Understanding Children's Book Classifications - article

Genre classification plays an important role in a book’s life. Publishers, agents, and advertisers use genres to bring your book to market. Readers use it to find your book.  The genre determines where the book is placed in physical and virtual bookstores and in libraries. It helps sellers lead readers to books they may like based on past purchases. It also helps identify the book’s competitors and audience, both of which impact marketing, messaging, and sales. The genre even affects where the book is placed in bookseller catalogs and which literary agents support a book project. Ultimately, your chances of selling a book go up when it is accurately classified.

Genres start with two major categories, fiction and nonfiction. Beneath these are adult and young adult sub-categories and beneath these are hundreds of additional categories called sub-genres. Genres are also defined by considering aspects such as theme, style, plot, subject matter, and even gender (women’s fiction).

Children’s books can be part of the fiction or nonfiction genres. However, these books are further categorized by the target age of the reader and other details, such as the number of words or the subject matter.

"[Children's] books must be fun and interesting because they help children learn not just to read, but to navigate their world." 

Picture books

Picture books are targeted at children ages 2 to 8. They primarily use illustrations to tell the story and often share life lessons related to emotional intelligence (empathy, forgiveness, kindness), relationships, social connections, and morals. The books must be fun and interesting because they help children learn not just to read, but to navigate their world. These books usually have 50 to 1,000 words.

Chapter books

Chapter books are for children ages 7 to 9 and they are 4,000-15,000 words in length. These books have more content and more complex language than the children may have seen before. Therefore, they are broken into chapters to help the readers better comprehend the material.

Easy Reader

Easy Reader books, also called Emerging Reader or Beginning Reader books, are for children who are just learning to read by themselves, usually from five to nine years old. These books may look like picture books when written for the younger ages and like chapter books for the higher end of this age group. The books have characters, settings, and themes relevant to this age group, such as challenges the child might face, like feeling left out or making friends.  The books include short, uncomplicated story lines that are told with words and illustrations, but the illustrations are secondary and not necessary for understanding the story. Words are simple, sentences are short, and there is plenty of action and dialog. The entire book has 200-1500 words and is 48-64 pages.

Juvenile books

Juvenile books can be fiction or nonfiction. These books speak to the emotions and intellect of the reader. They are written on subjects that are very relevant to the reader’s life and that capture the attention of children a little older and younger than the target age. Popular subjects include sex, drugs, alcohol, and family life. This genre is for children from 7-18 years of age and can include chapter books as well as books for middle grade, teen, and young adult readers. For 7 to 9 year olds, books are usually 2,000 – 10,000 words; for 9 to 12 year olds, books are 20,000-40,000 words. For 13-18 year olds books are 40,000 – 80,000 words in length.

Middle grade 

Middle grade books are for 8-12 year old children. The age of reader is connected to the age of the main character. Plot lines include sibling rivalry, fitting in with friends, becoming attracted to others. Books in this genre usually include 20,000-40,000 words.

Young Adult books

Young Adult books are for readers aged 12-18 and 16-25. These books can be nonfiction or fiction, educational and entertaining, and they must hold the attention of the target age group and speak to them emotionally and intellectually by being very relevant to their lives. YA books can be written in any genre (historical, crime, romance, etc.). Books in this genre are 40,000-80,000 words in length. Young adult includes a relatively new category of books (since 2009) called New Adult. This is for the 18-25 year olds and the content focuses on topics like leaving home, going to school, deciding on a career, and exploring sexuality.

Now that you know more about genres, we encourage you to review your own book and decide the genre in which it best belongs. Verify that the language, word count, and subject matter match with your target genre. If necessary, change either your target market or the elements of your book so it can be properly classified.  Then, keep working on getting that book to market!

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