Do You Know Your Audience? Pt. 2

Children’s Fiction

Children's Books

Stereotypical children’s books (albeit GREAT ones at that). Image from MegFish.com

When people discuss children’s fiction, most people tend to think of the cutesy stuff. You know: The Cat in the Hat, The Berenstain Bears, and the Arthur series. The fact is that children’s fiction encompasses a larger umbrella. A much larger umbrella. In fact, the umbrella is so huge, the publishing industry had to break up children’s fiction into multiple parts not only for the sake of the readers, but for the sake of parents. Trust me: you don’t need a six-year-old reading Looking for Alaska. There will be questions they’ll start asking that you might not be prepared to answer as a parent.

Now, back before Harry Potter came along, nobody really cared about what was going on in the children’s fiction department. It was just something that was there that the adult reader was forced to go (but didn’t want to be seen in) for the sake of their children. You used to grab the nearest book that had the coolest illustration on the cover, hoped that your kid was interested in it, and out you went back into your world of adult fiction. I mean, seriously, too much time in that world of primary colors might mess with your head, right? And who really cared for silly horror books like Goosebumps or what the latest drama in The Baby-sitter’s Club was because those books are fads, right? They’re not real books like the latest Stephen King book. Now that’s a horror book!

Then suddenly and without warning, a new children’s series came along and shook up the reading world. It caught the interest of so many people and dominated so many bestseller lists that the publishing industry finally decided that it was time that children’s fiction had their own list to shine in. And that series, my friends, was Harry Potter.


Now though I’m here to speak about children’s fiction, I’m not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details of every age group right off the bat. That would make for an uber long blog post that I don’t think anyone really wants to read through in one sitting.

This week we’re discussing: Picture books, early readers, and chapter books.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle will forever be one of my favorite children’s book authors.

It is these books that most people generally think about when they think children’s fiction. Picture books are pretty much self-explanatory: Books with illustrations that accompany them to help move the story. Don’t you dare confuse them with comic books or manga. Just don’t.

The books are simple in their story telling, but just because their simple doesn’t mean they’re terrible or beneath you. Honestly, I never read a lot of picture books. For whatever reason that genre of books must have eluded me when I was younger. On the other hand, I did watch a lot of Reading Rainbow which tended to feature the best of the best of picture books and oh my were they fantastic!

Here’s my recommended list:

  • Anything by Eric Carle. Seriously, he’s the best.
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault; illustrated by Lois Ehlert
  • Curious George by H.A. Rey
  • Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Stickland
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura J. Numeroff (I could recite this at one time)
  • Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale retold and illustrated by John Steptoe
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs By A. Wolf by John Scieszka
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendack

But wait! Not all picture books are alike! Some are considered early readers and this is where lines get blurry. Fact: Early reader books will have illustrations to accompany the text. How do you tell the two apart? Simple. On reading ability. These are books that you give to your child when they’re just starting out to learn how to read. I quote this from an article from Kidlit.com

They’re very short in terms of manuscript length (1,500 words max) but are broken up into either chapters or vignettes that will give the reader the feeling of reading a book with real chapters in it. … The font size is smaller and they feature spot illustrations in either color or black and white instead of full color throughout, like a picture book.

Popular easy readers:

  • Anything by Dr. Seuss.
  • Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
  • Bink and Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo
  • Anything by Mo Willems

And that brings us to chapter books. Some call these independent readers. Others call them advanced readers. Whatever you want to call it, let it be known that these books are the books between early readers and middle grade novels. I quote again from the above mentioned article:

Manuscripts can range from about 5,000 words to about 15,000 words, max. Since your audience is still developing its reading skills, you have more of a wide berth in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure, story and character. Younger chapter books will be simpler, but you can get pretty sophisticated for older chapter books. … with black and white spot illustrations throughout.

I would give you a list of popular chapter books, but research proves that the lines between middle grade and chapter books tend to be blurry quite a bit. And next week I’ll discuss why. Stay tuned!

Catch up on the latest “Audience” series and see what’s upcoming!

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