Taking the world less travelled

Why books for 10 year olds are easier than books for 5 year olds

Posted by on Mar 1, 2010 in Language | 20 comments

Previously I’ve posted about Japanese children’s stories and also websites intended for Japanese children. At the time I was experimenting with children’s books but the experience ultimately left me a bit frustrated. The vocabulary (both content and the fact it was mostly hiragana) was difficult and the content was a bit juvenile (while stories about shrinking and flying on the back of a bug through a forest may sound interesting, for me I want to read more in depth stories where I get to know characters). And of course the fact that these stories are for five to seven year olds is a bit disheartening – they can read it but I can’t?? type feelings.

But don’t worry. There is something better out there! And easier. Yes, easier. Even though the books are intended for older children, I have found stories aimed at around 10 year olds (guessing from the age of the main characters being around 9 to 13 years old) are actually easier.

Why are they easier?

  • More kanji, less hiragana. While you may not know many kanji, it is still ten times easier to read a book with kanji than without. The good thing is that all kanji in books for 10 year olds have furigana – the only kanji I’ve seen without furigana are numbers, and if you don’t know your numbers you probably can’t read the book anyway.
  • Longer and more complex stories. How is this easier for you? Well, they take more time developing the characters and setting the scene. This is good because if you can only understand the book at a surface level it is easier to follow the story along. I found my books for younger children dove right into the “action”, things happened, and then it was over. Where are books for older children, you get more of an idea of setting, there is more dialogue (which I find easier than prose having been exposed to a lot of dramas) and the story is more enticing.
  • More enjoyable. This goes with longer and more complex stories. I have never been one to enjoy short stories, with few exceptions, and I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the same is true for Japanese stories.

Another great point is the start seems exceptionally easy because it deals with introductions. While the stories for younger children went right into the action, longer stories seem to start of with a self introduction of the main character, and then early on the character meets new characters which means more introductions. I don’t know about you, but self introductions was one of the first things I learnt in Japanese, and now I’m a pro at it. A self introduction scene in a drama is a scene I understand. Same with books. It is very encouraging opening up a book and understanding it at the start. It is better for your moral for something to start easy, giving you confidence to tackle the harder stuff.

Reading improved my English. I am a big reader and I know that I have a better grasp of grammar and punctuation than most (those who don’t read) even if I leave little evidence of that on my blog! I think that lots of reading will improve my Japanese. It’s harder to get into than dramas because with drams you have so much visual guide to help you. However, the advantages over books is you can go slower, look up unknown words and thus actually understand more than you do of the quick spoken dialogues in dramas. I am excited to finally be able to read REAL Japanese and hopefully soon I’ll be able to move up the age groups and into books without furigana, eventually onto books for adults.

Look out on my blog soon for tips and techniques to get into reading real novels so you can get into it faster than what I have. Learn from my mistakes (or at least, be able to evaluate what I went through and get some ideas on how you can adapt them for yourself!)

If you are interested in my other reading adventures, check out my manga reading adventures, and more specifically reading Hana Kimi


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Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Tiffany Harvey

    I totally agree about the younger books being more difficult. I’m not quite up to an actual ‘reading’ stage, but early on I tried to translate a few children’s books and couldn’t even do that. So many hirigana words have several different meanings. That may not be a problem when there is only one word like that in a sentence, but when the whole sentence is made up of words with 3+ completely different meanings, you can’t even make a guess based on context.

    When you have the kanji, you still might have a few subtleties in the definition, but it is much clearer. And you can often guess the meaning from the kanji alone! I’d much rather have a book with no furigana than one with no kanji.

  2. Andini Rizky

    Maybe you’re right, picture books with vocabulary for little children maybe useful if you are a mother raising children in Japan but useless otherwise.

    I love picture books written for adult (not porn!) and picture books that are supposed to make you cry. When I lived in Japan, I used to ask for ‘nakeru ehon’ or ‘otona muke no ehon’ from my librarians and I think they had loved me for it.

  3. pachipachi

    Gah, too bad I read that post after buying the books serie for first 3 years school children ;)

    I agree it is not that simple to read those…

    I recommend the “Japanese Graded Readers” serie. It is really good for beginners I think: it’s all in japanese, there is furigana everywhere, the sentences are easy and made for japanese beginners (both on the grammar points and the vocabulary one). And there are drawings to help you understand the difficult parts. So you are not even supposed to use a dictionnary while reading those (well, I do cheat as I use one on the second reading ;)) There is an audio CD provided with all the stories read by japanese people. There are 4 levels available. I really enjoyed all the sets I bought from them (level 2 vol 1, level 3 vol 1 and level 4 vol 1)

    Anyway, those are maybe too easy now for GoddessCarlie ;)

    • GoddessCarlie

      ah yes, I have these and they are great! They are actually in Australia at the moment and I’m in Japan, so I haven’t been able to review them yet. But I agree, those books are really good.

  4. pachipachi

    So if you find nice japanese books (on the story side and on the ‘aim for beginners’ one too), I will be really interested in a review of them ;)

    So that I can prepare my next purchase on japanese amazon… I’m already tempted by buying the volume 2 of the set I’ve mentionned ;)

  5. Kylie Catanzaro

    I recently went to this blog by Msn and had to take some of my time to say thanks to you regarding the guidance to do with boosting self-confidence.

  6. James Ellinger

    I see this post is a few months old, but I am working in Japan currently for the next few months and I was wondering if you might be able to suggest a few manga aimed at 9-13 year olds that I might be able to find at a book off. I’ve asked my co-workers (all Japanese) for suggestions, but they don’t seem to understand my reasoning for wanting manga for younger people. Of course, they don’t seem to understand much of my reasoning. I asked about camping on Miyajima and their response was to stay at a hotel…

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  1. East Asia Blog Roundup : 7/3/2010 « Eye on East Asia - [...] Goddess Carlie – Carlie lists some of the reasons why she thinks books written for 10 year old kids…

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