The Writer's Guide to Children's Book Genres

The Writer’s Guide to Children’s Book Genres

Genres carve up all the works we call “literature” and put them into helpful categories. For kids, the most helpful categories are developmental stages. So children’s book genres really equate to age categories or developmental stages.

Why developmental stage? What’s interesting and appropriate to a toddler is wildly different from what would make the cut for a tween or teen. And while adults may stick to one type of content (romance, mystery, fantasy, etc.), kids are happy to read a wide variety.

Children’s book genres are a blueprint to writing success, so today I’m going in depth into the different genres.

Why Children’s Book Writers Need to Know Genres

How long should your book be? What topics will work? What content is appropriate? Knowing what children’s book genre you’re writing can help answer these questions.

You can also save yourself a lot of heartache by sticking to genre guidelines. If your book doesn’t fit into one of the genres:

  • Publishers won’t know how to publish it.
  • Bookstores won’t know where to put it on their shelves.
  • Librarians won’t know which kids will want your book.
  • And if your book gets through those gauntlets you still might have a book that your readers, kids, will not want to read. Ouch.

So if you want to write children’s books, you should learn a bit about all the genres and a lot about the genre you write.

Children’s Book Genres

Children's Book Genre Infographic
Click to open full screen for enlargement.

I’ve outlined each of the major children’s book genres below, I give a rundown of basic stats (age of readers and length) along with helpful guidelines.

One of the best ways to learn about a genre is to read books in that genre. So I’ve listed four books for each genre. One is a book you probably already know (a classic or recent bestseller) to help you get a sense of that genre. The other three books are modern books to jump-start your research. You can find ever more to read on my book recommendation posts.

Board Books

Age range: Birth to age 2

Word count: up to around 200 words

Popular content and tropes: faces; every day objects and activities

Board books are named after their thick cardboard pages that are easier for chubby fingers to turn and hold up to chewing. These books are very short to match short attention spans. They’re designed to be read by an adult to a child.

I love board books! I have a whole blog post that dives into board books are designed to meet babies’ developmental needs.

One book you know:

Book cover: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Three new books to love:

Book Cover: Whose Toes are Those
Whose Toes are Those by Jabari Asim

Picture Books

Age range: Age 3 to 8, can be further divided into younger and older picture books

Word count: up to around 550 words (though nonfiction can be up to around 1200 words)

Popular content and tropes: bedtime stories, school stories

“Picture book” does not mean any book with a picture. (Sorry for the confusion.) These are often what people think of when you say “children’s book.” They’re fully-illustrated books that are almost universally 32 pages long. They are usually read to an adult by a child.

One book you know:

Book Cover: The Snowy Day By Jack Ezra Keats
The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats

Three new books to love:

Book Cover: Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Early Readers and Chapter Books

A note: Early Readers and Chapter Books are really two separate categories. I’ve lumped them together in my infographic for space reasons.

Age range: Children learning to read, typically age 5 to 8

Word count: from less than 100 words (for the easiest easy readers) to 10,000 words (for chapter books)

Popular content and tropes: school stories

Early readers are usually the first books that a child reads – they’re extremely short and have highly controlled content and word choice to guide new readers. They’re usually divided into levels of increasing difficulty.

Chapter books refer specifically to shorter books divided into chapters. They bridge the gap between easy readers and novels. Usually, these are parts of series, so once a child finds one they like, they can keep reading.

One book you know:

Book Cover: Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Chapter book – Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Three new books to love:

Book Cover: What this Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig by Emma J. Virgan
Easy Reader – What this Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig by Emma J. Virgan

Middle Grade Novels

Age range: Age 8 to 12

Word count: 25,000 to 65,000 words

Popular content and tropes: coming of age stories, some budding romance (but often not more than a crush and a kiss on the cheek)

Middle grade is usually what people think of when you say “children’s novel.” These books often can be further divided into the same content categories as adult novels (for instance, A Wrinkle in Time could be called a Middle-Grade fantasy novel).

One book you know:

Book Cover: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Three new books to love:

Book Cover: To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Young Adult

Age range: Age 13+

Word count: 40,000 to 85,000 words

Popular content and tropes: romance, increasing independence

Young Adult novels are just as long, complex, and intense as many adult novels – but feature teenage protagonists and teenage problems. That’s one reason YA has a strong readership among adults.

Teens are independent, often buying their own books. That shows in the content of YA novels, which may include adult-unapproved topics like violence, and sex.

One book you know:

Book Cover: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Three new books to love:

Book Cover: Turtles all the way down
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

So what questions do you have about children’s book genres?

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