By: Nathaniel McCabe
There are many variables that come into play when writing a children’s book. The term “children’s book” is not universal to all children. There are different age groups under the large umbrella of children’s literature. For instance, a ten year old is not going to get entertainment the same way that a four year old does.
As a generic rule of thumb, children most often like to hear stories that have main characters that are either the same age as them or a little older in age. For example, a six year old is most commonly going to want to read stories about other children that are 6-9 years old.
If you are looking to write a children’s book, understand that simply setting out to write a book for all children is not likely to work. There are very rare instances in which a children’s book works for children of all ages (perhaps Oh, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss). The main reason behind this is the fact that children grow cognitive skills at relatively rapid rates.
The Different Age Groups of Children’s Literature
Think of children’s literature as an umbrella that covers a lot of ground, because children’s fiction is just as complex as adult fiction in the sense that there are so many variables. So when looking at the umbrella of children’s literature there are three main categories directly below, those are listed below.
- Beginning Readers (Elementary Graders)
- Independent Readers (Middle Graders)
Children in each of these three categories are going to need different elements in books in order to be engaged and entertained from the story. With that being said, take a look through this guide that gives an overview of each of the three groups under the umbrella of children’s literature.
A child will experience new discoveries at a step by step pace, this is very important to understand when writing a children’s book. With this in mind you can zone in on the exact age group that you are writing for. The preschool age group doesn’t have to be limited to those who are in preschool. I like to think of this age group as children who still need to have stories read to them, so about the ages of 2-5.
Think about what a preschooler should already know. Maybe they know a couple of generic facts about farm animals. All kids love going to the farm and seeing the animals so you could write a children’s book about farm animals for any age group, it is the next thing to include that is going to be important.
Preschoolers should be provided with stories that are contingent to their immediate surroundings. For example, maybe there’s a pig in a backyard. That is capitalizing two things that a preschooler understands, a farm animal in a familiar setting.
If you were to write about a pig going to a restaurant, a preschooler is not likely to fully comprehend the story because while a preschooler can go to a restaurant, it is not necessarily a familiar setting.
I like to think of this age group to be around the ages of 5-8. They are reading on their own, these can still be picture books as some children still enjoy the pictures, but at the same time many of them are going to want to take on chapter books at this age level (I believe that The Magic Treehouse series is a good fit for this age group).
When looking at the life of a beginning reader, they are learning independence for the first time. This is when they start getting picked up by the bus in the morning and spending a majority of their day in school and away from their parents, who have likely warned them about the many dangers that are out there.
Kids of this age like to read about things that stimulate their curiosity. It is important that you make your plot easy to follow because adding too many elements can get these readers confused. They are just learning the ropes of independent reading.
These children want stories that are going to be exciting but with a clear plot that shows specific conflict.
In these stories, you may decide to have animals as your characters, which is a great idea. The thing to keep in mind is that these readers have, for the most part, made their way past being interested in problems that are exclusive to animals.
With this being said, it is likely going to have a greater impact if you personify animals in these stories by giving them problems that the beginning readers can relate to.
Independent readers are on the brink of adolescence, so they are not really looking for a story about a turtle that learns about manners. These readers have grown past that phase and are now looking for stories that expand into peer situations.
It is not a good idea to get explicit in these stories, but these independent readers are at the age where they are gaining interest in dating. They probably have a lot of questions that they want answered.
They are growing into what seems like the most confusing period of their lives. Their bodies are constantly reminding them that they are growing up, yet they are still being told by everyone around them that they are children.
Another interesting thing about this age group is the fact that everyone is at entirely different levels in their growth. This makes it so that a majority of them like the idea of reading about someone who is about their age that takes a dramatic situation head on and in turn proves their adulthood.
Writing a children’s book can be tricky due to the fact that there are a wide range of variables. These three main target audiences of children’s literature tend to conform to different interests when it comes to looking for a story.
For the most part, children like to read a story that has a protagonist that is either their age or a little older. As children grow into adolescents, they start to gain interest in stories that they can relate to.
If you are writing a children’s book, it is very important that you determine your target audience as early as you can in the process as this will help both your structure as well as your plot in the long run.
Davis, Katie. How to Write a Children’s Book. Writer’s Institute Publications, 2016.
Jones, Yvonne. How to Self-Publish a Children’s Book: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Illustrate, Publish and Market Your Paperback and Ebook. LHC Publishing, 2018.