Classification of Books

Books are generally classified into several categories for children:

Picture Books are generally 32 pages long with color illustrations on every page. Text can range from a few words to a paragraph or two per page. Picture book stories rely on strong visual elements with the text and illustrations being intricately connected. The average audience for picture books are children ages 3 to 8.

These books are designed to be read out loud to a child since the language and sentence structure used in the average picture book is too complex for a beginning reader to master. However, some picture books tell a story with simple, rhythmic, or repetitive text. These types of picture books can help boost a reader’s confidence.

Easy Reader Books, sometimes called early or beginning readers, are designed for children ages 5 to 9 who are learning to read on their own. Though the book may look like a picture book—32 pages and color illustrations throughout—there are few words of text per page. The book is usually smaller in size and sometimes can be divided into short chapters. Good easy readers make kids want to read; the settings and characters are familiar to a child and the plots are simple and relevant to a young child’s life.

Humor is the hallmark of easy readers. By the time children are six years old they can keep two ideas in their mind simultaneously, so they love “illogical logic or logical nonsense” as in wordplay and riddles. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, if a child is laughing, he will want to read.

Most easy readers are divided into different reading levels for preschool through third or fourth grade. Reading levels are determined by one of several systems that compute the length and complexity of the words and sentences in a book. Unfortunately, reading levels differ from publisher to publisher and school to school, depending upon the methods used to calculate the results. A method used by Island Education Services is to let a student select a title and if the child misses five or more words per page, then the book is too difficult.

Most importantly, match a book to your child, not a child to a book. Children need the freedom to choose books that are at their personal interest or recreational reading level, which is usually below their instructional grade level.

Chapter Books provide a transition between easy readers and full-length, middle-grade books. They are written for children between ages 7 and 10, rarely have illustrations (perhaps a few black and white pictures), smaller typeface, and chapters about six pages long. Fiction chapter books are under 100 pages long while non-fiction books are generally shorter and with more illustrations. The text has longer paragraphs, more description, and a less controlled vocabulary.

Chapter book fiction books are more complex than beginning reader books and often involve subplots. Nonfiction books can range from two to three paragraphs per page and no chapters to a longer book with short chapters and longer passages.

Middle Grade Books are targeted to 8 to 12 year old children who have become more confident with their reading skills and desire more complex storylines. The books are generally up to 150 pages with complex characters, exotic settings, and compelling subplots. Author Joanne Rocklin, in Inside the Mind of a Child: Middle Grade Fiction/Young Adult Fiction, explains middle grade books this way:

“Conflict is always a key in every good story, but in the middle grade novel the conflicts are out in the open. The subversion and war against authority and others aren’t only hinted at—the protagonist dares to imagine everything in detail . . . conflict is part of the separation process in the middle years, which involves lots of deep feeling and often anger.”

Children will often pick a book with almost any kind of character or setting as long as the characters reflect the thoughts and deep emotions of their readers. Middle graders are also developing interests in the world and reading more nonfiction and self-help books.

Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction Books are usually targeted to children ages 12 and up, however, some books may start at age 10. Often children will go back and forth between middle grade literature and young adult books.

The characters in young adult literature grow from being focused on his or her place within his family and friends to his or her role in society. Plots often deal with realistic issues, regardless of the genre (fantasy, mystery, adventure, etc.) and revolve around a character’s first brush with the real world. Taking the first step to adulthood, the loss of innocence, and coming of age are common themes. Teens and preteens are the focus of the story with adults taking a minor role.

Young adult nonfiction also has a broader worldview. Topics may include sociological issues, events and people who have affected world history, and scientific principles. Information is more in-depth. However, it is written in a style that is more lively and “hip” than adult nonfiction.

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