Children’s Books is a vast expanse, stretching all the way from picture books for babies to complex young adult novels. In between are books designed for young children, middle graders and tweens! The best way for a writer or a reader to navigate this labyrinth is to follow the age-related categorization for this genre. There are differences in each of these categories with respect to the length of the book, the presentation, the layout and the complexity of the content.
Age: 0 to 4 years
Books for the youngest age group consists mainly of picture books with simple concepts like shapes, numbers or simple life events. The word count is usually less than 100 words, with less than 10 words per page. The language is really simple, with one main character and the narrative is almost always in 3rd person. It helps if it is a board book; something for the baby to chew on!
Age: 3 to 8
Picture books of around 600 words or less, with effective illustrations, are preferable for this age group. The plot usually has a clear beginning, middle and ending, revolving around one or two main characters. The language is simple and the illustrations are critical for a visual description of the characters and the action. The characters and themes should be those that pre-schoolers can identify with and should be presented in a way that young kids can grasp the concept. There are also early reader storybooks of 1000 words or more for the older children (6 to 8 years), with slightly more complex plot and deeper themes.
Age: 8 to 12 years
These are middle school novels with a length of 30,000 to 45,000 words. Since the readers range from 8 years to almost teenagers, this category of books can range from the really simple to more complex narratives. This is the first level where the story structure can consist of a complete three act, flawed characters and suffering or redemption. There can be well-sketched secondary characters besides the main protagonist(s). Although complex themes (romance, love, violence) can be explored in these books, vocabulary is still kept reasonably simple and profanity is avoided.
Age: 10 to 14 years
Tween novels are of the length 40,000 to 55,000 words, with guidelines that are similar to middle school novels. Readers in this age group are looking for more sophisticated themes and narratives, so although profanity and full-blooded violence are still avoidable for these young readers, any contemporary theme can be explored in these novels as long as it is handled with sensitivity.
Age: 13 and upYoung adult books are similar to adult novels, except for the faster pace and fewer extensive descriptions. The length can be anywhere over 40,000 words and the themes can be romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror or contemporary. Teenage protagonists work well in young adult novels, with a complete character arc for not only the main characters but also for the secondary characters and the villains. There are few restrictions in terms of the themes or language, although grimmer and grittier narratives are generally reserved for the older young adults.
These guidelines are however not absolute; there are very many books which have blurred the boundaries and been highly successful nevertheless. In the final reckoning, what really matters is a great story and an equally great narration.