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​Writing a Children’s Book? You need to get clear on the categories

You want to write a book and your brain goes. …PING! ‘I will start with a children’s book’. Enid Blyton did it. Who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web? Where The Wild Things Are? All the Dr Seuss books?

It should be easy right?

Well it may be easier to write (which is debatable), but it may not be as easy to get that book published. Writing is simply one part of this genre. You will give yourself a far better chance if you know the market and write into it.


Two things you need to know upfront:

The children’s book market is highly segmented according to age group. You absolutely have to target the correct age of your reader, understand the word courts, and write the specifications.

The second thing to understand is that most children’s book (in the illustrated space) is collaboration between an author and an illustrator. Think Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. You cannot write the story and the publisher will get it illustrated. Oh no. When you present the book to a publisher it is a package deal that incudes words and images. You have to source an illustrator and either pay them, or do a deal to share the royalties. Of course, if you are able to both write and illustrate, you can fulfill both these roles. Win.

(The thing that has always messed with my mind is….. the spelling. It is children’s books or childrens’ books? Help me out there grammar fundis)


Picture Books / Board Books

Ages 0 to 5.

Board books: Newborn to age 3

Picture books: Ages 3–8

Coloring and activity (C&A) books: Ages 3–8

They use illustrations to tell the story with a few words for the teacher or adult to read. The stories often share life lessons related to emotional intelligence (empathy, forgiveness, kindness), relationships, social connections, and morals. The books must be colourful, fun and clear with big words the teacher can point to as she reads. They help children learn not just to read, but also to navigate their world. Humour is adored.

Word count:

Less than 100 for babies.

Max 500 words for toddlers.

Max 1,000 words for pre-schoolers

Sub-categories: PBs go from image only board books all the way up to full stories with significant illustrations.

Think Madeline, writer + illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans – Corduroy, Don Freeman – The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter – Llama, Llama. Red Pajama, Jacky David illustrator David Soman

Early Readers / Easy Reader / Beginning Reader

Age: 5-7.

These are short books with loads of illustrations. The aim to get the child reading by itself. reinforce the basic structures and vocabulary found in most primary courses, and make learning English a fun and informative experience.

These books may look like picture books when written for the younger ages and move towards chapter books for the higher end of this age group. The books tackle issues relevant to the age. They have clear characters, dialogue, settings, and challenges the child might face - like bullying, making friends, being left out of a group or having no friends. The stories are told with words rather than the illustrations – which are there to rather add colour or imagery.

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.

Word Count: Can be publisher specific, ranging from 3,000 to absolute max 5,000.

Charlotte's Web, EB White, James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl. Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss, Stuart Little EB White, The Secret Garden, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ...

Chapter Books (or Young Readers)

Age 7- 9

Now we are getting more complex. The story is broken into chapters and the books start to develop stronger plotting. The cast of characters is tighter and more resolved and the language and storyline is more complex. The chapters help the reader understand the story, and create scenes that build to a bigger plot. This category is fluid and moves into the next category MGF.

Length: 4,000-15,000 words in length

Think Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon, Clarice Bean, That's Me, Lauren Child

Middle Grade Fiction (MGF)

Middle grade books are for 8-12 year olds. The assumption is they will read them without adult help so the story needs to grip the young reader with a strong plot and a very strong character. Think dragons, heroes, superpowers, friends, sibling rivalry, and the opposite sex. The age of reader is connected to the age of the main character. The books are getting more complex and can have additional viewpoints. Many are written in first person but third person viewpoint allows more complex plots.

Plot lines include sibling rivalry, fitting in with friends, becoming attracted to others. Books in this genre usually include 20,000-40,000 words. The younger the audience, the less the word count.

Think …..

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, Wonder, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Matilda by Roald Dahl. Anne of Green Gables. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Wonder. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

Young Adult and New Adult books

Young Adult books are for readers aged 12-18 and New Adult 16-25. YA books have a teenage protagonist, but if you want to write NA you should be aware that the majority of readers are actually adults

YA books can be written in any genre (historical, crime, romance, etc.). Books in this genre are 60,000-90,000 words in length.

Young Adult books

Harry Potter Series. Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

, The Fault in our Stars by John Green, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

New Adult

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Losing It by Cora Carmack

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