Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing Children's Books: Genre Differences

There are a number of genres within the children’s book arena. The target audience ranges from babies right on through to young adults. This provides a unique situation for writers to pick and choose a genre that feels comfortable to write in, while still remaining within the children’s book market.

Each genre is geared toward a specific age group and has its own set of rules and tricks.

Children’s Books: An overview of the different genres and a description of each:

Bedtime stories: These stories are simple and soothing. They are written to help lull little ones off to sleep and are in the form of picture books. The age group can be from newborn to five or six years of age.

An example of a bedtime story is Day’s End Lullaby by Karen Cioffi. The classic Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is another example of a bedtime story.

Board Books: Board books are simple picture books geared toward babies and toddlers. They are designed to hold up to a toddlers prying and pulling fingers. Board books can be black and white or very colorful. These books usually teach simple concepts, such as numbers from one to ten, days of the week, colors, and simple words.

An example of a classic baby board book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is also a board book, a very well known.

Picture books for the 2 - 5 year old group: These books are meant to be read aloud the child. Rather than simply concept themes, simple story lines can be written with short sentences and words. These books are for children in the ‘pre-reading’ stage and the word count can range from 100 - 500 words.

An example of a very young child’s picture book is The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.

Picture books for the 4 - 8 year old: This genre makes up most of the picture book market. These books are also meant to be read aloud to children, but for the older child it can be read individually. The pictures will give a visual element for children learning to read, helping with the comprehension of the text. The wording and themes can be a bit more interesting, but still rather simple.

For the writer, in this genre you will need to use introduce ‘showing’ to create an engaging reading experience for the child. The average picture book is 32 pages and under 1000 words.

Two examples of picture books for this age group are Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Owen by Kevin Henkes.

Chapter books for the 6 - 9 or 7 – 10 year old group: Children in this group are learning to read. The vocabulary and storyline is expanding, but clarity is still a must. These books may be labeled as ‘early readers’ or ‘easy readers’ by educational publishers and are designed to read by the child. The word count is usually between 5,000 and 12,000.

An example of a chapter book is Clarice Bean, that's me by Lauren Child; another is Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

In regard to Because of Winn-Dixie, the protagonist is ten years old. Since children tend to read-up (the protagonist will be 2 – 3 years older than the reader), the target audience is around 7 – 8 years old, placing it within this genre and possibly the younger end of middle grade.

Middle grade books: The middle grader is between 8 and twelve years old. The middle-grader will go for stories that he can associate with and characters he can form a bond with. The word count is usually a minimum of 20,000.

As the child is able to comprehend more and is maturing, so should the stories. Stories and conflict can be more involved and you can now introduce more than one protagonist or point of view. This age group can also be introduced to science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries.

An example of a middle grade book is Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi. The early Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling are also middle-graders.

Young adult books: This genre encompasses the twelve to sixteen and up age group. YAs can be edgy; plots and characters can be complex and serious issues addressed.

An example of a young adult book is An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer is also in the YA genre.

A useful way to get a better idea of what the different genres consist of is to visit your local library and talk to the children’s section librarian. She’ll be able to show you books in each genre and give you tidbits of information on which are the most popular, which are classic, and much more.

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Related Articles:

The Elevator and One Sentence Pitch
Writing – Imagery and Your Story
Writing for Children – The Traditional Publishing Path

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Karen Cioffi
Award-Winning Author, Freelancer/Ghostwriter
Author/Writer Online Platform Instructor
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