The Confusing World of Children’s Book Genres: Why They Matter

I am excited to announce that I am launching a new feature at Wrapped In Foil today:


Over the years I have gathered a whole bin full of information on writing for children, including notes from classes, newsletters, magazines, books, and clips from websites. Rather than letting all that knowledge gather dust in the closet, I’ve decided to pull it out and share it on a weekly basis.

If you choose to participate, this could become a round up or meme. Perhaps every Tuesday we could gather tips for writing for children? Please leave a comment and let me know if you are interested.

Without further ado, the first tidbit:


Tidbit 1: The Confusing World of Children’s Book Genres:  Why They Matter

Not much can cause a beginning writer more headaches than trying to figure out genres. Coming from a science background, I’m used to hierarchical classification schemes. Therefore I expected writing to have a similar system of organization. After all, a genre is a category or a kind of writing, so it would be a way for organizing different forms of writing, right? The word genre even has the same Latin root, genus, which is used in naming organisms, for example, genus Felis species domesticus.

The truth is, however, that in literature everyone seems to have a different idea of what genres are and how they should be used.  A child may be taught in school that genres are science fiction and mystery. A college student may be taught that the genres are poetry, fiction, drama, and possibly creative nonfiction, based on a classic interpretation. Aren’t science fiction and mystery types of fiction? How can science fiction and fiction both be genres if fiction encompasses science fiction? In that case, should science fiction be a lesser category like subgenre or style? Wait, isn’t cyberpunk a subgenre of science fiction? Where does nonfiction fit? Isn’t poetry shelved in the nonfiction section? What in the world is genre fiction?


All of these questions make the beginning writer wonder whether it is even worthwhile try to sort it all out.

It turns out that it is important for the writer to understand how writing is categorized -no matter what the categories are called – for a couple of reasons. The first reason is to help you find out which ones you enjoy and where your passions lie. Reading books of different genres, age classes or styles can help sort out what your niche is, what you would like to write about.

Secondly, you can find out what is expected from the different writing categories, allowing you to communicate effectively with your readers and other writers. You will be able to find others with similar interests and styles more easily, and also benefit more from writing classes and critique groups.

Learning the genres/categories is also important from the perspective of trying to sell your work. Publishers look for manuscripts of specific genres. Bookstores often sell their books organized by their definition of genre (perusing a bookstore is one way to learn more about how books are categorzied), so it pays to be able to categorize your manuscript within the accepted norms. Understanding the line between narrative nonfiction and historical fiction, for example, can save you a lot of heartache and revisions.

Next week let’s look into the categories of fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a resource or blog post that clarifies genre for beginning writers? If you chose to share it, please leave a link in the comments.


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