The story ‘I Broke My Trunk’ by Mo Willems is one of the books in Elephant and Piggie book series we love to read at home. The story is simple but hilarious. My daughter often begs me to read it for her, so I thought why not take advantage of this and get her to read this book in Mandarin Chinese by herself?

You see, being English is the dominant language, my daughter can read the ‘I Broke My Trunk‘ story in English no problem. But she has never attempted reading a whole book in Chinese like one. There are many complex Chinese characters in it that she hasn’t learnt yet.

My goal has been and always be for my child to speak Mandarin fluently and be literate with the Simplified Chinese language.

Since I started to homeschool her Mandarin Chinese systematically a year ago when she was five, I’ve been focusing on teaching her the foundational skills such as Chinese Pinyin alphabets, reading and writing simple Chinese characters with few strokes.

Now, a year has passed, and she’s turned six in May 2020, I feel it’s time to introduce reading into her Chinese learning.

So, I came up with this idea, to my surprise, worked pretty well, that she was able to read this book almost entirely by herself in about six days with just 30 minutes each day!

Watch how she reads this story below (sorry our chickens were reading too in the backgroundsmile):

I know. It’s not perfect. But, hey, for a little 6-year-old who is just starting to read Chinese, I’m happy with the outcome.

By the way, I don’t measure my daughter’s Chinese literacy level by how many Chinese characters she knows.

Sure, it would boost my ego a bit. But my end-goal is for my daughter to read Chinese books, any book! As a result, I only focus on how fluent she can read Chinese books, for her age, of course.

So, what was my idea? What did I do to get my daughter reading the story ‘I Broke My Trunk‘ in a short period? Keep reading.

Step 1. Ensure there is enough input of the story ‘I Broke My Trunk’ in Mandarin.

What do I mean by that?

I mean you need to read this story to your child at least a few times preferably more if you speak Mandarin so that your child can have sufficient input of the sounds of each word in his/her brain.

By listening to you reading aloud ‘I Broke My Trunk’ story, your child will get familiarised with the pronunciations of each Chinese word. You know well, children naturally copy what we say.

I haven’t forgotten those of you who don’t speak Mandarin yet. I’ve recorded the following two videos just for you.

Video 1 – I Broke My Trunk story read aloud in Mandarin Chinese and English.

If you like to flashcards I used in the video, I made these cards exclusively for my subscribers for FREE.  So, please consider to subscribe and join in Panda Mama Chinese community to be updated with my latest FREEBIES and updates.


Video 2 – I Broke My Trunk story read aloud in Mandarin Chinese only.

You can watch either video with your child a few times and listen to me reading the story ‘I Broke My Trunk‘ in Mandarin Chinese.

Once you planted enough sounds in your child’s brain, then you can move on to next step.

Step 2. Identify the words from the story ‘ I Broke My Trunk’ that are difficult or new to your child.

Indeed, there aren’t too many Chinese words in this story. But, I know I haven’t taught my 6-year-old many Chinese characters in the book yet.  So I’ve picked those most difficult characters out and printed them on flashcards.

Those words are:

猪zhū(pig), 象xiàng(elephant), 犀牛xī  niú(rhino), 河马hé mǎ(hippo), 钢琴gāngqín(piano), 姐姐jiějie(older sister), 折了shéle(broken), 鼻子bízi(nose).


Using flashcards is a fantastic way to help your child to learn and expand his/her Chinese vocabulary.

It works particularly well when you associate the words on the flashcards with your child’s daily life (e.g. the books he/she reads, the cartoon he/she watches and toys he/she plays etc.).

The mistake that some parents make is to buy a bunch of Chinese flashcards hoping their children would remember them.

Nope. It isn’t going to happen. Unless you associate those flashcards with your child’s surroundings, he/she wouldn’t learn or know how to use them.

Why do I know that? I was one of those parents!


flashcards from story i broke my trunk

No kidding. I still have those glossy flashcards that I paid big bucks for sitting in my storage. They are too random for my daughter at this stage. For now, I’ll just focus on using my flashcards.

Let’s get back to the flashcards inspired by the story ‘I Broke My Trunk‘.

I made them double-sided, meaning you only need to print one page and you get both sides. Print, laminate, cut them, and you are good to go.


Your child may or may not know the Chinese words I made in the cards. But, you can use the same method I share here, identify the new words, print them on the cards and teach accordingly.

You can use this same method to teach your child new words with all of your child’s favourite storybooks.

So, once you have these cards, how do you get your child to learn them, the FUN way?

1st – Show your child the Chinese characters only (use the side with no Pinyin, no clipart, no English), and to ask your child to tell you what that word and the meaning is.

Reward your child for getting it right (e.g. a kiss, a tickle, a healthy treat). Be creative and make it to a game.

Your child will happily tell you what that word is if he/she recognises it. If your child can’t tell you or hesitating, then you can put on the side for later study.

Repeat the same process until you go through all the flashcards with your child. Make a note of which Chinese word your child can’t recognise.


2nd – Read the story ‘I Broke My Trunk’ with your child if you speak Mandarin (or listen to my story read aloud in my videos if you don’t speak Mandarin) with these flashcards.

Have these cards ready. Pause when you see one of the Chinese words show up on a page. Ask your child if he/she can find that ‘MYSTERY’ Chinese character on that page (Don’t forget to add a bit mystery tone when you speak to your child). Children love it!

So did my daughter because it was a game to her. Even she didn’t know the word. She was gladly looking for the ‘mystery word’ because she could recognise the shapes of that Chinese character. You child can too!

Once your child has found the word on the book page, then ask your child reads back to you, if he/she knows.

If not, turn the flashcards to the side that has Pinyin, clipart and English. Use the Pinyin to sound out the Chinese character in Mandarin (refer to my videos if you are not sure of the pronunciations).


Chinese Pinyin is the KEY for your child to master speaking Mandarin.

I can’t stress enough the importance of learning Chinese Pinyin for non-native Chinese children or for any beginner.

Check out my posts below to find out what-why-when-how to learn Pinyin.

What is Pinyin?

What forms Pinyin?

Why learn Pinyin?

What’s the best time to learn Pinyin?

How kids can learn and remember each Pinyin sound, the FUN way!

Repeat the same process for each Chinese word until you finish reading (or watching my video) this story.

If your child is up for it, ask your child to try to read the book him/herself with your help, or follow me reading in the video.

Your child will need reminders here and there while reading. But, eventually, he/she will read smoother and faster.

I call this ‘deep reading’. This process deepens and reinforces your child’s Chinese literacy skill. By doing this, those new Chinese characters suddenly won’t be that strange anymore.

Don’t try to push too hard. I mean if your child doesn’t want to continue, then take a break. Get back another day. Remember, reading should be enjoyable for your child. You don’t want to turn the Chinese reading time as hard labour.

Step 3 – Bank these flashcards from the story ‘ I Broke My Trunk’ in a word box ( Hanzi Box 汉字箱)

Why this step? Once your child has learnt the flashcards from this book ‘I Broke My Trunk’, its time to bank or put these cards away in a designated word/Hanzi box (汉字箱) for future revisions.

This step is a MUST because by doing this,

A. You can get an idea and keep tracking of the progress you’ve made together with your Child over time. Note it is not so much about counting the numbers of words. It is about a sense of achievement.

B. You can get these flashcards out from time to time and check if your child still remembers them ( revision). If not, you know what to do – keep repeating and learning.

Keep adding flashcards into the word box/Hanzi Box. After a while, you will be surprised how much you and your child have achieved!

Here is how we did it at home as a reference:

I had my husband Mark made a wooden mailbox like this one:

flashcards from story i broke my trunk

We use this box to keep all the flashcards I made. My daughter loves it.

Every a couple of days, I’d get my daughter to reach her hands into the mailbox, have her to pick the card one at a time (no peaking), and ask her to read the Chinese character back to me using the front side with no Pinyin, no clip art and no English.

Only when she didn’t know or has forgotten the character that we’d look at the backside of the flashcards (the side with Pinyin, clip art and English). 

So far, I find this method is VERY EFFECTIVE in terms of getting my child learning new Chinese characters out of the story ‘ I Broke My Trunk’. 

That’s how I got my daughter to read the story ‘I Broke My Trunk‘ in 6 days at 30 minutes a day! No doubt I’ll continue to use this method to help her reading more books in Chinese!


Of course, every family and child is different. What works for us might not work for you. That’s why we homeschooling: to provide individualised teaching that suits our children!

Keep trying and never give up searching for what’s right for your children. You will get there. 

By the way, if you’d like to learn how to make this wooden mailbox, then stay tuned with my blog post coming up next week.

I’ll share with you how my husband made this box step-by-step with a video, and you can download templates we used in the video as well.

If you’re not good with wooden work or don’t have space to make it, you can use a shoebox or cardboard box. Download the templates and stick them on the box will do.

Want to know more tips and resources to help you teach your child Mandarin Chinese at home? Consider to sign up with my newsletters. That’s the only way I can keep you updated with my latest.



What method do you use at home in encouraging your child reading Chinese books? Leave your comments below or go to Panda Mama Facebook community to start the conversation. 

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