Saturday 13 February 2016

Children’s Books – categorizing by age group

This is an information sheet about children’s books which I wrote for the writing group I belong to, intended as an overview for the non-specialist. However, someone else asked me for this information, so here it is, for public consumption.

These categories are of necessity overlapping. Children have very different experiences of learning to read. Their ‘reading age’ may be far above or below their emotional maturity. I’ve divided them up the way you’d be most likely to see them divided in a bookshop or library. Publishers would break these categories into lots of subcategories.

Picture Books
• Some are suitable for children to read alone
• Most designed for an adult and child to share
• Importance of illustration and design; most of the best picture books are co-authored by a writer and illustrator who work closely together
• Many have rhyming texts with plenty of repetition
• There is often a playful use of language which might seem difficult for children to comprehend word for word
• The pictures can usually tell the story by themselves – or expand on the text
• Generally only a few sentences per page; some are wordless
• May contain difficult ideas which adults need to discuss or present to young children, e.g. death, new sibling, potty-training, bullying
• Not necessarily a ‘story’; could be a nonsense rhyme, descriptive or simply words.

Early Readers
• Approx 6 up
• Designed for children beginning to read on their own
• Sentences are very simple, with just one idea per sentence
• In these books the text carries the story rather than the pictures
• Many books in this range form part of a series
• At the younger end, these books have 100 to 2,500 words and each page will have a picture.
• Progresses to books of 3,000 to 15,000 words, divided into short chapters with a picture on most spreads

Middle Grade
• Age 8 to 12
• Word count generally no more than 45,000 words, though fantasy titles may be much longer
• These are the books that are most likely to spring to mind when you think of children’s books
• Generally plot- rather than character-led
• Unusual to have a first-person narrator
• The language varies more than in books for younger readers, but is likely to be simpler in structure and vocabulary than a young adult book
• Feature adventures, comedy, fun
• Unlikely to contain romance, swearing, drugs
• Many of these books feature a child protagonist, but you also find books about adults or animals
• Parents are often absent in these books
• Endings are usually happy
• May feature a series of adventures of a character, so that each chapter is a short story in itself and the book has no overall narrative arc

Young Adult
• Age 12 and up
• Word count generally no more than 70,000 words, but some genres can be much longer
• Tend to focus more on characters and their problems
• Tend to have deeper points of view (often first person) and be more emotional
• May contain material which is considered unsuitable for younger children (drugs, sex) or wouldn’t interest them (romance) or is upsetting
• The language in these books will be as complex as that of an adult novel
• These novels almost exclusively feature a teenage protagonist

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