This is a list of all the Level 1 books that are available for free online through EhonNavi; it’ll be updated as I keep reading them.
From Extensive Reading in Japanese, the definition of a Level 1 book:
Level 1: Hiragana and katakana only. The text is very short, and has one-word sentences, phrases, and some complete sentences. There are plenty of visual aids to help convey meaning. Japanese native readers would be three to six years old.
All of these books are available online, as long as you sign up with EhonNavi for free. (Need help signing up? Click here for a walkthrough in English.) There’s one catch: you can only read a book once. Once you open it and finish it, you will not be able to open it again; once you reach the last page, if you try to go back to previous pages they will be pixelated. So take care before opening a book, and if you want to review anything, be careful not to hit the last page accidentally.
Please feel free to send me reviews of these! Having descriptions in English should make them more accessible to beginning readers, so the sooner we get them up the better.
作：谷川 俊太郎（たにかわ しんたろう, Tanikawa Shintarō）
絵：元永 定正（もとなが さだまさ, Motonaga Sadamasa）
Level 1 絵本, 28 pages, 16 words ★★★★☆
This book has just 16 words, and all of them are 擬態語 or 擬音語 – that is, gitaigo or giongo, onomatoepic words based either on emotional states or sounds. Once you know that detail, this is a great one to challenge yourself to understand without looking up anything, because even if you don’t know a single word you can still understand things because of the pictures. (This is, after all, the top rated book for babies, and babies don’t know onomatopeia any better than you do.) Read it aloud, pay attention to the action while enjoying the pretty colors and try to guess what some of those crazy words mean.
作：中川ひろたか（なかがわ ひろたか, Nakagawa Hirotaka）
絵：平田利之（ひらた としゆき, Hirata Toshiyuki）
Level 1 絵本, 26 pages, 27 words ★★★★☆
A charming way to practice counting. Thanks to the illustrations and the tiny amount of words, this one shouldn’t require too much prior vocabulary to read. (Rule of thumb: fewer words = generally easier.)
*sniff sniff* That Smells Good!
作／絵：たしろ ちさと（Tashiro Chisato）
Level 1 絵本, 32 pages, 72 words (est.) ★★★★☆
A young boy’s descriptions of everyday smells. This one also has some nice illustrations of family life: everyone bathing together is a きもちいいにおい and lighting sparklers is a なつかしいにおい.
A-I-U-E-O Picture Book
Level 1 絵本, 96 pages, 200 words (est.) ★★★☆☆
A lot of あいうえお books suffer (from the beginning learner’s point of view) from including words that are relatively uncommon. This one is, however, much better for learners than most of the others I’ve seen, and it highlights a lot of animal names you’ll want to know. (Hint: If it’s got a さん after it, it’s usually an animal name.) The sentences feel kind of fragmented, so they might be a little confusing, but the illustrations are lovely.
作／絵：山岡 ひかる（やまおか ひかる, Yamaoka Hikaru）
Level 1 絵本, 40 pages, 150 words (est.) ★★★★☆
Another good あいうえお book, really fun if you like Japanese food, and one that you could read without very much vocabulary since the text that isn’t food names is limited and repetitive. This one forms bento (lunch boxes) out of various foods based on the hiragana syllabary, so you can get acquainted with common foods while you practice reading. A lot of foods are more commonly written in katakana, and they have katakana readings given in blue. So be aware that when you read this book, if there’s a blue word, that’s the one you should actually pay attention to – no one writes とまと, it’s always トマト, and this is just kind of an annoying artifact of learning from kids’ books because adults seem to think that easy books need katakana glosses. Don’t forget that tadoku is reading for fun, so don’t feel like you need to memorize all the food names — I don’t know all of them, and I’m fairly well versed in Japanese food.
- Extensive reading is known as 多読, or tadoku in Japanese. To try it, start with very easy books (ones with no more than two or three unknown words per page), and follow these principles:
1. Don’t look up words in the dictionary while reading.
2. Skip over parts you don’t understand.
3. If you aren’t enjoying one book, toss it aside and get another.
Find something to read!
Hundreds of free books and stories online
Local bookstores and libraries
Buying new and used books online
For more information, read "What Is Extensive Reading?" and "Classification System."
To learn more about Kunihide Sakai, who developed the three principles of tadoku and has worked to popularize it in Japan for years, read this interview with him.
Finally, for more than you ever wanted to know about why I believe extensive reading is worth your time, read my tadoku manifesto.
Superfluous StatsBooks read: 303
Word count (since starting the blog): 380,500
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