A Guide To Children’s Book Categories

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So, you have an idea for a children’s book. But where to start? Navigating the world of children’s books can be confusing, and it can be difficult to pinpoint how your idea will fit in to that world. Before you begin to write, you need to choose a category. Children’s book categories are narrowed down by age level and reading ability.

Children’s book categories are used by publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, schools, and other industry professionals. Manuscripts that fit within the categories will have a better chance of getting out of the slush pile and onto the shelf. As always, check the publisher’s guidelines before submitting.

If you are self-publishing, keeping within these guidelines will help categorize your book on online publishing platforms and draw the right audience and increase sales.

These 6 categories of children’s books will help you narrow down what kind of children’s books you want to write. It’s important to know these categories and write to their specifications, so that your idea can grow into a published book and find its way into little hands.

Board Books (A.K.A. First Books, Toddler Books, Baby Books)

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  • Ages 0 – 3
  • 16 – 24 pages, not including cover.
  • 0 – 200 words

Board books are made from paperboard, not paper, hence their name. The cover is the same material as the text pages (also called a self cover). They can often be interactive or novelty books with lift-the-flap, sound effects, scratch-and-sniff, and varying textures.

A board book is often a baby’s first encounter with a book. They are small and sturdy to fit in a baby’s hands. They contain one main image or concept per page and introduce children to simple concepts or ideas. As board books are designed for pre-emergent readers, the pictures are more important than the text. They can often be adapted and abridged from popular picture books.

Picture Books

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There are 3 sub-categories for Picture Books:

Early Picture BookPicture BookOlder Picture Book
Ages 2 – 5Ages 3 – 7Ages 4 – 8
24 – 32 pages32 pages32 Pages
200 – 500 words500 – 800 words600 – 1,000 words

Picture books are designed for emergent readers. With great read-aloud potential, picture books utilize rhythm, cadence, and repetition. They contain stories with simple plots: hero has a problem, complications arise, and solution. Picture books are strongly reliant on the illustrations to augment the text.

Most picture books are 32 pages, with only 24-28 of those pages used for the text. The other 4-8 pages are used for title page, copyright, and book ends (which are not suitable for printing text). The industry is very strict with the 32-page count for picture books because of printing costs. 32 pages will fit on 1 sheet of printing paper, making it the most cost effective. Also, more pages will make the book too thick to bind properly. Any deviation from the standard will result in extra charges.

Early Reader (A.K.A. Beginning Reader, Easy-To-Read, Easy Reader)

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  • Ages 5 – 9
  • 1,000 – 2,000 words (max 3,500)
  • 32 – 64 pages

Early readers are a transition between picture books and chapter books when kids start to read on their own. They have simple structure, and the story is mainly told through dialogue and actions, with very little description. They utilize simple grammar and illustrations. Word choice and language are strictly limited in order to reach specific reading levels.

There are 3 levels of Easy Readers:

Level 1

  • Preschool – Grade 1
  • Simple concepts, lots of repetition.
  • Large type, few words on a page.
  • Illustrations use visual clues to help the reader understand what a word means.
  • Readers learn new words through repetition and often through rhyme.

Level 2:

  • Grade 1 – 2
  • For the developing reader.
  • Slightly smaller type than level 1.
  • More complex stories, but simple, short sentences with limited word choice.

Level 3:

  • Grade 2 – 3
  • Simple stories but more complicated plots and sentences.
  • More advanced vocabulary.

Chapter Books

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  • Ages 5 -10
  • 40 – 100 pages
  • 3,000 – 10,000 words (can go up to 20,000)

Chapter books are for kids who can read independently and handle reasonably complicated plots with simple subplots. They are almost always written in the third person. Chapter books utilize lots of dialogue and introduce challenging vocabulary which can be understood in the context of the sentence. The short self-contained chapters generally comprise a beginning, middle and end, and rarely include cliff-hanger endings. They often contain illustrations throughout the book to break up the text. A chapter book is not a full-length novel.

Middle-Grade Novels

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  • Ages 8 -12
  • 100 – 250 pages
  • 20,000 – 50,000 words (with an average of 35,000)

A middle-grade book is a full-length novel that deals with more complicated subject matter. Middle-grades have a wide vocabulary, an emphasis on character development, a variety of secondary characters, and more intricate subplots. They are often comic but can deal with serious subjects. The chapters usually have cliff-hanger endings.  They rarely have illustrations and are suitable for stronger readers.

Young Adult (YA) Novels

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  • Ages 13 – 18+
  • 200 – 350+ pages
  • 50,000 to 75,000 words (with some ranging up to 100,000)

YA novels have a broad range of appeal, with adult as well as teen readers. YAs may deal with more serious or intense subject matter and complex and painful subjects. They are not limited in what issues can be discussed. Older YAs may have limited use of profanity and sometimes even sex. The protagonist is generally between 14 – 18 years old, and the subject matter is geared towards teens.

Children’s books are fun and creatively stimulating to write. Feel free to express silliness and absurdity. On the other hand, don’t shy away from heavy or more difficult topics. These books build a foundation for children’s understanding of the world and can instill a lifelong love of reading.

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