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Thursday, March 10

Who is My Audience? Age Categories for Children’s Books

By Laurisa White Reyes, @lwreyes

Part of the Indie Authors Series 


If you are as avid a reader as I am, you are probably familiar with the term “children’s books,” but if you write for children, you should also be familiar with the specific categories of children’s books, and there are quite a few. Recently, in my writers’ group, a new writer raised this question—Which category does my book fit into? Too many new writers start writing with the general idea that their audience will be children but have no idea which group of children they should target. This is problematic for several reasons, which I’ll explain a little later. First, let’s take a closer look at children’s books and how each category is defined.

Board Books & Picture Books


At first glance, these categories might seem pretty straight forward. Board books appeal to babies and toddlers, while picture books connect with slightly older kids who appreciate the colorful pictures and simple storylines. In general, picture books should appeal to ages 3-8, but the age of your target audience is really determined by how complex the story is and how much text is involved. For example, the indie-published counting book 5 Polar Bears by Wes Nehring is perfect for pre-school aged readers, while the emotional complexity of Neil Waldman’s Al and Teddy appeals to early grade schoolers.

Early Readers & Chapter Books


These two categories sometimes overlap in regards to the ages of their audiences. Early readers, such as Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book, are very short with text designed to assist children ages 5 to 9 in developing their reading skills. However, chapter books, such as The Magic Treehouse and The Secrets of Droon series, are aimed at children just beginning to read independently, between the ages of 6 – 10, and the stories often focus on humor, mystery, or adventure.

Middle Grade & Young Adult


Despite the fact that many writing contests lump middle grade and young adult into a single category (which drives me nuts), they are two distinct categories. As the Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, a publication about books for middle grade readers, I can’t tell you how frequently authors request reviews for their books, claiming they are for middle grade AND young adult readers.

NO. It doesn’t work that way. You must choose one category or the other. Libraries and book stores shelve books according to these categories. Often times the sections are in completely opposite ends of the building. A book cannot be shelved in both. Also, teachers, parents, and librarians need to know the intended audience for a particular book so they won’t accidentally hand an inappropriate book to an underage reader.

That said, the middle grade category is for readers between the ages of 8 to 12, or if the subject matter is a little more mature, ages 10 to 14. Both of these ranges allow for generous interpretation. For example, most of the Harry Potter books are listed for ages 8 to 12, despite their length, complexity in story-telling, and even violence. George by Alex Gino, a book that examines the issue of child transsexuality, is also listed for ages 8 to 12. This same age range also encompasses more innocuous books, such as Faery Swap by indie author Susan Kaye Quinn and Six Kids and Stuffed Cat by Gary Paulsen.

Young adult books, such as Moonbeam Award winner Nora Olsen’s Maxine Wore Black or Spark Award winner Shredded by Karen Avivi, are for ages 12 & up or (if the book contains more graphic or controversial issues) ages 14 & up. Young adult books may tackle topics of particular interest to teens, such as romance, issues of identity, peer pressure, sexuality, or substance abuse, and may or may not contain profanity, drugs or alcohol, and/or sex (though not explicit).

For all the categories mentioned above, the protagonist’s age should reflect the ages of the readers. For example, a middle grade book aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds should have a protagonist who is about ten or eleven. In addition, the story should be told from a child’s point of view (1st or 3rd person doesn’t matter). Adults may be present in the story, but the kids are the stars of the show.

Some “no-no’s” for writing for this age group include books told from an adult perspective reminiscing about when they were young, and stories told from a kid’s POV but where the subject matter could be considered mature.

New Adult


The New Adult category recently appeared as a bridge between young adult and adult books. New adult titles, such as Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, generally target college-age readers and have characters between 18 and 25 years of age. This category quickly gained the reputation for containing explicit sex, but that is not always the case, and is certainly not a requirement.

If you have considered writing for children, which age group do you feel fits your story best and why?

Laurisa White Reyes’ middle grade novel, The Storytellers, was awarded the 2015 SCBWI Spark Award for best self-published children’s book of the year. She is the author of several other books as well, including The Celestine Chronicles series, Contact, The Crystal Keeper, and Teaching Kids to Write Well: Six Secrets Every Grown-up Should Know. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, the Senior Editor of Skyrocket Press, and a professor of English at College of the Canyons in Southern California. You can find her at http://laurisareyes.blogspot.com.

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