The Rules of the Game for Writing Children’s Books — from Board Books Straight through Young Adult!

Board Books, fiction and nonfiction: 8-24 pages long, paper over board format, written for infants and toddlers. Minimal text (0-200 words). Lots of concrete action and familiar situations. Can also teach concepts (colors, shapes, identifying animals, etc.), and may have lift-the-flaps, touch-and-feel or sound elements. Most are written by the illustrator.

Picture Books for Ages 3-6, fiction and nonfiction: 32 pages, up to about 600 words. Text and illustrations on each page. Very simple stories based on familiar routines, or simple nonfiction related to a young child’s world. Rhyming or rhythmic language, action, minimal dialogue.

Picture Books for Ages 4-8, fiction and nonfiction: Average 32 pages (occasionally will go to 40 pages for older end of audience), about 1000 words, color illustrations. Fiction genres are wide open (humor, realistic, fantasy, historical fiction, adventure, etc.). Nonfiction includes biography, history, science, geography, multicultural topics, holidays, animals, interesting professions, art, etc. These books are meant to be read out loud to children, so don’t have a controlled vocabulary. The text and illustrations work together to tell the whole story.

Fiction Picture Books for Ages 6-10: This is a fairly new category of picture book. The text might be up to 1400 words, with books up to 40 pages. These stories work well for third through fifth grade classrooms, providing teachers read aloud books that tie in with school subjects. Therefore topics like historical fiction work well.

Nonfiction Picture Books for Ages 8-12: Up to 2000 words and 48 book pages, this is nonfiction in the picture book format for middle grade readers. Books are often illustrated with photographs, or are designed with a variety of artwork (photos, drawings, maps, etc.) and sidebars or boxes of additional information (trivia, jokes, interesting facts, dates, etc.) Some nonfiction picture books have chapters.

Easy Readers for Ages 5-9, fiction and nonfiction: 32-64 book pages, with text of less than 100 words up to about 2000 words. Written for children who are starting to read on their own. Though these books are illustrated, they look more “grown up” than picture books. Stories told through action and dialogue. Each publisher has a very specific format for their easy reader series; it’s essential that you study these books and get writer’s guidelines from the publisher before submitting. Most publishers have three or four levels to their series, beginning with very simple texts of only a few words per page, and advancing to short chapter books.

Chapter Books for Ages 6-9, or Ages 7-10, fiction and nonfiction: Sometimes called “transitional books”, the manuscripts average 6,000-15,000 words, with books 64-96 pages long. Most have black-and-white illustrations. These are short novels with chapters of about 4 pages each. Stories still rely primarily on action and dialogue, with very little description. Characters are in second through fourth grade.

Middle Grade for Ages 8-12, fiction and nonfiction: Books are 84-150 pages long on average, with manuscripts of about 20,000-35,000 words. No illustrations in fiction; nonfiction may have photographs or black-and-white drawings. No restrictions on writing style, but characters in fiction tend to be 10-13 years old.

Upper Middle Grade for Ages 10-14, fiction and nonfiction: Protagonists are slightly older (12-15), with slightly more intense or sophisticated conflicts than standard middle grade. Not quite young adult, but appealing to the middle school reader. Books can be a bit longer (up to about 40,000 words).

Young Adult for Ages 12 and Up, or Ages 14 and Up, fiction and nonfiction: Books have no set length, though most average 150-200 pages. Manuscripts average 40,000-60,000 words. Characters are generally in high school, with conflicts and situations typical of that age group. Nonfiction can explore any topic relevant to readers in grades 8 and up, such as social issues, health, self-help, politics, philosophy, science, history, biography, world cultures and the environment.

Poetry: Poetry collections can be targeted to picture book through young adult readers. Collections tend to have a theme. Younger poems revolve around action and specific images and ideas from a child’s life. Poems for older readers can be more abstract and open-ended. Humor is always a plus for all ages.