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