Children’s Books: Industry Standards and Resources

Children’s books can be a confusing genre. The notes below explore genre standards among different children’s books and provide resources for further research. These notes were created for UNG Press’s panel, “Children’s Book Publishing From Start To Finish” at the 2019 Dahlonega Literary Festival.

Print Version: Children’s Book Industry Standards (PDF), Children’s Book Sources (PDF), Powerpoint Presentation (Google Slides)

General Info

  • Children’s is a genre that relies on gatekeepers, even for young adult books. Teachers, parents, librarians determine what children read.
  • The Golden Rule: Children want to read stories about other children who are a little bit older than themselves. (Jenny Bowman, children’s book editor, creative writer, and specialist in Children’s Literature)
  • Children’s books are exploratory in nature

Board Books

Age: prereaders
Word Count: 300 words or fewer, may only have 10-20 words max
Page Length: 10 pages or less

  • Designed to be read by an adult to a child
  • Covers early learning concepts such as colors, counting, letters, etc.
  • Light on text, heavy on illustration
  • Made from thick cardstock or cardboard

Example: First 100 Words

Picture Books

Age: 2-7
Word Count: 500 words or fewer, max of 900
Page Length: 32 pages standard, but can be 40, 48, or 56 (at max)

  • Designed to be read by an adult to a child
  • Short on text; rely equally on illustration
  • Introduces universal theme that are approachable
  • Features one main character, one plot or idea, and one storyline
  • Should offer a (simple) question and provide the answer at the end

Example: A Bad Case of Stripes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Easy Readers/Beginning Readers

Age: 5-8
Word Count: 750 – 1,500 words
Page Length: 32 – 64 pages, depending on the reading level

  • Written for children learning to read on their own
  • Introduction of chapters
  • Short sentences with limited vocabulary
  • Simple, repetitive text with simple sentence structure
  • Slightly more text than in an average picture book
  • 2-5 sentences per page
    Every page or every other page has an illustration
  • Topics and themes are lighthearted and usually explore one idea, subject, or theme

Example: Elephant and Piggie, Henry and Mudge

Chapter Books

Age: 7-10
Word Count: 4,000 – 12,000 words
Page Length: not typically longer than 100 pages

  • The first “real” book for children
  • Written for children becoming fluent readers
  • Protagonist is around 8 or 9 (the upper age range of the readers)
  • Contains a plot with setbacks
  • Start to see subplots and more complex story lines
  • Few to no illustrations
  • More complex sentences and plot development
  • Paragraphs are still short, about 2-4 sentences each

Examples: Magic Tree House, Charlotte’s Web

Middle Grade (MG)

Age: 8-12
Word Count: 20,000 – 40,000 words, depending on publisher
Page Length: over 100 pages

  • Longer chapters than found in chapter books
  • Often no illustrations
  • Content categories similar to adult fiction
    • mystery, adventure, humor, historical, fantasy, etc.
  • Series are popular
  • Plot lines directed to 10-12 year olds because kids read above their age
  • Intense subjects may bump the book into an older age category

US bookstores don’t differentiate between levels; must choose between MG and YA or YA and Adult. UK bookstores do differentiate and have a “between” category.

Example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Holes

Lower Middle Grade

Age: 7-10
Word Count: 20,000 – 35,000

  • Themes will be complex but approachable: no kissing, no gory violence, subtle politics, if any at all
  • Have a subplot or two
  • Uses elements like humor, fantasy, or magic realism, or explores factual, science-based ideas and historical events
Upper Middle Grade

Age: 10-13
Word Count: 45,000 – 55,000

  • Themes are more complex and mature, explored in an age-appropriate way from the protagonist’s point of view
  • Still not as detailed or ‘angsty’ as young adult
  • Sometimes referred to as “tween” especially if the themes explicitly explore pre-tween issues

Young Adult (YA)

Age: 12 to adult
Word Count: 40,000 – 75,000 words
Page Length: varies

  • Content categories similar to and read like adult fiction
    • mystery, adventure, humor, historical, fantasy, etc.
  • Explore issues and topics that teens can relate to
  • Heavy with “Firsts”
    • First kiss, starting high school, entering the adult world, etc.
  • Characters must be 13+ for Barnes & Noble to shelf it under Young Adult and not kids
  • Includes more adult content (such as sexuality, mental illness, politics, etc.)
  • How explicit/what the message is depends on the publisher. Some publishers seek these topics out, others avoid them.
  • Emerging category of New Adult that targets readers between 18-30

Examples: The Book Thief, The Hate U Give, The Fault in Our Stars, Ready Player One

Sources

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, ISBN: 978-0-06-236717-4

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul, ISBN: 978-1-58-297556-6

Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2019 by Writer’s Digest, ISBN: 978-1-44-035440-3 (Updated yearly)

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
www.scbwi.org

Getting Started:
https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/just-getting-started/

SCBWI Blog
http://scbwi.blogspot.com/

SCBWI is the only professional organization specifically for individuals who write and illustrate for children and young adults. Our mission is to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books in every region of the world.

We give established writers and illustrators the tools and resources to manage their careers, as well as educate those just starting out. SCBWI is also proud to serve as a consolidated voice for our members within the publishing industry.

Membership in SCBWI is open to anyone with an active interest in children’s literature, from picture books to young adult novels. We welcome aspiring and published writers and illustrators, as well as librarians, educators, artists, students, dramatists, musicians, filmmakers, translators, and others. A passion for children’s literature is our number one criterion.

Inkygirl
http://inkygirl.com/

Advice for Young Writers and Illustrators from Children’s Book Creators
http://inkygirl.com/advice-young/

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Rob Sanders, Lauren McLaughlin, Aaron Reynolds and Colby Sharp. For more info about Debbie and upcoming projects, see DebbieOhi.com. You can find Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows and on Instagram at @inkygirl.

KidLit411
http://www.kidlit411.com/

Kidlit.com
https://kidlit.com/

Writing World
http://www.writing-world.com/menus/children.shtml

Rachelle Burk’s Resources for Children’s Writers
http://resourcesforchildrenswriters.blogspot.com/

Children’s Book Insider (Monthly Magazine)

Ellen Jackson, author of over 60 children’s books
http://www.ellenjackson.net/book_genres_for_children_123774.htm

Summer Edward, Children’s Literature and Publishing Consultant
http://www.summeredward.com/2013/04/types-of-childrens-books-formats.html

How to Measure Readability

Have you every measured the readability of your writing? We’ve all had a text to read where we didn’t understand a word it said, no matter how many times we read it. Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. You may have been perfectly smart enough to understand your biology textbook, but the readability of the information presented may have been above your level.

There are a few factors that determine a work’s readability:

  • the vocabulary used
  • the syntax
  • the sentence structure
  • the typography (like the font and its size)

But how do we take these parts and actually determine readability? There are a few different methods.

Flesch Reading Ease Test

Rudolf Flesch developed the Flesch Reading Ease Test in the 1940s. It uses a mathematical formula to determine how easy a text is to read. A higher number means a text is easier to read; a lower number means it is more difficult. Flesch’s work had a huge impact on increasing readership, especially in journalism.

The mathematical formula for the Flesh Reading Ease Test: 206.835 - 1.015 * (total words / total sentences) - 84.6 * (total syllables / total words)

Score Notes
100.00-90.00 Very easy to read. Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student.
90.0–80.0 Easy to read. Conversational English for consumers.
80.0–70.0 Fairly easy to read.
70.0–60.0 Plain English. Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students.
60.0–50.0 Fairly difficult to read.
50.0–30.0 Difficult to read.
30.0–0.0 Very difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates.

The above chart from Wikipedia breaks down the readability scale.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula

In 1975, the Flesch Reading Ease Test was refined by J. Peter Kincaid as part of an effort by the United States government to improve the readability of technical documents. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula presents the score as a U. S. grade level. A score of 8 means the the material is understandable at an 8th grade or above grade level (but a 6th grader might have difficulty with it). Because the total words, sentences, and syllables are weighed differently than in the original Flesch Reading Ease Test, the two formulas are not directly compatible.

The mathematical formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 0.39 * (total words / total sentences) + 11.8 (total syllables / total words) - 15.59

The Lexile Framework for Reading

The Lexile framework was developed by A. J. Stenner and Malbert Smith III in 1989 and funded by the National Institutes of Health. The framework is divided into two categories: A Lexile reading measure (what level the reader is at) and a Lexile text measure (the difficulty of a specific text). The Lexile framework is frequently used in schools. Unlike the Flesch formulas, the creators of the Lexile framework retained their intellectual property rights, meaning that educators must pay for their services.

Readability is especially important to children’s books. Because their reading skills are still developing, giving children a book too far above their reading level can deter or confuse them. Most children’s books have a clear marker for what reading level it is on, though the ranking system can vary by publisher, such as Scholastic’s Guided Reading Levels.

No matter what type of writing you are doing, keeping readability in mind will help aid your reader’s comprehension and understanding. If you’re a publisher, make sure that your readability levels match the industry’s standards. If you’re anAn example of the readability statistics provided by Microsoft Word. Section One is Counts: Words, Characters, Paragraphs, Sentences. Section Two is Averages: Sentences per Paragraph, Words per Sentence, Characters per Word. Section Three is Readability: Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Passive Sentences. author, make sure to keep your audience’s abilities in mind. If using Microsoft Word, you can even check your readability statistics according to the Flesch scales. Under the Proofing option in Word, make sure to select “Check grammar with spelling.” After you run spell check, you’ll receive your readability statistics. For this article, our Flesch Reading Ease score is 52.5 and our Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 8.9.

If you’re a parent, don’t be afraid to encourage your child to try a book above their reading level. Because of the factors measured, a more-adult book may have an ‘easier’ score. Sometimes, the punctuation used can change a score even if the actual text never changes. We don’t want to deny books to children, so if your little one wants to explore harder texts, encourage them. After all, there are amazing stories to discover at all reading levels.

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NaNoWriMo 2018 Officially Begins!

The official logo for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). it is a blue shield with a viking helmet on top. The shield has a coffee cup, a computer, two pens crossed over each other making an X, and a stack of papers.It’s November which means it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Authors of all genres take part in the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel from November 1 to November 30. If you’re as good at math as you are at writing, you’ll realize that’s 1,667 words per day. It’s not the easiest challenge, but it is a fun one. We want to start the month off write (get it?), so here are three tips to help you begin.

1. Make a Storyboard

Write down each scene on an index card. Using a corkboard—or even some tape and a blank wall—arrange your scenes in order of how they’re presented in the book. For most of us, this’ll be chronologically, but it may not be. Seeing the scenes laid out gives you a bird’s-eye view, allowing you to see how everything connects. It’s also easier to move around scenes as you figure things out. Maybe a middle scene works better at the beginning. Just move your index card and test it.

2. Write the Most Exciting Scenes First

You don’t have to write the story linearly, even if it’ll be told that way. Start with the scenes that excite you the most. They’ll be the most fun to explore and may help motivate you to write the necessary but slower scenes that connect them. You’ll also find that by starting with the most exciting scenes, the previous slower scenes may be unnecessary altogether, and you can remove them from the story.

3. Don’t Tell Anyone About Your Project

This may be the hardest thing to do. We’re excited about our writing. It’s meant to be shared! But sharing your story too early is the fastest way to lose motivation. Set yourself a “share goal,” where you can only share the information after you’ve completed a certain amount of writing. Your goal may be “write a chapter” or “finish a scene.” Whatever it is, it’ll get you writing, instead of talking about writing.

 

If you’re in the Dahlonega area, join us for a weekly Write In, sponsored by The Chestatee Review and the University of North Georgia Press. We’re meeting every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) from 7 pm – 9 pm on the second floor of Starbucks.

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A Linguist’s Tree of Knowledge: An Introduction to the Tree Diagram

The tree diagram is a newer method for diagramming sentences that is most commonly used by linguists and other academic professionals. While the Reed Kellogg diagram was considered an effective tool for students to visualize sentence structure, it had many limitations. It dispensed with traditional word order and used a variety of occasionally confusing symbols, meaning the resulting diagram was difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with the method.

Reed and Kellogg did introduce two core grammatical concepts: Constituency, how a word relates to the larger structure of a sentence, and dependency, how a word is dependent upon each one that precedes it. The primary goal of a tree diagram is to illustrate these concepts in a way that is visibly apparent, even for those previously unfamiliar with sentence diagrams.

In a tree diagram, a sentence is divided into two parts: a subject and a predicate. They are made up of noun phrases or verb phrases. These are groups of words that include a noun or verb and any words that add as modifiers. The subject is a noun phrase while a predicate is usually a verb phrase. The noun phrase A big dog is comprised of the indefinite article ‘a’, the adjective ‘big’, and the noun ‘dog’. The verb phrase jumped over the fence consists of the verb ‘jumped’ and the prepositional phrase ‘over the fence’.

Unlike a Reed-Kellogg diagram, these components are not separated by slashes and other symbols. Instead, they descend from the subject and predicate in the form of lines acting as branches. This continues until each noun or verb phrase is broken down into its simplest parts. In the end, a sentence diagrammed in this style should look like a vast tree, with the subject and predicate acting as the trunk and the sentence modifiers standing in as the colorful and complex leaves that give it personality.

Now that you understand the basic premise of a Tree Diagram and how it breaks down a sentence, let’s take a look at an example.

Seen here, the sentence is broken down into a subject and predicate. The subject is a noun phrase that consists of the indeterminate article ‘the’ and the noun ‘dog’. The predicate is more complex, as it consists of both a verb and a noun phrase. Breaking down the predicate, the verb is ‘ate’ and the noun phrase is ‘the’ (indefinite article) and ‘bone’ (noun). As you can see, the tree diagram uses minimal symbols and little complex jargon, yet clearly illustrates how each of these words relate to and depend upon each other.

Here is another example of a tree diagram. As you can see, this one is a bit more intricate. Let’s take a look and break it down.

Once again, the sentence is divided into a subject and predicate. The subject is composed of a noun phrase: ‘the’ as an indefinite article and ‘teacher’ as a noun. The predicate is more complex than before. Its verb phrase consists of three parts: the verb ‘gave’; the noun ‘homework’; and the prepositional phrase ‘to his students’. Are you starting to get a better understanding of constituency and dependency now?

Unfortunately, tree diagrams do have some negative aspects. Like the Reed-Kellogg diagram, more complex tree diagrams can take up a great deal of space and become more difficult to decipher in the process. Additionally, as both a strength and weakness, they are more open to interpretation than the Reed-Kellogg diagram. It is possible for a sentence to have multiple, different, and equally valid tree diagrams depending upon which unit is focused on, especially with a sentence taken from classic literature.

As a whole, tree diagrams offer a clear and more nuanced look at sentence structure without sacrificing traditional word order. While they are primarily used by grammarians and other linguistic specialists, they are quickly becoming the standard method of sentence diagramming, as the result is easily comprehensible to everyone. If you are seeking to improve your writing, I recommend that you try diagramming at least one sentence a day using this method. In doing so, you will gain a greater understanding of how to compose grammatically correct, diverse, and impactful sentences.

Classroom Grammar: An Introduction to the Reed-Kellogg System

The Reed-Kellogg system is a method for diagramming sentences that was commonly taught in grammar classrooms in the past. The system was introduced in the 1870s by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg. Previous methods of diagramming focused solely on teaching proper word order to students. The Reed-Kellogg system offered an alternative: Foregoing traditional word order in order to highlight the function of each word in a sentence. These grammarians believed that it would be most beneficial for students to discover the logical order of words in a sentence, so they could understand how to write effectively.

This system’s primary purpose is to break a sentence down into easily identifiable parts. Because it is intended for students, the method is simple and uses a minimal amount of symbols or jargon. You do not have to know every single grammatical term in order to diagram a sentence using the Reed-Kellogg method, nor do you have to focus on retaining a sentence’s original word order. For those who have no background in grammar or who are learning English as a second language, the Reed-Kellogg diagram is a great way to jump into sentence diagramming.  To start things off, here is a sample sentence that is simple in structure, as represented by Reed-Kellogg.

Reed-Kellog diagram for the sentence "The topic was sentence diagramming". "The topic" is the subject. "Was sentence diagramming" is the predicate.In a Reed-Kellogg diagram, you always start by drawing a horizontal line. You then divide it with a short vertical line. The subject of the sentence is located on the left of the vertical dividing line. In this case, the subject is “the topic”. Any sentence modifiers, such as adjectives and articles, are placed on a diagonal line below the noun or verb it is modifying. As seen here, the indefinite article “the” is situated on a diagonal line below the noun “topic”.

The predicate of the sentence is located on the right side of the dividing line. Here, the predicate is the verb phrase “was sentence diagramming”. The verb “was” is situated in the middle of the diagram as a linking verb, which simply connects the subject “the topic” to the predicate “sentence diagramming”. This is reflected by a slanting line between “was” and the rest of the predicate. Since “sentence” is a modifier of the noun “diagramming”, it is given on a diagonal line below what it modifies. We know “diagramming” is the noun and “sentence” is a modifier because we can ask “What type of diagramming?” and the answer is “Sentence diagramming.”

Now, let’s move onto a more complex Reed-Kellogg diagram. This one will show you how to diagram a sentence that contains a transitive action verb and a single direct object.

As you can see, this diagram is slightly different from the previous example. As the extremely simple subject of the sentence, “Joe” is on the left of the dividing vertical line. The predicate is where the meat of the sentence is. Since the verb is transitive, the line between the verb “kicked” and the direct object “ball” is straight rather than slanted. This indicates that Joe is performing an action with the ball. “High” and “in the air” are, respectively, an adverb and prepositional phrase that modify the verb “kicked” so they are given on diagonal lines below.

Although a Reed-Kellogg diagram has many positive aspects, it does have some drawbacks. Some sentences can be especially long and complex, especially if they’re taken from a piece of classical literature. Diagramming these sentences using this method can be intimidating and time-consuming. Unfortunately, the end result can be difficult to comprehend for anyone who is unfamiliar with the Reed-Kellogg system.

Additionally, while it is effective in illustrating general function within a sentence, it is not nuanced enough to show how each word in a sentence is connected to and dependent on the words around it. For example, look at the phrase “a beautiful woman”. A Reed-Kellogg diagram would list both “a” and “beautiful” as words that modify the noun “woman”. However, each of these words have different functions in the sentence. While “beautiful” modifies only the word “woman” as an adjective, “a” modifies both “beautiful” and “woman” as an indefinite article.

I hope that this post has given you a good idea of just what a Reed-Kellogg diagram is and how it is an effective (albeit traditional and therefore limited) tool for diagramming sentences. Although it is not commonly used or taught in classrooms today, I would strongly advise that any aspiring author try diagramming at least one or two sentences in this style. I’m willing to bet that it will give you a greater understanding of grammar and improve your writing in the process.

 

10 Tips to Help You Combat Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is incredibly frustrating and common, especially during the first few weeks back in class after a break. I frequently find myself staring at an open Word document and having absolutely no idea what to write. There is no simple fix, but here are some tips that may help you combat writer’s block:

Courtesy of: http://suzannevince.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Writers-Block.png
Courtesy of: http://suzannevince.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Writers-Block.png

**(Be sure to save your document before you leave it unattended)**

  1. Brainstorm. Put your computer away and pull out a few pieces of paper or a stack of post-it notes. Think about your topic and try to write down all of your thoughts – even the really random ones. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, word count, or even whether your writing makes sense (Consider this your pre-rough-draft-draft). Come back to your notes in an hour or so and begin to organize your thoughts into cohesive paragraphs.
  1. Don’t overanalyze it.Overanalysis paralysis” happens when you think too much about a project and become figuratively paralyzed and unable to take action. Don’t overthink your paper! Take a step back and look at the objective for your project; don’t fret about the little details. As Bruce Lee once said, “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
  1. Breathe. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Count to five while you inhale, and do the same when you exhale. Repeat the process a few times.
  1. Move around. Often, getting out of my chair and walking around helps clear my mind. Take a short walk outside, do laps around your house, or have a dance break in your dorm room. Let your mind relax while your body works.
  1. Find a new writing place. Sometimes sitting at the same desk or table hour after hour can contribute to writer’s block. Pick up your laptop and books and find a new place to work! Possible places on UNG’s campus include the library, Starbucks, or even the benches surrounding UNG’s Drill Field.
  1. Take breaks! I know when you have a paper due the next day, it’s tempting to sit and work for 6 hours straight. Taking a short break every hour keeps your mind fresh and your ideas flowing.
  1. Music. Turn on your favorite music, listen to a relaxing Pandora station, or even visit rainymood.com to soothe your stress. Some people find they study and write best when listening to non-lyrical music, like soundtracks or instrumentals. Personally, my favorite writing playlist is full of Hans Zimmer’s scores. Listening to his compositions make me feel like I can conquer anything, even writer’s block!
  1. Eat well. While chowing down on snacks when powering through a paper seems like the most time-efficient option, it’s best to get a solid meal with protein and veggies. Your brain needs good fuel to produce!
  1. Hug a puppy. Turn on your puppy/kitten radar and find a little furball to pet. Georgia State University has reported that spending time with an animal can reduce anxiety by up to 60%! Go volunteer at the TLC Humane Society toget some good one-on-one cuddles!
  2. Don’t panic. In a few years, you probably won’t even remember this paper. You’ll make it through this!