My Teacher is a Martian

My Teacher is a Martian

John Pasden and Jared Turner

BREAKTHROUGH LEVEL (150 unique characters)

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Two students are fascinated by outer space, but when their new teacher seems to know more about Mars than anyone could possibly know, they start to suspect that something is unusual. As they encounter inexplicable events, they become convinced their teacher is actually from Mars. How can they prove it and who will believe them? They may be the only ones who can discover the truth!

Adaptation Notes

Any learner that has managed to learn 150 Chinese characters knows it is not an easy task, and the prospect of reading a real text in Chinese seems discouragingly far off. Typically textbook dialogs are the only reading material available for years on end. That’s why being able to read an actual story with only 150 Chinese characters is a very big deal, and a huge help to the fluency development of early-stage learners.

The stories told at this 150-character Breakthrough Level are special, however. Nouns, verbs amd adjectives at this level are in short supply, and the stories revolve around the limited vocabulary by necessity. This is why Breakthrough Level stories are not adaptation of western classics. They are original stories co-written by John Pasden and Jared Turner, specifically designed to be engaging to readers despite the limitations.

When John and Jared were generating story ideas at the Breakthrough Level, the character for “fire,” ⽕ (huǒ), and for “star,” 星(xīng), were on a sheet of possible characters to be used. Together, these characters form the Chinese word for Mars: ⽕星 (Huǒxīng), and set off the quest to create a sci-fi story using the Chinese name of the fourth planet in our solar system. Jared recalled reading a story called “My Teacher is an Alien” in his youth, which provided the inspiration for a story about two Chinese elementary school students who suspect their teacher is, in fact, from Mars. From this genesis of an idea, the Mandarin Companion story My Teacher is a Martian was born. For those who can read this book at an enjoyable pace, you are already well on your way towards progressing to the Level 1 stories.

P.S. There are two “Mandarin Companion Universe” and two sci-fi easter eggs hidden in the illustrations of this book. Can you find them?

Character Adaptions

The following is a list of the characters from The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng in Chinese followed by their corresponding English names from this original story. There are, of course, other characters in the story besides these, but many do not have exact correspondences to the original. The names below aren’t translations; they’re new Chinese names used for the Chinese versions of the original characters. Think of them as all-new characters in a Chinese story.

  • 谢心月(Xiè Xīnyuè) Xie Xinyue
  • 马天明(Mǎ Tiānmíng) Ma Tianming
  • 车老师(Chē Lǎoshī) Mr. Che
  • 方老师(Fāng Lǎoshī) Ms. Fang
  • 水老师(Shuǐ Lǎoshī) Mr. Shui

Sample of My Teacher is a Martian

车老师看过很多星星1火星2的书,每次3说到火星2,他4能说很多:知道火星2在哪里,火星2上没有水,也没有人…… 5车老师火星2的时候6马天明谢心月都很开心7








  1. 星星 xīngxing n. star, stars
  2. 火星 Huǒxīng pn. Mars
  3. 每次 měi cì phrase every time
  4. jiù adv. just
  5. tīng v. to listen (to)
  6. 的时候 de shíhou phrase when…
  7. 开心 kāixīn adj. happy
  8. jiā mw., n. measure word for shops; home
  9. 怎么 zěnme adv. how
  10. 这么 zhème adv. so…
  11. xīn adj. new
  12. 说话 shuōhuà vo. to speak (words), to talk
  13. xiào v. to laugh, to smile
  14. 有一天 yǒu yī tiān phrase one day…
  15. 已经 yǐjing adv. already
  16. 回来 huílai vc. to come back
  17. v. to get, to hold
  18. 东西 dōngxi n. thing(s), stuff
  19. 门边 mén biān phrase by the door
  20. 看到 kàndào vc. to see
  21. 里面 lǐmiàn n. inside
  22. 一边 yībiān conj. while doing… (two things)
  23. 看书 kànshū vo. to read, to study
  24. 可能 kěnéng adv.; aux maybe, possibly; possible
  25. 第一次 dì-yī cì phrase first time
  26. 这样 zhèyàng pr. like this
  27. yòu adv. again

BRAVO! So Very Thrilled I am left writing you this stream of consciousness- praise

A professional sociologist-linguist, I know about human languages and love to study them and I know the difficulty of Kanji (Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, English and SAS computer languages). From this standpoint I am so very impressed: Your reader made incredible use of the combinatorics of the first 150 characters; and I can attest that if these are already mastered, then this book provides great ease to the self reinforcing usages of the Hanzi ( and exemplify Chinese grammar structure, punctuation etc.). As a linguist, I made it my mission to use two popular online apps to complete the first 150 HSK-1 Characters (over this pandemic) — but I only ever experienced Chinese in the smallest of concrete phrases, never the beautiful development of a plot or story or sequence of progression of ideas which your book allowed. And it was not written for babies: it was challenging yet easy enough to read that I EXPERIENCED READING Chinese. I remained captivated by the reading process as a forty-four year old.

This was a first time language pleasure for my brain in a way that as a socio-linguist I oddly lack the words to express — such a novel psychological and cognitive experience that it was. I AM IMPRESSED by the plot-complexity built from novel yet attainable character-strings. Linguists frequently inform that 800 core words comprise 85 to 90% of adult’s daily utterances; but I never experienced how complex a narration could be formed from just the 150 characters reinforced in the HSK-1 reader you provide. After 6 months of mind numbing work with Chinese HSK-1, this is the first ray of light I have seen and now I am inspired onward to the next HSK-2 for more reading soon!


Dr. Salvatore Labaro, Amazon review

These breakthrough readers are a very important spoke in the wheel of your Mandarin learning! I can’t tell you how helpful these have been for me for character recognition and also for cementing some of the grammar points common in the beginner level.

These books “only” have 150 characters but of course that means they really contain so much more! For a beginner, learning how different characters combined in different ways make up different words/ideas is very helpful. Beyond all of those practical points, the stories are actually interesting (find out what’s up with the 本子!)I’m thankful that these graded readers exist and that I have many higher levels to aspire to.

OneEyedJax, Amazon review