Greenfield “I Can Read” Series Review


So. Cookie Monster (6.75) and I have finally made it through the Greenfield I can Read Series and truthfully, I hate them.

I know. I know.

I have totally recommended them to folks and for younger children; perhaps it is actually good for them. I’m sure YMMV depending on how you learn and like to teach as well as how your child learns.

Before I get into why I dislike Greenfield so intensely, let me talk about the good. (Incidentally, to find out more about this series, please check out Guavarama’s most excellent post.)

1) Each set has 12 books, a CD, and a workbook. The books are nice and short and I’m sure if we listened to the CD, they would have been fine. The workbooks, we skipped but again, if we used them, they would have sufficed.

2) The best part of the books is that they are supremely short. There are only 1-2 lines of text for pages 2-8. (So, 7 pages total.) Cookie Monster enjoyed zipping through each book in about 1-2 minutes – especially at the very beginning.

3) They also provide flashcards you can make out of perforated poster paper in the front and back of the books. These flashcards also handily tell you which book and set they’re from and highlight key words and phrases.

4) The pictures are vibrant and colorful. My kids all enjoyed looking at them.

5) The sentences are repetitive in either word usage or sentence structure giving the short stories a good rhythm as well as making it easy to predict what comes next. This was good for fluid reading out loud.

6) The stories were amusing and fun (for the most part) and Cookie Monster chuckled quite a few times at the characters’ antics.

7) The books are good to use as readers to check just how many characters your kids actually know.

8) For the beginning sets, there was usually enough context for Cookie Monster to guess an unknown character. (This, of course, really only works if your child is fluent in Chinese.)

Ok. Now, on with what I did not enjoy and really disliked:

1) Ok. I realize that Greenfield is for Hong Kongers so those folks already know how to read the characters.

However.

really would have appreciated the presence of pinyin.

It wasn’t so bad at first, but by the Purple set, I was looking up a LOT of characters.

2) Guavarama says Greenfield uses the whole language approach so as a result, they do not introduce a new character at a time in each section like Sagebooks does. Instead, they are repeating sentences and grammatical structure to teach a child the way Chinese works.

Unfortunately, this makes it extremely difficult to know what characters are new and being introduced.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to which characters they are introducing. And even though they provide vocabulary flashcards, what’s the point if the flashcards they provide aren’t necessarily the ones you need?

I find the whole thing very disorganized and confusing.

3) Clearly, these readers require Chinese fluency and knowledge of several hundred characters prior to starting.

4) The jump in levels at the very end is too high.

Cookie Monster already knows over 1,000 characters so he easily breezed through the first sets (red, orange, yellow, dark green, light green, and blue). But once he hit the halfway mark in the purple series (the 7th set), he ground to a halt. (Although oddly enough, he was fine with the rainbow series/8th set.)

There were SO MANY characters he didn’t know in the Purple set. I want to say approximately 8-10 characters per book. This is due to the structure of the stories. If sentences are repetitive, only 1-2 words are changed per page.

For example (and I will use English for ease of reading):

a) The dog jumped high.

b) The cat jumped low.

c) The bird jumped far.

Some of the later sentences are obviously more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

5) Although the new characters were not problematic enough for Cookie Monster to find frustrating (he was more amused that I had to look up so many words), I certainly found it annoying and frustrating.

6) cannot overemphasize how disorganized I found the whole methodology and system.

It really, really annoys me.

In fact, it made me long for Sagebooks even more. And it made me realize that a good system for learning Chinese is really hard and tough to come by.

I also want another set of Sagebooks 500 even if Guavarama says it’s unnecessary if the kids know zhuyin and start reading more and more complicated books.

7) A lot of the Traditional characters feel as if they’re one-offs. Either because they’re Hong Kong specific or perhaps more commonly used in Hong Kong, or because I just can’t see the relevance in daily life for knowing these more complex terms. (More than likely as not, it was a user problem and not a book problem.)

8) I really wish I did not purchase the series. Not that I feel as if all our time on it has been wasted – because Cookie Monster did learn a few new characters and built his confidence in reading.

However, the same thing could have easily been accomplished via reading more of his early reader books with zhuyin.

Obviously, YMMV.

I have had friends who went through the series when their children were much younger than Cookie Monster is now and they seemed to like it more than I do. So perhaps, it really is an age-related thing. Or maybe their kids are just better suited for this series – not that Cookie Monster had issues with it. 

Mostly, it was me with the issues. 

Cookie Monster seemed to like the books just fine and he raced through them because he wanted to finish a set a day. Which we did until we hit the Purple series. Then we slowed down a lot and reviewed a lot. So it took two days instead of one to go through. Once we got through it (I made him reread the purple series several times for him to gain mastery), the rainbow series was back to being done in a day. 

Now, because I already own the set, I will still use it with my subsequent kids. In fact, when Gamera finishes Sagebooks in a month or so, I will have her go through Greenfield right away. Maybe I will like it better since she knows fewer characters than Cookie Monster did at the start. 

However, other than using the books as readers, I did not enjoy the experience of these books as a curriculum. And if I knew then what I knew now, I would not have spent the money on these books and instead spent it on a box of books with zhuyin from Taiwan. 

Alright, like all things, my word is just my opinion and certainly not to be taken as gospel. If Greenfield worked for you and you liked it, I am very glad! If not, I commiserate (although, I wouldn’t say they didn’t work – merely not what I expected). 

Have a great weekend!

Conversations about Greenfield

So, even though I’ve owned the Greenfield Series for at least a year, I’ve always been intimidated by them because there are SO MANY books. (Granted, it takes less than a minute to go through them, but because I am lazy and have never looked through the books before, I had no idea.)

Well, for this fall, part of my goals for Cookie Monster was for him to go through Greenfield since I had them and it seemed a waste not to go through them. Besides, I had been hearing from people (and telling people) to go through Sagebooks then Greenfield and it seemed as if that was the next step since Cookie Monster has finished Sagebooks and is mostly working on his zhuyin. But I still wanted to increase character recognition for him.

Anyhow, after I started Cookie Monster on Greenfield the first day, I kind of panicked. He ripped through the entire twelve books of the first set (Red) of the I Can Read Series and even though there were a few characters here and there that he and I both didn’t recognize, it was super easy, highly repetitive, and I despaired that we were going to have to keep track of which characters Cookie Monster didn’t know.

But the thought of doing that was exhausting.

A complete pain in the ass and the last thing I want to do when teaching something is to have it be harder than necessary.

So, what did I do besides complain mightily to my friends? I asked my friends who have already gone through Sagebooks and Greenfield for their opinions and advice.

Below are a few of our conversations. Hopefully, they may address some of your similar concerns. When we’re finished with the series, I will post my review. (We’re almost done, but life happens, so you never know.)

1) PharmGirl

MM: So did you like Greenfield?

PG: It’s ok. It’s not as good as Sagebooks, but it’s still good exposure to new words. Rhythm Girl (4.5) loves the pictures. Twist (2.5 boy), too! She wasn’t quite ready for the length of the Little Bear series after finishing Sagebooks, so Greenfield is a good in between.

There was quite a lot of vocab I learned along the way too. My family said some of the sentence structures and vocab was a little off. Then they saw it was from HK and said that’s why

MM: Did she learn new vocab? Like memorize the words? Or you just used them as readers? Not so much for vocab?

PG: Overall yes. Some stuff was just kinda obscure and we don’t come across it outside of Greenfield so she has trouble remembering those.

But some stuff like jungle gym and city she remembers really well.

MM: So you used the flash cards? Remembers the characters? Or what the word actually is in conversation?

PG: I didn’t use flashcards cuz my copies are bootlegged. And the magic box doesn’t come w flashcards. I wrote them on a dry erase board and we practiced similar to the way PW (one of our previous Chinese preschool teachers) does.

MM: You are amazing. The thought of using flash cards or constantly reviewing hurts me

PG: She remembers the word in conversation much better. She only recognizes the characters if we repeatedly see it used outside of Greenfield like in another book.

The downside of Greenfield is they are so short and not repetitive enough that she ends up memorizing the sentences without paying attention to the actual characters.

Haha. I thought about making flashcards like Guavarama did for Sagebooks and it just hurt my head. I just write it on the dry erase as we go thru..she actually keeps asking to write it herself, cuz she likes to be 小老師 (xiao3 lao3 shi/little teacher).

Sorry I think the jungle gym vocab came from Sesame, not Greenfield

But you get the idea. My feelings toward Greenfield are the same as Sesame.

MM: What was Sesame?

PG: Very similar to Greenfield. 8 page readers geared towards preschool age. Whole language approach. Originally from HK, but the TaiwaneseR version is much cheaper and has zhuyin. Lemme try to find a link.

No CD or flashcards like Greenfield, but there are comprehension activitiesi on the last two pages. I never did any of those.

2) Fleur

MM: Have you done the Greenfield books?

F: With Bebe (7.5)?

MM: Yeah.

F: She stopped at the 2nd to last set. Haven’t picked it up again.

MM: Did you review words she didn’t know? Or mainly used as readers?

F: She knew all the words until second to the last set. Then started encountering characters she didn’t know.

MM: I see. Cuz there are random words Cookie Monster doesn’t know.

F: So I need to sit down and figure out what words she doesn’t know. Lol.

MM: But I don’t really care or know how to drill into him.

F: Hahaha.

MM: Is that bad?

F: No. He’s clearly learning words.

MM: I guess I don’t see the value of Greenfield.

F: I think since they know 勹夂冂匸, Greenfield isn’t really useful for them. Just another set of books to read.

MM: Ok.

F: I guess I could make her do the workbook.

MM: Because it seems kinda silly to me, too. Sigh. But then I have to rip out pages.

F: Hahaha.

MM: And laminate or whatever.

F: I did already. All in binder now. No need to rip, just pull out staples and use paper cutter to slice pages in half. But again, no 勹夂冂匸, so if they can’t read instructions or don’t understand, you’d need to explain. Sob.

MM: Exactly. Have to say, I’m kinda disappointed – at least with the first set.

F: It would work if we weren’t doing 勹夂冂匸.

MM: You think so? It would take a lot of effort. Because I would have to keep track of what word he doesn’t know. And there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

F: Yeah. I suppose so.

3) Guavarama

MM: Ok, help.

How do I use Greenfield books? They seem stupid. Cookie Monster knows most the words and the words he doesn’t we have to look up but don’t remember which ones he doesn’t know.

GR: Lol. You read it in a series. That’s it. With Astroboy, what I did was repeat.

MM: So, just read? Not drilling?

GR: Like today read red1-5, tomorrow read red 3-8 or something. I know. that’s why I said it’s not too helpful. The only way to make it work a bit is to repeat read.

MM: Cookie Monster blasted through Red 1-12 and Orange 1-2 today.

GR: Also, we’re [the kids are] too old. Also I would skip repeat. There’s no other way. you have to figure out the repetition schedule.

MM: What do you mean?

GR:  When to repeat to remember the characters.

Like Day 1: red; Day 2: red+orange; Day 3: orange+yellow.

Or maybe it’s Day 1: red; Day 2: orange; Day 3: red+Yellow, Day 4: orange+green, etc.

Or else, just blast through these, repeating the series where he doesn’t know a lot of characters, and move on to reading with zhuyin.

MM: Ok. We are reading with zhuyin every day. Or trying to. So we do two sessions of readings 4-5x/wk.

GR: Yes. I think just back to guided reading 10 minutes a day with zhuyin. Unless his zhuyin is good enough he’s always reading correctly, in which case, with reading he will just pick up words and you don’t have to guide.

I mean, with GLS teaching him writing as well, that’s good enough, right?

MM: Ok. He forgets blending and keeps mixing up certain zhuyin just like Gamera.

I was going to do the reading comprehension workbooks with him, too. And then do guided reading. Mostly just to improve his zhuyin. I think he and I are both too impatient.

GR: Yes. He has to improve his zhuyin blending. That’s always the hardest. I find for Astroboy, it doesn’t quite work just repeat reading and he naturally will self correct because he doesn’t have the speaking skills to pick up what he’s saying wrong. Like he doesn’t have enough comprehension.

MM: Ah. Makes sense. I’m sure it will improve in Taiwan.

GR: Yes, but you can’t wait a year for that cuz in the meantime, anything he reads, he doesn’t understand and can’t self correct. So then your reading practice is moot in a way.

MM: No, for Astroboy. Not for Cookie Monster. Lol.

GR: Oh! Hahaha. I hope so. Cuz he’s not moving. Sigh.

MM: Lol. Sometimes, they just need a break or a change in environment.

GR: He’s just neglected.

MM: Lol. So is Gamera.

GR: Luckily, Gamera is strong in the language department.

MM: Yes, but she is lazy.

Alright. Yes. This is the post for today. Totally a cheat post, right? But hopefully, it gives some insight into the Greenfield Series and how three different moms used it with their children. When Cookie Monster is done with the I Can Read Series, I will write an actual review.

Until then, have a great weekend!

Guest Post: A Road Map to Early Chinese Literacy During Early Childhood

Today, we have another guest post by Alex Pang! He is a valued contributor to the Raising Bilingual Kids in Chinese & English Facebook group and has made several helpful posts in the past on MandarinMama on Sagebooks and Greenfield.

This time, he wanted to address some questions he sees oft repeated on the Facebook group and thought it would be helpful to others for him to detail HIS road map and what worked for him.

Despite Alex’s modesty in stating that he doubts people will be interested, I completely disagree. As much as I feel as if I’m brilliant and a genius (I mean, come on, you know it’s true), I concede that I am not for everyone and that my way is not the only way.

And like all fields, we benefit as a community to read diverse methods and strategies and tactics. Plus, you never know what awesome ideas you will pick up from other people.

Keep in mind, both Alex and his wife are full time doctors so they definitely present a different POV than mine as a SAHM. Our philosophies might overlap a bit, but the application and the time carving is a totally different beast.

So, without further ado, I present to you Alex’s post. I hope you enjoy it and find it as helpful as I do.


Author’s Note: Much of what I say below echoes and summarizes what has already been stated by many others.

This little guide serves the busy working parent who is floundering with limited amounts of time and energy to teach Chinese, and therefore desires an efficient framework to lay a reading foundation. I have written down what I consider the minimum amount of work necessary for developing an adequate reading ability in Chinese at the early elementary (primary 1 and 2) level.

The prerequisites for this endeavor include:

1) at least one highly motivated parent who is also a fluent speaker and reader at 3rd grade level and above (if this already proves a roadblock, at least substitute with as much hired tutoring as possible); and

2) access to age-appropriate books.

I will presume your child has speaking and listening fluency at a near-native level (which basically means that your commitment to speaking Chinese started at birth).

Here is the fine print—first and foremost, prepare to persist and commit for the really long haul, as it is the parent who is the primary determinant of reading success in these early childhood years.

Second, the child must reside within as much of a Chinese language environment as possible. For example, we employ a Chinese-speaking nanny, play Chinese-subbed cartoons, and listen to Chinese pop in the car…all in the name of the cause (FYI my kids attend English-language preschool/preK/K). Expensive trips abroad to Taiwan and China will definitely help but are not critical at this juncture.

Third, I do not claim that our method is necessarily the simplest, fastest, or the best, and there are clearly many other children who have achieved early Chinese literacy without going through the same process my child did. This road map merely reflects our ongoing experience.

The following presents some of the books and tips we found most helpful in establishing the reading base over the last two years, assisting our child in making the large jump from Sagebooks 500 and Greenfield readers to “real” books (more like crossing a chasm, actually!). The ages listed are approximate ranges for the respective book levels.

So what is the secret ingredient that encourages early childhood literacy? The answer is…there is no better ingredient than daily reading.

We read for at least 20-30 minutes, EVERY day without fail, even while on vacation.

Despite being relentless about my endeavor, it was incredibly difficult to fit time in to read every day for the past two years (I once read with my kid while she was on the can!) But I knew that each day that passes by without reading in Chinese is a day lost to English.

The reading exercise cannot simply comprise of reading characters or words for the sake of reading characters and words. Similar to learning any language, reading this early in Chinese relies on continuous interaction between parent and child, whereby the fluent parent will explain and expound on words/vocabulary, phrases, and context.

Ages 4-5: This is a pre-reading stage. At this age, establish a solid five hundred character base with the entire Sagebooks 500 (including the treasure box sets), learning at least one new character a day with quick review of previously learned characters. Making character flash cards yourself or buying them from Guavarama as these will help with review.

Establish reading fluency by repeating a sentence until reading speed is adequate for the child to actually understand what she is reading. If there are lengthy pauses between characters, then the child is just reading random words/characters aloud without the ability to interpret and process what she is reading.

I suggest additional supplementation with leveled readers like Greenfield’s I Can Read (我自己會讀) and Magic Box (魔術盒), or Sesame Publishing’s Ding Ding Dong Dong readers (丁丁當當) for practicing and building confidence at this stage.

Ages 5-6: Teach zhuyin, no matter how long it takes! Use short readers to assist with this.

Why learn zhuyin? My child could read most children’s literature after tearing through 500 characters from Sagebooks, right?

Sadly, anything worth reading requires knowledge of at least another 1000 or so characters. Zhuyin, then, allows for incremental development of reading skills and enables the child to read interesting books while still learning to recognize new characters. Some very good practice for zhuyin include those ubiquitous 3-minute bedtime storybooks (三分鐘故事).

After learning zhuyin, power up to Level 0 with easy zhuyin books in the following order:

1) Little Bear set (小熊看世界);

2) Frog and Toad set (青蛙與蟾蜍);

3) Little Fox set (小狐狸系列) from the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪);

4) any other Level 0 books on Guavarama’s list, and then move on to Level 1. See the photo of my bookshelf for suggestions.

At this point, additional supplementation with ANY book that interests the child is good. The goal is to develop reading speed/fluency.

It is paramount that the book is appropriate to comprehension level. Starting Magic Treehouse at this age may not help very much other than verify that the child knows zhuyin. For other good book sets at Level 0 and Level 1, please refer to Guavarama’s post on building a Chinese library.

Ages 6-9: Now you are well along on your journey together. You will perceive the improvements in vocabulary and idiom knowledge gained simply through extensive reading.

It probably happens like this—the child uses a word or idiom you know you never taught. Then you ask your spouse, or the tutor, or the grandparents, but each denies it. Then you ask your child if she learned the word from a book. And she will simply shrug her shoulders and look at you with a blank expression. But you know it had to be the books!

At this point allow yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, but do not rest on the laurels. Continue reading daily!

Other book sets appropriate for this age range include the remainder of the Storybook Ferris Wheel collection (故事摩天輪); the Reading 123 set (閱讀123); and the Magic Treehouse set (神奇樹屋).

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.

The photo represents ~30% of my Chinese book collection and nearly all of the books I have used so far after the pre-reading stage. Top shelf: Sagebooks 500, Greenfield I Can Read, and Greenfield Magic Box. Middle shelf: Level 0 and some Level 1 books. Bottom shelf: picture books.

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Alex Pang asked me to include the updated version of his bookshelf which added some books and rearranged books in reading level.