Launch of the New Breakthrough Level Books: 150 Characters

Launch of the New Breakthrough Level Books: 150 Characters

Since John and I started Mandarin Companion back in 2012, we have pursued a vision of a revolution in learning Chinese marked by the advent of easy-to-read and interesting (key word interesting) books in Chinese. Few things have the impact on any language development as does reading and the mounting testimonials from readers is a testament to the impact it is making around the world.

As the years went on, we came to realize that for many learners it may take several years before they reach the point when they are able to read the Level 1, 300 character, stories. In discussion with many learners and teachers, they loved the concept of the books, but most needed something even easier to read. We also found that in Chinese programs all over the world, students tend to drop out after a year or two. A significant reason behind this has to do with the slow progress of learning Chinese in that it can take years before a learner feels like they can do anything with the language.

When John and I discussed these various issues, we decided that we need to do our part to help this generation of learners to read Chinese at an earlier stage, to help them get a “win” earlier, to make the goal of reading in Chinese even more obtainable. This was the genesis of the Breakthrough level.

The Breakthrough 150 Character Level Standard

When we started out, we knew we had to make it as simple as possible AND interesting, two things that are at odds with each other. We floated out different numbers of characters until we settled on only 150 and, at the time, we weren’t even sure if we were going to be able to write anything good with that little!

We had to set some strict rules for this level because otherwise it can be too easy to compromise your standards for the sake of the story. Once you begin adding a harder character, it becomes easier to add one more, and then one more, and before you know it your book is filled with words and characters that slow down a reader, tripping them up every paragraph. We all know it’s hard enough to read at these early stages!

In this new level, you’ll only find the most useful and common characters and words. For example, all of the 150 characters in the Breakthrough Level are a subset of the Level 1 standard. On top of that, all of the key words in the Breakthrough standard fall within the 300 characters in the Level 1 standard. That means you’ll never waste time learning characters that are not important to your fluency at this stage of Chinese.

Breakthrough Titles

We will be releasing five Breakthrough Level books by mid 2019. We found that due to our constraints it was nearly impossible to adapt existing stories so we wrote our own! All of these are original stories written by John and myself. Here is a preview of the upcoming books.

  • My Teacher is a Martian 《我的老师是火星人》- Two good friends notice their teacher is very strange, so strange that they begin to suspect that he is actually from Mars.
  • Xiao Ming, Boy Sherlock《小明》- Xiao Ming would one day grow up to be a great detective, but it all started when he was just a boy.
  • In Search of Hua Ma《花马》- All he wanted to do was give his mother a simple present, instead a son finds himself transported across China on bizarre quest…
  • Three Friends《三个朋友》- Two guys have been friends forever, but what happens when they fall for the same girl in college?

First Release: The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng

The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng is the first book in the Breakthrough Level. It follows the antics of 9 year-old Zhou Haisheng whose parents own a small noodle shop. Always well-intentioned, he finds ways to help out his hard-working parents with the family business. Whether its inventing his own noodle recipe, delivering the wrong order to a customer, or resorting to extremes when a competing noodle shop opens across the street, Haisheng manages to combine his mischief and wit to save the day. Here is a small sample.







  1. 做菜 (zuòcài) vo. to cook food
  2. 晚上 (wǎnshang) n. evening
  3. 一边 (yībiān) conj. while doing… (two things)
  4. (xiào) v. to laugh, to smile
  5. (yòu) adv. again
  6. 开心 (kāixīn) adj. happy

When you get to the Mandarin Companion Level 2 books, don’t forget about this story! You’ll see how they all fit in.

Get your copy today on Amazon or Kobo! And if you are a teacher or administrator looking to place an order for your school, contact us directly.
If you want to be the first to know about the new releases, subscribe to our email list below.

We are ever grateful for all of the support from all of our readers. We’ll be releasing even more titles this year and be sure to have a listen to our podcast. 加油!


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  • Andrei Posted June 19, 2019 10:56 pm

    Will there be audiobook versions of these breakthrough books? I like that there is audio for level 1 books, and as a beginner I prefer to listen to a native speaker reading the text.

    • Jared Turner Posted June 29, 2019 3:31 am

      Hi Andrei, we will definitely be releasing audio books in the future but we currently are focusing on finishing the remaining 4 books first. Stay tuned!

  • Wenjing Posted June 25, 2019 3:11 am

    Thank you for having this Breakthrough Level Series. I would like to include it in my FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) library next year. Could you guide me to research papers about how Chinese leveled/grade reading materials for CFL learners? I say your 150 characters, but with 68 Key Words(关键字)and the whole book of Zhou Haisheng has more than 1000 words. Some author mentions “The entire story contains just 114 unique words (with “he” and “his” considered to be two words, for example) and runs over 700 words in length.” Is there a standard for level all graded/leveled books? Thank you!

    • Jared Turner Posted June 29, 2019 3:43 am

      Hi Wenjing, we would be honored to be part of your FVR library next year! In regards to research papers regarding Chinese graded readers for CFL learners, I am not aware of any. We have been in touch with some academics from Hong Kong and Taiwan who are interested in using our readers as the basis of a research project, but this may be many years away. However, there is much research regarding the efficacy of English graded readers for EFL learners. There is a full bibliography of this research found on the Extensive Reading Foundation website here:

      As for the word levels, just to clarify, the level is constricted to 150 unique characters but there are approximately 200 unique words used. The book is approximately 4,500 characters in length. I am unfamiliar with the claims of another author who uses only 114 words. If you can provide the name of the book, I am happy to give my thoughts on it.

      But there is no standard for all graded or leveled books. This is a problem across multiple languages as there is always debate regarding which is the most appropriate.

      • Wenjing Posted July 1, 2019 9:23 am

        Thank you Jared! I found this- K-5 Word Frequency Dictionary for Chinese L2 learners from Mandarin Institute-Loyola Marymount University (LMU) STARTALK.
        Looking forward reading Mandarin Companion 4 other books!

  • my-ly Dao Posted June 26, 2019 12:34 am

    Thank you for making this book available.

    • Jared Turner Posted June 29, 2019 3:45 am

      Our pleasure! I hope you enjoyed it!

  • Ben Posted June 28, 2019 5:38 pm

    Really liked this one, thanks. The first book I’ve really managed to completely read through. Looking forward to the next releases.

    • Jared Turner Posted June 29, 2019 3:36 am

      I am so happy to hear that Ben! Keep going!

  • Rob McConeghy Posted June 29, 2019 3:02 am

    I note that all your projected breakthrough books are stories about boys. Please don’t neglect the fact that there are a lot of girls studying Chinese too and they would really like some books about girls as well.
    Also when do you expect to release some level 3 books ?

    • Jared Turner Posted June 29, 2019 3:36 am

      Hey Rob, thanks for bringing this up. I am happy to say that the upcoming book “My Teacher is a Martian” has both a boy and a girl as the main characters. In our level 1 & 2 titles, we also have a number of stories with girls as the main characters including Emma, The Secret Garden, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. I hope you will enjoy these stories!

    • Lynette Posted July 23, 2019 10:34 am

      Yes, I second that. I’m glad there are some with girls as main characters. Keep it up! So glad you’re doing audio for these. That is a game changer for us. Having audio too is the only reason we’re buying your books. Great job!

  • Angela Williams Posted July 4, 2019 12:50 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, thank you! This is my second Chinese reader that I have successfully read through. I am gaining confidence in reading characters and stories such as these are very helpful for building authentic encounters with the language. I am looking forward to the next release.

    • Jared Turner Posted July 4, 2019 12:52 am

      That is great to hear Angela! Keep it up!

  • Kevin Hyatt Posted July 6, 2019 4:07 pm

    I’m only being given the option to purchase hard copies, which due to postage work out expensive. Any reason I’m not able to purchase the Kindle versions in UK?

  • Alisa Posted September 2, 2019 9:10 pm

    Is there an approximate date I can look for the traditional character ones? I’m anxiously awaiting them.

    • Craig Eaton Posted October 11, 2019 6:40 am

      Yes, me too! Any update on traditional characters for breakthrough levels?

    • Jason Posted November 6, 2019 5:41 am

      I am also interested in the traditional character books, both digital and hard copy.

  • Miguel Lavalle Posted December 8, 2019 8:47 am

    I am just starting to learn Chinese. I think the idea of the breakthrough books is excellent. As a newbie looking forward to use the series in my learning efforts, I have the following questions:

    1) What HSK level should I have to be able to read the books in the series?
    2) Is there a list of the 150 characters that I need to read the books in the series?
    3) If the answer to the previous question is “yes”, can that list be used in an app like Skritter to study the characters?
    4) What is the recommended approach for a new Chinese learner to acquire the 150 characters?


  • Heather Osborne Posted February 29, 2020 9:12 pm

    Iv’e read two of these Breakthrough Level books now and I can’t praise them highly enough! Being able to read something fluidly like this has accelerated my character recognition, cemented new grammar and vocab effortlessly and been immensely satisfying and enjoyable as well! Thank you so much!

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