What are the Differences Between Chapter Books, Middle Grade Novels, and YA Novels?

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the author and not The Writers’ Collective.

By Rebecca Fyfe

If you write for children who are reading on their own, chances are you write for at least one of the three different age groups: chapter books, middle grade, and young adult. It can be helpful to take a look at your writing and make sure it works for the category for which you are aiming. What exactly distinguishes the three categories from one another?

Chapter Books
Chapter books usually range from 4,000 to 15,000 words in length. They tend to be aimed at six- to ten-year-olds who can read on their own. They often contain a large amount of dialogue which makes them easier to read. Children who read chapter books are still in the process of honing their reading skills, and in some cases still have to sound out words.  The vocabulary and syntax need to be simple, and the paragraphs should be short; if the story’s language is too complex, it can make them feel overwhelmed. Transitions between chapters tend to be very clear. Chapter books are often series books, and plots in each book in the series usually follow the same structure. There should be no romance, graphic violence, or swearing in the story.

Middle Grade
Middle grade books usually range from 20,000 to 45,000 words in length. Middle grade novels tend to be aimed at eight- to twelve-year-olds. Topics and plot structures are more complex than those in chapter books, with preteen characters dealing with situations that will interest this age group. Story plots often center on external situations and events, with very little time spent dealing with the protagonist’s thoughts or feelings.  Romance, if used in a middle grade novel, is apt to be portrayed as a school crush or “puppy love” situation, and usually doesn’t contain mature elements. There should not be any sexual situations, graphic violence or swearing in the story.

Young Adult
Young adult books usually range from 50,000 to 70,000 words in length. Their readers tend to be twelve years old and up, the standard being ages twelve to eighteen. The plots are more mature than those found in middle grade books. These books usually feature teen protagonists dealing with situations that will interest teen readers.  Young adult novels typically show a lot of what is going on in the protagonist’s head. The focus is more on the main character and his or her problems rather than events happening around them; however, the main character often exerts their own influence over events that transpire. These stories tend to be more emotional, and often contain sex, gory scenes, strong language and graphic violence.

Cross-Overs
The middle grade/young adult crossover age is thought to be for ages twelve to sixteen. Some people put the Harry Potter series in this category. The first two books begin at a middle grade level, but as Harry ages, and the subsequent plots grow more complex with deeper issues, the last two books skew to the older YA age group.

Children often read up, meaning they will gravitate to a protagonist who is slightly older than themselves.  So, if your protagonist is thirteen, your book is most likely a middle grade. If your main character is seventeen, then your book is most likely a young adult.

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Rebecca Fyfe, an author with stories in several anthologies and collections, is a mother of seven children and, having lost over 145 pounds of excess weight, blogs about health and fitness at SkinnyDreaming.com. She has always had a love for stories and books and graduated with a degree in English Literature. She is a Californian who married an Englishman and now resides in Great Britain.

Rebecca created and runs the Chapter Book Challenge (chapterbookchallenge.com) which runs every March, and, when not writing short stories or children’s stories, she’s busy creating urban fantasy novels, full of her own special blend of magic. She gets her inspiration from her five daughters and two sons.

She is the founder of Melusine Muse Press (melusinemusepress.com) and owns several on-line gift shops, one of which can be found at moondusters.com. She blogs about books and writing at Imagine! Create! Write! (http://imaginecreatewrite.blogspot.com). You can find her on Facebook (facebook.com/beckyfyfe), Twitter (@moonduster) and through her author blog at rebeccafyfe.com. You can find other books by her on her Amazon author page at amazon.com/Rebecca-Fyfe/e/B00EHAHGW4.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to What are the Differences Between Chapter Books, Middle Grade Novels, and YA Novels?

  1. Thank you Becky for the information on the delineation between the differing levels of books and readers. This was a very clear and informative overview.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. Very helpful distinctions.

  3. Mindy Oakes

    I found this article to be super helpful. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Information. In your FB response you mentioned Hi-Lo Book. What is the characteristics of Hi-lo books and examples of them. Thanks :D

    BTW, great post :D

  5. Thanks for this concise and informative summary. The one thing I might take issue with is the statement that YA often includes sex. I haven’t read a huge amount, but the blockbuster ones I’ve read (Hunger Games, Twilight 1-2, and Divergent) seemed very chaste. I have heard that NA (New Adult) is the genre geared toward college students and they contain more mature and explicit material.

  6. Thanks for the clarification. There seems to be a trend of longer books for middle-graders who are willing to take on the heftier Harry Potter and Hunger Games novels. Mainly I see the higher readers tackling these books. Agree that your estimated word court hits the average reader. What is needed is a few books aiming toward reluctant readers that offer simplicity, while tackling meatier topics? Maybe? Guess the debate is still out on that one. lol.

    Good article Becky.

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