available as audio books? Or do you offer the audio as mp3 downloads separately?

  6. Nice work.

    Reading material for the language learner by the language learner has been needed for sometime!

  7. We recently bought a set of the Breeze graded readers for our school in Beijing, and they have gone down well with our students so far, so i am pleased to see another set of grader readers being made available.

    Is the plan for the books to be only available as digital editions, or will you publish them as paperbacks if there is sufficient demand?


  8. Robert R. Says: January 22, 2014 at 2:31 am

    Any plan for Traditional versions?

  9. Matthew Appleyard Says: January 26, 2014 at 6:23 am

    Hi John & Jared – these books are amazing. They look and read brilliantly. I will be purchasing them all. I probably need a level 2 or 3 though. Are their any plans for a next level up?

  10. Jacob Rodgers Says: January 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Maybe I’m just too new to Mandarin, but I found the Chinese Breeze series a bit “unfair” at times. Sure I may know all of the characters, but it seemed they weren’t afraid to throw in some beginner-unfriendly grammar structures with the characters they were allowed to use. After the short sample I looked at of “The Secret Garden”, I think the grammar is more friendly to the book’s target audience. But, maybe in six months or so, Chinese Breeze will be perfect for me.

  11. Hello, the hanzi doesn’t show properly on my kindle for Android. Do you have any tips?

  12. Is there a publicly available list of the 300 characters you use for your books? It might be helpful for beginning students, as a guide to what to learn. Thanks.

  13. If I read these on Kindle, I can look up characters in the standard dictionary, but that is purely Chinese. Do you know if there is a custom Chinese-English dictionary for Kindle that works? I think the dictionaries have to be one-direction. There is a Tuttle Concise.
    I realize this is going beyond what your 300-character texts require, and Pleco does the dictionary lookup better, but your texts aren’t for Pleco. One would have to get the print books, scan and OCR them and then put them in Pleco.

  14. Hi. I would buy it if I could on IOS, but not available on the store in Taiwan.

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