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“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.

Hi Christine – What determines book categories? For example, how are middle-grade books different than YA books? Thanks. —Jamie, Los Angeles

Hello Jamie – In children’s books, the main categories are picture book (PB), middle grade (MG), and young adult (YA). There are also board books, independent/early readers, and chapter books—sometimes even new adult (NA) gets lumped in with kid’s books. Each of these categories has a targeted readership, though overlap happens. When a book’s readership falls near a category’s edge, a book may be described as “old MG” or “young YA.”

SCBWI’s The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children provides helpful information in the “From Keyboard to Printed Page” section. This table contains information on number of typed pages, typical age, and sample titles. For example, a picture book is generally 2-3 typed pages (~500-750 words), for ages 3-8.

Other important factors include age of the characters, word choice, and content. The age of main characters often reflects the age of the readers or is toward the older end of the range for that category.

In board books, picture books, graphics, or other books where art plays a key role, the illustrator takes category expectations into account as well.

For any category of kid’s books, it’s important to have age-appropriate word choice and content. A coming-of-age MG may include the ups and downs associated with entering middle school, whereas, a coming-of-age YA may include dating and romances.


Each category is unique. Keep the reader in mind to reach the right audience for your book. —Christine


To ask a question which may be answered in an upcoming Kite Tales, please follow this link and fill in the form. You must be logged in to your SCBWI account to access this feature: http://losangeles.scbwi.org/ask-an-editor/.

Answers by Christine Van Zandt, literary editor and writer, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services.

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