Many people think writing children’s books must be easy. After all, they are shorter than adult’s books and most have pictures that use a lot of space. The truth is, writing a story with fewer words is much more difficult than writing a lengthier story and there are many elements to consider when writing children’s books. It is a good idea to keep these tips in mind if your goal is to write for children.
Types of Children’s Books
Children’s books fall into several sub-categories:
Toddler Books (ages 1–3)
Books for toddlers are usually 12 pages long, under 300 words, and contain very simple content. They should be about everyday life that very small children will recognise or provide information about colours, the alphabet, numbers, shapes, etc. Often printed in a board book format, they might contain features that allow readers to interact, such as lift-the-flaps or buttons that can be pressed to hear sounds.
Early Picture Books and Picture Story Books (ages 4–8)
The picture book category can be divided into two – early picture books (for younger readers in this age range) and picture story books for older children. The average early picture book contains fewer than 1,000 words while picture story books are usually 32 pages in length with 1,000–1,500 words.
Picture books rely heavily on the words and pictures working together to tell a story. The text should be minimal and whatever is left out of the text should be obvious from the illustrations. Picture books need to include multiple scenes or locations so that there is plenty of variety in the images. The pictures help children who can’t read yet to understand the narrative; therefore they should incorporate bright colours and simple sans serif fonts in order to be appealing to small children. For children who are beginning to recognise written words, the pictures work as an aid to their learning. These type of stories are basic, written in chronological order and from the main character’s point of view. Using third-person (he/she/they) narration is the best choice for small children who might otherwise become confused when being read to by an adult. Younger children respond well to poetic techniques such as alliteration, rhyme and repetition.
Easy Readers (ages 6–8)
Aimed at children who are starting to read on their own, the length of this type of books varies. However, on average, it is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,500 words. They are highly illustrated but have a more grown-up format, often with short chapters. The story works without pictures but the pictures help early readers to feel less daunted than being confronted by pages of text.
The grammar used in easy readers is simple, with short sentences, short paragraphs and age-appropriate language. A few words above the reading ability of this age group are often included to challenge the reader. Right from the opening scene, the narrative is fast paced with the story being told through action rather than commentary and dialogue rather than indirect speech.
Chapter Books (ages 7–10)
Chapter books are longer and have a more sophisticated style than books for younger children. Chapters are still short but sentences are more complex and if there are any illustrations, they are usually black and white line drawings. Plots are more developed involving multiple conflicts for the main character to overcome. Characters should be of a similar age or a little older than the upper age limit of these readers.
Middle Grade (ages 8–12)
These books are longer again, with longer chapters, more sophisticated themes and complex plots and subplots involving more characters. This is the age where children become obsessed with characters so books for middle grade readers are often written as a series. The pace is still fast but may be interspersed with more interior monologue, encouraging readers to think for themselves. First person point of view is popular with this age group as it allows more intimacy with the main character and readers feel more involved in the action as it unfolds.