Many people not familiar with children’s books think only of Dr. Seuss and “Dick, Jane, and Spot.” In reality, children’s books encompass infancy through the middle teenage years.
The following categories are only a general guideline. Many precocious children read well beyond their age level and reluctant readers fall behind. Also, many children (the 50+ me included!) still enjoy reading books for a younger audience.
By Claudette Hegel
Baby books include cloth books, bathtub (plastic) books, and some board books. Baby books are often wordless or use only single words or phrases; complete sentences are rare. Popular subjects are animals and nursery rhymes.
Meant for ages 1-3, toddler books have very simple stories, usually familiar to a child’s everyday life. Toddler books often feature some sort of novelty such as pop-ups; lift-the-flap; or sensory feature such as sounds, smells, touch, etc.
Picture books usually have simple plots without subplots or unusual twists. The story is one designed to be read repeatedly TO preschoolers or BY children up to about age 9. The main character in picture books is usually a child or a character with childlike qualities, such as an animal. A popular topic for picture books for the earlier ages is concept books, which are books under a general theme such as colors, shapes, time, the alphabet, numbers, etc.
Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
Beginning readers/easy readers are specifically for kids ages 6-9, usually more for the younger side of the range, to read by themselves. The smaller cover dimensions make beginning reader books look more “grown up” than picture books—at least on the outside. The larger-than-picture-book text makes them look “babyish” to older readers. Illustrations appear on nearly every page. Sentences are short and simple. The stories are heavy on action and dialogue.
Early Chapter Books
Early chapter books intended for children from ages 6-9, usually more toward the older side of the range, are slightly longer and more difficult reading than beginning readers, but still contain many illustrations.
Middle Grade/Tween-Age/Chapter Books
Sentences in middle grade/tween-age/chapter books, meant for children ages 8-12, become more complex, but paragraphs are still rarely more than four sentences. The subjects and themes become more sophisticated, often with a subplot or two. Characters have more depth. Often, action cuts off at the end of one chapter and picks up at the beginning of the next chapter.
Older Middle Grade Books
Older middle grade books, sometimes called “Transition Books,” are for children ages 10-13. These kids aren’t quite ready for teen books, either for the difficulty or the subject matter, but are beyond the middle grade category. Much nonfiction falls into the older middle grade category.
Young Adult (YA)/Teen Books
The age range of young adult (YA)/teen books runs from about age 12-17. The primary identifying factor of YA books is the themes are relevant to teenagers. YA books may be quite complex, although they still usually have only one main character.
Claudette Hegel is the author of more than 250 publications, including eight books. She also volunteers as a writer/editor/proofreader for The Chelsea Foundation. Claudette lives in the Twin Cities with her cat, Mewsic.