QUESTION: I am planning to enter the Children's Book category and would like expanded definitions of the Picture book/First Reader/ Middle Grade categories. What is a Picture Book exactly? Or a First Reader? Or A Middle Grade book?
ANSWER: Great question.
Picture books are children's books that rely heavily on illustrations to help tell the story. They can have few words or many, but illustrations are a heavy component. Examples of this would be The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are, and Walter the Farting Dog.
First Reader books are, according to KidLit.com, "the earliest “chapter” stories that a kid can get. 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. Your target audience for these is kids ages 4 to 8. Early readers feature a smaller trim size, some the size of or slightly bigger than a paperback novel, and can go from about 32 to 60 pages. 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. Some examples of early readers: LING AND TING: NOT EXACTLY THE SAME by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2010), the HarperCollins I Can Read! books, and the Random House Step Into Reading books."
Middle Grade books are, according to FromtheMixedUpFiles.com, "intended for readers ages 8-12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range. The reason for this: while an 8-year-old would have no problem reading about a 12-year-old protagonist, a 12-year-old may be reluctant to read a book about an 8-year-old. Subject Matter: MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. They do well with books they can relate to. They are still focused inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes can range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Kids at this age are also easily distracted, so you want a faster pace and short chapters. Word Count: Middle Grade used to be 20,000-40,000 words, some say around 50,000 words."
And while we're in the teen-lit topic area...
Young Adult books, according to FromtheMixedUpFiles.com "deal with underlying themes and more complicated plots. It allows teens to examine deeper issues, what their role in life is, the differences a person can make, the importance of relationships, coping with tragedy, etc. Protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. These books generally are more gritty and realistic and the teens choices and actions drive the story. You see less parental influence. Young Adult word count is generally more around 55,000 to 80,000 words."
For 2014, Young Adult books may be submitted to our Book Length Prose category.