What genre is my children's book?
Updated: Jun 22
Writing a children's books is such a rewarding, but sometimes gruelling, undertaking. Children's books are unlike any other genre of book, because the style, layout, trim size (the physical size of the book) and word count vary hugely depending on the age group of the target audience.
Through my work as a freelance book editor and self-publishing coach, I've worked with many clients who get confused about the different sub-genres of children's books. I often get asked questions like: "What genre is my children's book?" or "What age group is my children's book for and how many words should it be?"
So, I thought I would put together a brief but informative guide to explain the differences between the various types of children's books.
I've used examples of some of my own children's books, plus others, to help illustrate what I mean. I've also included some information about what it’s like to self-publish each type of children's book. This information is based on my own first-hand experience as a self-published children's book author.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to publishing, this information is based on the "industry standards" that children's books are usually expected to conform to. So, it’s a good idea to be familiar with these standards and make sure your book roughly conforms to them.
Age group: 0-5
Word count: 100-300 words
Page count: 16-24 (but can vary)
Trim size: usually square with rounded edges - typically ranging from 5 x 5 inches upwards to make it easier to hold
As the name suggests, board books are made of thick cardboard and are designed for very young children (the cardboard gives better durability than regular paper - perfect for clumsy little hands or dribbly mouths!)
These books are aimed at very young children and will include only a few simple common words per page. The illustrations are usually simple, bright and colourful. Board books are typically the first type of book that children will be exposed to.
Board books are usually more challenging to self-publish, due to the high production costs. Amazon (and other retailers) do not currently offer a print-on-demand service for board books, so self-publishers typically have to pay for a large print run using a private printing company, which can be very costly.
Age group: 0-7
Word count: 500-800 words
Page count: 32 (but can vary)
Trim size: usually square - such as 8.5 x 8.5 inches (but doesn't always have to be)
When most people think of children's books, they're most likely thinking of picture books. These types of books, as the name suggests, contain mostly pictures/illustrations, with some text. Each page will have an illustration on it with minimal text and the illustrations will typically be full-page and in colour.
The complexity of the text will depend on the age of the child. The younger the age group, the simpler and shorter the text will be, and the reverse is true for the upper end of the age group.
This means that there are "sub-sub-genres" of picture books, such as 'lower' and 'upper' level picture books, depending on the age group. But I won't overcomplicate matters by going into too much detail on that in this particular post.
Picture books tend to be read by an adult to a child. But for the upper end of the age group, a picture book may be designed to be read by a child independently, with some help from an adult.
The text can be written in rhyme or prose (i.e. ordinary, non-rhyming language). There has been a trend in recent years among publishers to move away from rhyme, as it makes the book easier to translate and, therefore, more commercially viable. So, don’t think that all picture books have to be written in rhyme.
The storylines of picture books tend to focus on teaching a moral lesson, such as kindness, acceptance or managing emotions etc. The story should have a clear, teachable message that will be easily understood by the child.
Picture books are typically printed on paper (rather than cardboard) and come either as paperbacks (softcover) or hardbacks (hardcover).
Picture books are therefore much easier to self-publish, as Amazon and other retailers offer a print-on-demand service for printing paperbacks, and sometimes hardbacks. The printing price will be high though, as picture books are typically printed in full colour, which is much more expensive than black and white.
Age group: 5-8
Word count: 1,500-3,000
Page count: 32-64 (but there can be huge variation depending on the age group)
Trim size: typically around 6.5 x 9.5 inches
Early readers are sometimes overlooked or lumped in with picture books, but they’re actually a different type of book and serve a different purpose.
These books are effectively a more advanced form of picture book, meant for an older audience with a slightly higher reading level. But children of this age will still want pictures/illustrations to keep their attention.
Early readers usually have a colour illustration on every page and the text will be relatively short and repetitive, with common "sight words" being used. These are the books that children will typically start to read out loud independently, with some help/encouragement from an adult. The text is short and may even be arranged into short chapters, especially in the upper age range.
Storylines of early readers tend to be quite simple and focus on aspects of life that a child can relate to, while still teaching an important message.
The books are typically printed in a rectangular, portrait format, so they resemble a typical "book" but are usually bigger than regular novels, to allow for the illustrations.
Early readers tend to be around the same cost to self-publish as picture books, as they still need to be printed in colour. Trim size doesn't really affect the price; the real cost comes down to whether it's printed in colour or not (which early readers usually are).
Age group: 6-9
Word count: 6,000-10,000
Page count: 100-200 (but can vary hugely)
Trim size: typically around 5 x 8 inches
Chapter books are the books that bridge the gap between picture books and full-length novels. As you may guess from the name, chapter books are broken up into distinct chapters and are much longer than previous types of children's books.
Chapter books tend to be mostly text with some black and white illustrations to keep the reader engaged. You may also find some chapter books with colour illustrations, or perhaps no illustrations at all. But black and white illustrations tend to be the norm, usually 1-2 per chapter.
The font size used in chapter books tends to be larger and more spaced out than adult books, to make it easier for children to read.
These are often the books where children feel like they are reading “real” books and not just books for babies.
The storylines of chapter books can be more complex but are usually limited to 1 or 2 main characters. Storylines can vary hugely, but as these books are designed to be read relatively independently by a child, they should not be too complicated and the language should still be quite simple.
Self-publishing a chapter book is usually cheaper than the previously-mentioned children's books, as they’re printed in black and white, even the illustrations, which is much cheaper than colour printing.
You will still need some level of design/formatting of the book interior though, to make sure the illustrations are neatly spaced within the text and that chapter headings look attractive. Children will still want some level of "intrigue" in the book design to hold their attention.
Middle grade (MG)
Age group: 8-12
Word count: 30,000 - 50,000
Page count: 200-300+ (but can vary hugely)
Trim size: typically 5 x 8 inches
Middle-grade books (MG), sometimes called "middle-grade fiction" (although they don't always have to be fictional) are usually the first full-length books that children will read.
Some famous examples include the Harry Potter series, or any of the books by David Walliams, such as Gangsta Granny.
These books may include simple black and white illustrations (but may also not) and are much longer than the previously-mentioned types of children's books. In effect, they‘re a longer and more complex form of chapter book.
At this age, children can usually read independently, so these books are designed to be enjoyed by the child on their own, with minimal supervision or help from an adult. The storylines can also, therefore, be much more in-depth and the chapters are usually much longer. However, there usually won't be any mention of sex, violence or anything a child would consider "icky."
Readers at this age tend to devour books, so MG books are often written as part of a series, as this encourages higher readthrough and parents like to "buy into" a series that they know their child will like.
The overall word count of an MG book will depend hugely on the age group. As with all children's books, the younger the child, the shorter the text. The word count for MG books tends to be around 30-50k words, but popular series such as Harry Potter have changed that - the final Harry Potter book is over 198k words!
This means that the line between middle grade and young adult books has started to become blurred in more recent years.
Self-publishing an MG book is usually much cheaper than the previously-mentioned types of children's books, as they‘re printed in black and white with some, or maybe no, illustrations.
Young adult (YA) books
Age group: 13-adult
Word count: 30,000 - 70,000+
Page count: 300+ (but can vary hugely)
Trim size: typically 6 x 9 inches
Some of you reading this may be asking why I'm including young adult (YA) books in a list of children's books? Well, as you can see from the age range of 13+ (i.e., teenagers), the intended readers are still technically classed as children, because they’re usually under the age of 18.
However, YA books are increasingly enjoyed by adults too. Think of the success of the Twilight or The Hunger Games series - they’re technically written for children (teens) but the fanbase is also made up largely of adults.
These books very rarely feature illustrations and are written in standard font size. To all intents and purposes, they‘re "regular" books that are almost indiscernible from books for adults. Storylines typically revolve around a teenager and feature some kind of "coming of age" aspect. More mature content, such as sex and violence, usually appears but is still more watered-down compared to books for adults.
Self-publishing a YA book is pretty much the same as it would be for any other kind of book for adults. YA books are usually exclusively text-based with no illustrations, so will require only standard formatting to make the interior look attractive.
Marketing the book may present some extra challenges though, as the intended audience (if under the age if 18) will still likely be financially dependant on an adult (such as parents) to purchase the book for them. However, with the increase in the popularity of YA books among adults, this issue may become non-existent in the near future.
So, there you have it. That was my brief overview of children's book genres that span all the way from birth to adulthood. I hope you found it both interesting and informative.
If you're looking for help with your children's book (or any other genre of book), then please reach out to me about my freelance book services.
Whether you need advice on how to write a book, feedback on your book idea, getting illustrations, book formatting, marketing and advertising or how to self-publish successfully, I can help.
I'm a number-one bestselling self-published author, so I can speak from experience.
Thanks - and happy reading/writing!