The publishing industry is ever evolving. Books written for Young Adults 10-12 years ago would not interest today’s teens for the most part. Even story forms and categories of children’s books change year-to-year.
Using two of my favorite books ON MY SHELF as guides I’ll try to define several categories of children’s books. Remember: the term genre refers to the type of story your book tells. Categories refer to the classification of children’s books by age and reading ability.
The two books ON MY SHELF are Picture Writing: A new approach to writing for kids and teens by Anastasia Suen, and The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb.
Genre defines the setting of your story (contemporary, historical, futuristic.) It also defines what type of goal or need your main character has (mystery, adventure, sports, science fiction, humor, suspense or horror, romance and many more types of goals.)
Now, on to contemporary Categories. These have changed a great deal over the past ten years, and they will probably continue to be refined and redefined.
FIRST BOOKS-BOARD BOOKS-CONCEPT BOOKS
They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They tend to be “interactive” using novelties like lift-up-tabs, textured papers and fabrics, pull-tabs, squeaky things, mirrored paper…you get the idea. These books are most often assigned to writers by publishers. They focus on concepts associated with very young children’s worlds.
The age categories for picture books seems to be in flux. Various publishers assign their own exact age groups. However, these books are usually aimed at preschool, kindergarten and lower elementary students. They are usually noted as ages 3-6, or 4-8. They are printed in galleys of 8 pages, so the finished books are either 32 or 48 pages.
As the name implies they are for kindergarteners and first, maybe second graders. They are usually about 1000 words long and depend heavily on illustrations. Easy Readers use controlled vocabularies, sentence structure and sentence lengths. There are several generally accepted sub-categories here:
Emergent Readers (Level 1) usually for kindergartners
Early Readers (Level 2) usually for first graders
Transitional Readers (Level 3) usually for second graders, depend on phonics. Sometimes are divided into chapters that are actually stand-alone stories all about the main characters.
Fluent Readers (Level 4) are usually for second and third graders. Are divided into chapters that are continuations of the same story.
Are for children who can read independently. They are usually divided into 8-10 chapters, some of which end in cliff-hangers.
Are divided into chapters and are 10,000-16,000 words long. They often use humor and emphasize characters over action. Most chapters end as cliff-hangers. These are like short novels with a somewhat controlled vocabulary.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Lots of changes have taken place in this category the past 10 years. We now identify them as Young YAs and Older YAs. Their structure is that of a good novel. Their vocabulary is on an adult readers level. The primary difference between the two is subject matter and language choices. Older YAs broach pretty much any subject matter, and use any language that adult novels use. Younger YAs avoid mature subjects, language and references to sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.
Publishers of Inspirational or Christian YAs usually have different standards here than general market publishers.
Is this confusing enough for you? I hope not! My hope is that I can use the books ON MY SHELF to help clarify these details for myself AND for you.