All about Chapter Books

by Olivia Fisher
published in Writing

Hello! Welcome back to the kid lit craft column where I’ve decided to do a series on all the different types of kid lit. That’s right! We are going to be covering everything from picture books to middle grade and in between! In my first post of this series, I covered everything picture books. You can go read it here. Today, we are tackling chapter books! 

Now you might be getting chapter books mixed up with middle grade or independent reader books, which I’m also going to briefly mention here. Or maybe you already knew that they were their own category. Who knew there were so many different types of children’s literature, right? 

Until this past year when I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), I didn’t know that chapter books were their own category. Though, I was aware that they were much shorter and simpler than a middle grade book. I attended a workshop at an SCBWI conference in my own region of Virginia that was all about chapter books from a published author who, surprise, writes chapter books. I learned so much from her, and hopefully, I can share that and some other research I’ve done on chapter books in this article. 

A Quick Note on Independent Reader Books

While I’m not going to do a separate article for independent reader books, I will make a brief nod to them here. Independent reader books (also called leveled readers) are much shorter and closer to a picture book with the idea that a new reader will be reading them independently. The language is very, very simple, and the illustrations are full-page much like those in a picture book. Writers work with a limited vocabulary list they can choose from. Chapter books differ in many ways from independent reader books.

Examples of Independent reader books:

  • I Want to Be a Doctor (I Can Read Level 1) Written by Laura Driscoll and Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri
  • Big Shark, Little Shark (Step into Reading) Written by Anna Membrino and Illustrated by Tim Budgen
  • Ice Cream Soup (Step into Reading) Written by Ann Ingalls and Illustrated by Richard Watson

A Broad Look at Chapter Books 

Chapter books are a child’s first real experience connecting with characters and building their imagination by themselves as they begin reading independently. Chapter books are short…. well…chapter books for readers ranging from ages 7-10. These heavily illustrated little books help engage readers and make facing a wall of text less intimidating by using illustrations to break up text. The illustrations also show what is happening in the story, making it easier for young readers to create strong mental pictures. 

Chapter books contain short chapters which give a strong feeling of accomplishment for young readers and allows them to take a break from reading easier.

Unlike middle grade, characters in chapter books never age past 3rd or 4th grade (matching the age of the reader) because they are only meant for a small group of children who will eventually deepen their love of reading and move up to middle grade where they are able to experience more. Chapter books also tend to be written in series because young readers often consume them quickly, wanting more adventures with their favorite characters.

The length of a chapter book varies. While some publishing houses, like the Branches division of Scholastic, aim to publish books with only 6,000 words total, making very simple stories for readers who might be intimidated by longer chapter books, other publishing houses publish longer chapter books.

Word Count/Page Count: 5,000-13,000 or 40-60 typed pages (According to SCBWI. Word count varies largely depending on the publishing house you go through)

Age Range: 7-10

Chapter Book Examples: Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborn, Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky, Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows, and the Definitely Dominguita Series by Terry Catasus Jennings 

Good Resources for Chapter Book Writers

So, where can you go to learn more about chapter books and refine your craft? Here are a few great places to get you started!

  • The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This international organization provides so many resources for both new and experienced children’s book writers and illustrators. From virtual conferences, regional critique sessions, and The Book (a book created by the society full of agents, query suggestions, and manuscript formatting guides). I’ve personally attended conferences with whole sessions dedicated to the craft of chapter books!
  • Highlights Foundation. Highlights, a popular publication in the kid lit space, hosts a variety of workshops for writers. In the past, they hosted specific courses on writing chapter books. Check out their resources and workshops to see more on chapter books.
  • Visiting your local library and reading lots of different chapter books. There is honestly no better way to learn about chapter books than by reading them! Read lots of chapter books. Find a variety of lengths and genres and get a feel of what kind of chapter book story you want to tell. I can guarantee reading is one of the quicker and more enjoyable ways to improve your craft and get a feel for how your story must be structured.

As I mentioned in my last article, while I have outlined the general information about chapter books, this article is in no way meant to be a comprehensive guide to chapter books! But, hopefully, this will get your chapter book research off to a strong start and give you resources and basic structures to start telling your story! Knowing what kind of book you are crafting for young readers is so important as a kid lit author.

Next up, I will be covering my absolute favorite genre and the one I’m personally familiar with writing: middle grade!

Tell us in the comments: Are you a chapter book writer or interested in writing chapter books?

Olivia Fisher

Olivia Fisher is a children’s lit writer and freelance editor with an English degree from BYU-Idaho. When she isn’t dreaming about living in a treehouse or chasing down her two young boys, she enjoys curling up with a book, watching Star Wars, writing her next adventure, and trying to live in the state of child-like wonder that we all secretly, or not so secretly, miss. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram, or hire her for your next editing escapade on Fiverr.

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