Children’s books are divided into several subcategories, primarily related to the age and reading level of their target audience. Make sure that the content, length, and vocabulary of your manuscript is appropriate for the type of book you’re writing. Many word processors have a readability function you may find helpful in judging your manuscript’s sentence length and reading level.
Always look at the guidelines of any agent or editor you plan to submit your manuscript to in order to make sure they handle this genre. Unless you are a professional illustrator, don’t submit pictures or drawings with your manuscript.
Here is a general breakdown of the types of books you’ll find for children:
Baby books often consist of finger play, nursery rhymes, or short lullabies. They are meant to be read aloud.
Toddler books often have short, simple stories, and may teach concepts such as shapes or colors. These may include pop-up books, board books, or include sounds or textures.
Picture books are aimed at children ages 4 to 8. They have simple plots with one main character. There are usually illustrations on every page, or every other page, to help tell the story. These books cover a wide range of topics and typically run 32 pages, or up to 1,500 words. Nonfiction picture books may be slightly longer, often about 2,000 words, or 48 pages long, and appropriate for kids up to age 10.
Easy Readers are for children who are starting to read on their own, usually ages 6 to 8. These may have chapters and color illustrations. The length varies from 32 to 64 pages, with a maximum of about 2,000 words. The story is told through action and dialogue, but with simple sentence structure.
Transition books, or early chapter books, are for ages 6 to 9. These may be longer than easy readers, with black and white illustrations and very short chapters.
Chapter books are aimed at ages 7 to 10. They have several chapters, but still use short paragraphs. The length ranges from 4,000 to 12,000 words.
Middle grade books are written with kids age 8 to 12 in mind. They have subplots and more complex themes than chapter books. Fiction covers a wide range, with contemporary, historical, and science fiction settings. Nonfiction books for this group often include biographies, history, and science subjects. The vocabulary is more advanced, but avoid using profanity.
The following sites offer helpful tips on writing for children:
http://www.fictionfactor.com/children/kidsgenres.html Excellent breakdown of the children’s categories.
http://www.underdown.org/basics.htm Good general info on writing for children.
http://writingfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/chapter_book_basics Info on writing chapter books.
http://writingfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/middle_grade_novel_guidelines Writing for middle grades.
What are some of your favorite children’s books? Are there any you’ve read so many times that you know them by heart? (One of my favorites is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? My youngest child is 19 and I think I still could recite that book from memory.)