Writing for Children: Age Categories

How else are children’s books grouped? Children’s books are often categorized by the age levels of the children who read them.

From a writer’s perspective, age categories are often fairly well defined, but still can vary from publisher to publisher, so make sure you are on the same page. Typically, if your main character is a child, he or she should at the top of the age range for that category, because children are thought to prefer reading about main characters slightly older than themselves.

From a reader’s perspective, these categories are average ages. You will run across exceptions, such as children who are reading proficiently at three years old and others who are struggling to read at nine. Also, be sensitive to the fact that children’s tastes and reading levels can change quickly.

Categories, from youngest to oldest

Board Books, ages infants to 3

Sturdy books made entirely of paperboard and specially bound, these are made for children who are still investigating their world with all their senses. Children this age are particularly apt to put things in their mouths and board books can stand up to this treatment.

The content of board books may overlap with categories for older children, particularly concept books and picture books.




The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle







Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd





Little Blue Truck Board Book by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry





Concept Books, ages 3-6

Concept books tackle important educational concepts, typically alphabet/letters, colors, shapes, numbers, and comparisons.





Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert







Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada




Beginning Reader/Easy Reader, ages 5-9

Keeping the child who is just starting to read in mind, these books typically have short sentences, highly-controlled vocabulary and limited word counts (500-1500 words).


National Geographic Readers: Planets
by Elizabeth Carney






Picture books, ages  2-9

One of the broadest categories regarding age, the picture book category is more about format than content. Typically the illustrations help move the story forward as much as the text. Picture books are often meant to be read to the child, so might contain more complex vocabulary and sentences than a beginning reader.




Elisa Kleven‘s newest picture book, Glasswings:  A Butterfly’s Story (see also our nonfiction picture book category).





Short Chapter Books, ages 7-10

Short chapter books typically still have numerous illustrations, but the illustrations enhance the story rather than move it forward. As the name suggests, the books are organized into chapters.




Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca

Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon



Middle grade, ages 9-12 (grades 4-7) Note: middle grade is not = middle school

Middle grade novels are easy to spot because they are longer than short chapter books and have few, if any, illustrations. Middle grade nonfiction can be trickier to identify because it is likely to be illustrated extensively.





Wonder By R. J. Palacio









Wild Horse Scientists by Kay Frydenborg


and others in our middle grade nonfiction category




Young Adults- 13-18

Extremely popular right now, young adult books feature more complex plots and usually have protagonists who are teenagers. Some organizations start the category at 12 years old and some young adult titles have been showing up on middle grade reading lists, so the lines may blur somewhat.




The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney






New adult 17-21

Given the popularity of young adult fiction right now, some have even started adding another category for new adults.


What do you think?

(This took longer than expected, so we have slid into Wednesday this week. Hopefully, we’ll be back on schedule next week. )



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