The past few weeks we’ve been discussing reader’s guides to adult books (Fiction and Non-Fiction) Just like adult books, children’s books are also divided between Non-Fiction and Fiction. But this post will focus specifically on fiction books because next week I’ll be publishing the 2022 Mid-Winter Young Middle Grade & Young Adult Book List. While my bi-annual book list includes both fiction and non-fiction, it is heavily skewed toward the former. So I thought today would be a good time to explain how these books are classified.

First of all, Young Adult books are classified as children’s books, and the divisions have everything to do with the age of the protagonist and not the age of the reader. I’m going to repeat that because it’s really important. All children’s books are classified by AGE OF PROTAGONIST and not the age of the reader. That’s because children learn to read and comprehend at their own speed. There may be many of you, including myself, who loved to read from a young age and could read at an adult level (including grammar, writing style, and story themes) by the time you were twelve. And there are other kids who don’t develop their reading skills until they are in high school or older. I know I’m not the only woman who was reading totally inappropriate adult romances while in middle school. (but that’s another issue!).

So the publishing industry, with the help of schools and libraries, has broken down children’s fiction into the following major classifications.

Major Classifications of YA & Children’s Fiction

Upper Young Adult Novels ~ protagonist is 18 years old (may turn 19 during the story)

Middle Young Adult Novels ~ protagonist is 17 years old (may turn 18 during the story)

Lower Young Adult Novels ~ protagonist is 15 – 16 years old

Upper Middle Grade Novels ~ protagonist is 14 years old

Middle Middle Grade Novels ~ protagonist is 13 years old

Lower Middle Grade Novels ~ protagonist is 11- 12 years old

Upper Chapter Books ~ protagonist is 10 years old

Middle Chapter Books ~ protagonist is 9 years old

Lower Chapter Books ~ protagonist is 8 years old

Easy Reading Books ~ protagonist is 6-8 years old

Early Reading Books ~ protagonist is 4-5 years old (there are exceptions with characters up to 8 years old)

Primers ~ protagonist is usually in pre-school or kindergarten. These books can be both fiction and non-fiction and are designed to teach phonics and basic grammar.

Picture Books ~ protagonist can be any age, but is usually no older than 10. (but there are exceptions)


Now that we’ve established how children’s books are classified, we can now discuss the Fiction genres of each group. Due to space, I’m going to do this according to YA books (protagonists aged 15-18), Middle Grade (protagonists aged 9-14), and Children (protagonists aged 3-8). A quick note about these classifications–the general idea behind breaking these ages down is the idea of “the monster under the bed.” Both as a metaphor and a real thing.

When kids are little, they are afraid of monsters under the bed, and the books for younger readers address this idea usually in a humorous way, usually ending with the premise that the monsters don’t exist or that they are friendly and helpful. (The movie Monsters, Inc. is a great example of this)

When kids are in middle school, they are beginning to realize that bad things sometimes happen and that monsters in the world may actually real. But because of the psychological make-up of these ages, these monsters tend to be metaphorical (although they can be real as well). While the “monsters under the bed” aren’t denied, in Middle Grade books they are explained and/or neutralized before they actually appear. Or, if they appear, they do so in a way that allows the middle grade protagonist to grow up wiser and less fearful.

By the time kids turn 15, they know that monsters walk around this world. They’ve seen news stories, have been affected by things in their own lives, etc. So YA books deal with the actual monsters, especially in the Fantasy and Sci Fi books. Although there are always happy endings (or what’s known as “Happily Ever Afters For Now”), the protagonist has to fight the monster in a physical way. It could be a vampire, an alien, or a bully. The monster is real, although it can be internal or external, and the monster is defeated.


Young Adult Fiction Book Genres

Anthologies & Novellas

Anthologies are collections of short stories by popular authors. Novellas are short stories by popular authors, but are published alone. Anthologies and novellas are found in every sub-genre of YA fiction, but they are most popular in Fantasy, Sci Fi, and Romance genres.

Realistic Fiction

These are stories that could happen in the real world. This genre includes books about bullying, loss of friendships, suicide, first sexual experiences (usually closed door), and darker topics like abuse and abandonment. One of the more popular sub-genres is Sick Lit which includes stories about teens battling diseases or addictions. This genre may also include mystery/suspense/paranormal/futuristic/historical elements.

Romance

Just like adult romances, this genre is unique in that these books are the only ones within all of fiction where the protagonist is changed due to positive pressure from the love interest (who is the antagonist, in this case) instead of from negative pressure from a villain. Beyond that, these books always have an emotionally satisfying Happily Ever After. Usually in libraries and bookstores, all YA romances are shelved together by author’s last name and all the sub-genres are mixed in together. The sexual heat level can vary from super sweet to closed-door sexual situations (usually a “first time” scenario). Although there are a few stories out there that have open door sexual situations, they are really rare. And in those rare cases, the female protagonist is always 18 years old, if not 19. It’s important to know what type of story a teenager wants to read before they pull one off the shelf. There are tons of sub and sub-sub genres in this category (it’s also, by far, the largest category on the list) so I’m only listing the more popular sub-genres in this category below.

  • Contemporary Romance (takes place in contemporary times)
  • Historical Romance (takes place at least thirty years in the past from publication date)
  • Paranormal Romance (has paranormal elements like vampires or magic)
  • Urban Fantasy (set in an urban setting with magical elements)
  • Fantasy (set in any kind of fantasy world)
  • Science Fiction (set in any kind of sci fi situation or world)
  • Christian Romance (romances where the protagonist’s relationship with God is of primary importance)
  • Romantic Suspense (love story is intertwined with a suspense or mystery plot)

Paranormal

Stories in this genre always have a paranormal element, including stories with romantic elements. These books include ghost stories, and stories about magical creatures like fairies, witches, vampires, etc.

Classics

These are books and plays that have continued to spur meaningful debate and conversation (and sometimes controversy) across generations and through the decades. Most librarians will only consider a more current book to be a classic once the author has passed away. In the YA world, these books include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and The Outsider by S.E. Hinton.

Fantasy

These books are set in completely different worlds, or in a version of this world that contains magic. The key to these stories is the world-building, the level of which determines the sub-genre. Below are a few of the more popular sub-genres in this category. Books like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, while High fantasy, is usually shelved with classics because the author died years ago. So if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the shelf, and the book is older, check the classics section. YA Fantasy novels actually have more romantic elements than adult fantasy. (I have no idea why!)

  • Epic/High Fantasy (highly evolved and creative worlds, often using elements from the past)
  • Low Fantasy (the current world with magical elements)
  • Urban Fantasy (an urban, contemporary setting with magic)
  • Historical Fantasy (the world at least thirty years before current day, with magical elements)
  • Grimdark Fantasy (high fantasy that is violent, dark, and dystopian)

Science Fiction

These books set up worlds where we imagine technology’s impact in the future. There is tons of world building and usually a large cast of characters, including aliens from other worlds. This category has a ton of sub and sub-sub-genres and I listed a few below. While there may be romantic elements, sexual situations are rare.

  • Hard Science Fiction (so factually accurate that the reader believes the events could actually happen)
  • Soft Science Fiction (more focused on things like sociology and folklore)
  • Space Opera (stories set in a fully fictionalized space)
  • Dystopian (stories set in a post-apocalyptic world, either on Earth or another planet. Almost always an undesirable world)
  • Steampunk (historical setting with a heavy focus on steam-powered technology, even if it’s not part of the period)

Horror

Books about the supernatural or supernatural elements that terrify young readers as well as the protagonists within the stories. They tend to be much less graphic than adult horror books, and there’s always some kind of happy or satisfying ending.

Action/Adventure/Speculative/Dystopian

These stories have very high stakes and a lot of movement between scenes, usually traversing the world. Speculative and Dystopian fiction usually represents a post-apocalyptic or totalitarian world. The protagonist is under constant pressure and their lives are always at risk. These are fast-paced stories that are easily translated into movies/TV series. A good example is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. These books can have historical, science fiction, or paranormal elements. Below are a few of the more popular sub-genres in this category. The

  • Adventure (interesting or exotic locales and lots of exploration)
  • Post Apocalyptic (life after a world-altering event, not necessary nuclear war) 
  • Time Travel (a current-day protagonist who travels back in time to save the future)
  • Western (always set in the U.S. western frontier)

Mystery/Suspense

These novels are all about The Who-done-it ? and Whywas-it-done?. The protagonist is usually the teenage detective or private investigator who is up against a ticking clock to prevent another murder/crime/bad thing. Although it’s a TV show, the series Veronica Mars is a great example of a teenage investigator. These mysteries tend to deal with less serious issues than adult mysteries. It all depends on the age of the protagonist. An 18-year old detective may deal with a dead body while a 15-year old detective may deal with a cheating scandal in school.

Middle Grade Fiction Book Genres

Unlike the YA books which are sub-divided into many sub-sub genres, Middle Grade books tend to be mushed together. That’s because Middle Grade books tend to contain elements from many sub-genres which makes it hard to separate them out. Below are the main divisions for Middle Grade books although they are often all shelved together by author’s last name.

Classics

Just like the classics above, these books are written by authors who have passed away yet their stories persist. Books in this genre include The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series, and White Fang by Jack London.

Action/Adventure/Humor/ Mystery/Sci Fi

Books in this genre include stories about zombies, animals, ghosts, historical, and mystery/fantasy elements, etc. Superheroes and most Manga (Japanese comics) characters are also included, as are dystopian plots. And it also includes Science Fiction. The key to this genre is that the young protagonist is the driving force in defeating the monster and keeping their homes and families safe. (although often the schools are destroyed! LOL).

Family & Relationships

This is a genre unique to Middle Grade books. It includes mother/daughter stories, stories about princesses and dragons, etc. But the key here is that the family/friend relationships are far more important than the magical element. The relationships drive the story instead of the plot.

Children’s Fiction Book Genres

Classics

These books include all books written by Dr. Seuss, as well as authors/books like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. They are sometimes told in rhyme and are usually classified as bedtime stories. The protagonists are young and they often interact with magical creatures. Like all other classic books, the authors are dead yet their books are still popular.

Mystery

These include mystery chapter books (of all levels) which usually include a group of young kids who all work together to solve a simple mystery. There are some stand-alone chapter book mysteries, but they tend to have the older protagonists (8-10 years old).

Chapter Books

Again, more of a type of book than a genre. These books, which cross ALL genres, are usually “buddy” books. Stories where a group of friends meets an alien, travel in time, or fly dragons, etc. They are almost always in a series where each short book solves a simple problem while all the characters remain friends at the end, even if there are relationship problems within along the way while the story is unfolding.

Easy Readers/Early Readers/Primers

These are also types of book (separated by age of protagonist), instead of a genre, but these types of books come in ALL genres. There are princess primers, astronaut primers, western early readers, etc. If you can’t find them in the bookstore, ask your school librarian for recommendations and ordering information. Sometimes they cannot be purchased on Amazon and are only available through in-school book fairs. (It all depends on the publisher). The Scholastic Newsletter is a great source for these types of books that aren’t necessarily available online due to limited publishing schedules.

Picture Books

Who doesn’t love children’s picture books? While this is another type, instead of a genre, picture books are available in ALL genres from holiday stories to action/adventure stories. Many popular books are often reissued and reprinted in picture book form. This type also includes board books and fabric books which are meant for babies to chew on while parents read to them. They are one of the few types of books read by all ages of readers, and they are often the most beloved books in a reader’s life.


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