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Review of よむよむ文庫 レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー レベル 1 (Reading Collection: Graded Japanese Extensive Reading Library Level 1)
Total: 109 pages, 1,680 words (est.)

Click here for my introduction to the よむよむ文庫 series and information about graded readers.

Level 1, 初級前半 (First half of the beginner level): These draw on the same vocabulary list and grammar forms as level 0 readers, but are up to three times longer; they go from 400-1,500 characters per story (around 100 words to 550 words). They’re suitable for people studying for the old JLPT level 4 (new level 5). There are three volumes of these, with five stories each.

In this series, the only difference between a Level 1 reader and a Level 0 reader is the length: they draw on the same vocabulary pool and grammar structures, but while Level 0 readers have around 400 characters per story, Level 1 readers have between 400 and 1500 characters. So while the stories themselves are just a few pages longer (between 21-23 pages), all in all there’s almost three times as much content in a Level 1 volume as there is in a Level 0 volume, and as always, there’s a CD that comes with each volume.

There’s five stories (meaning they’d be about $7.40 each, assuming you get them from White Rabbit Press; see my introduction for more), and each story gets progressively longer: the first one, 女の子 (The Girl), has about 130 words, and the last one, 笑い話 (Funny Stories), has about 550 words. (It’s split into smaller stories, so even though it’s the longest, it shouldn’t be too intimidating.) The Level 0 graded readers felt like authentic Level 1 books, albeit ones for adults, but these Level 1 graded readers start to feel like extremely easy picture books, which are level 2 by the system I use. (Apologies for confusion caused by the crossover between the system I use and these graded readers.) The thing about authentic picture books, though, is that there’s a wide range of difficulty: some level 2 books are what I consider low-level picture books, like the Usako-chan books, which these Level 1 graded readers are just beginning to approach. Most picture books are at a moderate level, and then some are harder than you would expect them to be just from the format, because they consistently use harder words, or perhaps because the target audience isn’t really children. So for a beginner even picture books can be frustrating if you don’t choose them well, and that may be hard to do if you’re just starting to read them and don’t really have the reading skill to be able to evaluate them, or you don’t have a lot of books to select from; this graded reader collection bypasses that problem.

I generally enjoyed these on their own merits; there were stories like ハチの話 (Hachi’s Story), 浦島太郎 (Urashima Tarō) and 笑い話 (Funny Stories) that weren’t just easy to read and amusing, but also draw on stories that are common knowledge in Japan. As with the Level 0 graded readers, I feel that authentic books at a comparable level of difficulty and sophistication don’t really exist.

Again, there are pages from four of the books online, so you can see if this would be the right level for you, and again there’s a CD that comes with each volume. There is also a full sample of a Level 1 story available on the Japanese Graded Readers Research Group’s website: 船 (The Boat). There are three volumes of level 1 graded readers: Level 1, Volume 1, Level 1, Volume 2 and Level 1, Volume 3. (I’m not associated with White Rabbit Press; they just have the cheapest price for these graded readers at the moment.)

As I first encountered these as an intermediate learner after doing extensive reading for a few months, I don’t have any personal experience as to what it would be like to use them as a beginner or without experience with extensive reading, although I can make an educated guess based on my own experiences with learning the language and extensive reading and on watching other people read some of them. So if you’ve used them, please leave a comment! I’d love to hear about your experience – did you think they were useful? worth the money? fun? about the right difficulty level?