Several years ago I heard about this site where you can read Japanese children’s picture books for free, EhonNavi. I visited it for a few minutes, but didn’t spend nearly as much time with it as I should have. At first glance, it appeared to me that most of the books on the site would only allow you to read a small sample of the book, and only a handful of books could be read in full. So, I didn’t really think it looked too useful. That was a huge oversight on my part though, as I recently learned when I revisited this site again. In fact, they currently offer over 1800 children’s books that you can read in their entirety, for free! And while they do offer many thousands more which you can view only a sample of, its very easy to search for only the books that can be read completely. Another problem that I had when I visited the site a few years ago, was that I just looked at one or two random books, and saw that I was not able to read them easily, and I just assumed that these sorts of children’s books would not be useful for me. That was another huge mistake! Because, this site does in fact allow you to sort them by age level, which means that you can specifically start off with just the most simple books, and then work your way up to the more difficult ones. Looking back now, I feel really dumb for having let myself miss out on this AMAZING resource, just because I didn’t spend enough time with it to really see what it could offer me.
While I feel that graded readers (stories written specifically for learners of a language) are the best type of reading material for beginners, I would probably peg native children’s books as the second best type of reading material. As I wrote in my previous post, I have made it my New Year’s resolution to try to read every single book offered on EhonNavi. In just the first week, I have read over 100 of them, and I feel that I am already seeing benefits from it. If you would like to start reading as well, let me show you how to get started with this site.
How to Register (free!)
First, click over to http://www.ehonnavi.net/
Next, click the button in the top-right that says メンバー登録のご案内, as seen in the image below.
When you arrive at the next page, simply press the big orange button.
You then get to a form, where you simply need to enter your email address and your desired password, and then select the 2nd option for the 3 radio buttons in order to say you don’t want to receive marketing emails from them. Finally, press the orange button to register.
After that, they will send you an email to verify your email address. You simply need to click the link in the email, and it will take you to the login page, where you can login with the email address and password that you just specified.
How to Read (Requires Adobe Flash)
Once you are logged in, in order to browse only FULL books (as opposed to samples), just click the link in the menu labeled 全ページためしよみ which you can see highlighted in the image below.
This will take you to a page that lets you browse the books in a variety of ways. You can see recommended books, rankings of the top books, and other things. But I think the most useful way to look at the books is by age level, starting with the easiest books and then working your way up to the more challenging ones. In order to do that, you will want to scroll down to about the middle of the page, and look for this:
As you can see, there is a list of links showing ages from 0 years old, up through 12 years old, and then also a listing of books for adults. I strongly recommend starting off with 0歳, even if you think you can read more advanced ones. Reading something that’s too easy isn’t going to hurt you, after all!
Please note that you need to click the the ages listed on that page, as opposed to the ones up in the top menu, if you want to only see listings for entire books. If you click the ages in the menu at the top of the site, it will show you many books that you can only read a small sample of.
When you are browsing the books that are available, you will see small icons under the book. A yellow icon means you can read the full book. A green icon means you can read a sample of the book. A gray icon means that you have already read the book, and are not able to read it again.
That’s right, after you have read a book once, you are not able to read it again. That’s the only catch to this site, and I suppose that is the condition on which they are able to allow the books to be read for free in the first place. If for some reason you really want to read something a second time, I supposed you could always just register a new account with another email address.
As for how the lockout actually works, once you open the book to start reading, a 15 minute timer starts. Once the 15 minutes is up, the button will turn grey, and the book can not be opened again. However, you can open the book multiple times within that 15 minutes if you need to, for instance if you accidentally close your browser window or something like that. Also, if the 15 minutes runs out while you are reading the book, you can still continue reading and flipping between the pages as much as you like, but if all of the pages haven’t loaded, then you might not be able to view the whole thing. It seems to load just a few pages at a time, so if you open a book and let it sit on page one for a half hour, then you likely wont be able to read the whole thing. For this reason, the ideal method of reading these books is to just read straight through, without stopping to look up words in a dictionary or create Anki cards or anything like that. Once you have finished reading, then you can flip back and take as much time as you like to study the book further. Furthermore, if you open a book and realize you aren’t going to be able to finish it right away, the best thing to do is flip through the pages and make sure all the pages load, and then leave your browser open until you can come back and finish reading it.
So, there you have it. If you aren’t using this great resource already, I highly recommend it. Some of the easiest books might seem odd or unusual at first, because a large amount of the content consists of sounds (onomatopoeia) rather than actual words. Reading them has proved useful even for me though! After reading several books, I started to get a hang for what all those sounds actually mean! Sure enough, you see the same ones used over and over in similar situations. And then once you get up to around 3歳, you should see the language starting to get more and more “normal”, other than the fact that they don’t really use kanji until you get to some of the more advanced books. In any case, the sheer amount of content here, if you can work your way through it, should seriously level up your reading ability and provide a great pathway towards reading manga.
Oh, and you can also use this site from your smartphone or tablet! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.