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What age should kids stop reading picture books?

Next week at the ABC Children’s Institute in San Antonio, I’ll be on a panel with fellow booksellers and one librarian, talking about our experiences with adult customers and patrons who seem to be pushing children out of picture books and into chapter books at younger and younger ages.
I don’t want to post spoilers for the panel (I’ll report on the discussion next week, and I think ABA members will be able to watch the video of the panel), but I did want to ask you out there in ShelfTalker land — you parents and teachers and booksellers and librarians — if you are noticing this pressure, and why you think it’s happening. We don’t see this “age compression” in schools; teachers who shop at our bookstore seem to understand the value of both fiction and nonfiction picture books for students of all ages. But parents and grandparents seem to be balking.
Obviously, we need to educate customers about the richness of picture book language, and the huge range of styles and formats and narratives in this literary genre that is perhaps more diverse than any other. We need to remind them that, although the price of a 32-page picture book and a 300-page chapter book might be roughly the same, a child may read the chapter book once, but the picture book 1,000 times, finding more to discover with each reading.
Why do so many parents and grandparents reject even sophisticated picture books as “baby books?” Is it a misunderstanding of what picture books are? It is an outcome of the excesses of our testing-burdened, measurable-achievement-oriented educational system? Or is there a greater loss at work, as well? Has the love of stories become somehow lesser? Do we value only what is perceived as more challenging, and testable? And why is it that the same parents who readily read light, unchallenging books for their own pleasure and comfort don’t allow the same indulgence for their kids? They often want little Johnny or Samantha to chug on up the reading levels — again, a misperception, since so many picture books contain rich vocabulary  and complex sentence structure that are more challenging than many young chapter books.
There is no sinister intent on these parents’ parts, of course; they are most likely simply trying to make sure their children are well prepared, not left behind, in the academic realm. So how do we best show them the sweet and rewarding light of opening their minds to the full range of worthy reading possibilities for their kids? Inquiring minds want to know — and if you share a terrific thought in the comments, I’d be delighted to share it during the panel discussion and credit you!
(Booksellers and librarians: The ABC has prepared a fantastic flyer to use, featuring great picture books to share with older kids, along with tips for talking with parents. Be on the lookout for that next week!)

Including genres, word counts, and lots of examples!

Here at Get Your Book Illustrations we have the pleasure of working with many children’s book authors to provide them with illustrations for their fiction or nonfiction books.

I’ve seen some confusion on more than one occasion about children’s books age groups.

Confusions like:

  • Do I really have to choose an age group for my book?

  • How do I choose which age group to write for?

  • How do I know if my book is right for my intended age group?

  • What are the differences between books for different groups?

Let’s start by answering the first question right now.

Yes, you need to choose an age group.

Having a clear age group for your children’s book is crucial. Children grow in their ability to understand and sense of humour, and what they enjoy changes. A book for a 1-year-old, 4-year-old, 10-year-old and 16-year-old are all vastly different.

So we’re going to go over:

  • What is a children’s book? (The answer may surprise you!)

  • The different age groups and types of books for each

  • Examples of each and every kind of book mentioned

Crucial considerations for authors concerning age groups

There are a few important points for authors to keep in mind when choosing and writing for your age group:

  • Write for the group you WANT to write for, not the one you feel you “should” write for, for any other reasons.

  • Following from that, write what you enjoy reading or are drawn to.

  • Read a lot of books for this age group (in the genre you write in or want to write in).

  • Build an audience in one age group first before writing for another (if you want to change). Else you’re more or less starting over each time.

  • The main character(s) in children’s books for any age group should be slightly older than the audience the book is intended for.

What is a children’s book?

Firstly, what is classified as a children’s book? It may surprise you that it covers books for ages 0 all the way to 18. So YA (young adult) books also fall in the children’s book category.

These are guidelines. If you search, you’ll see the descriptions of these groups vary from website to website, but not greatly.

You’re probably clear on if your book is for young children or teenagers, but let’s go into the more specific subdivisions.

The different age groups and types of books for each

Here’s a quick list of age groups and the different kinds of books for them:

  • Newborn to age 4

    : Picture books in the form of


    oard and soft books

  • Ages 2–5: Early picture books

  • Ages 5–8


    Picture books, coloring, activity and novelty books

  • Ages 4–8


    Early (easy) readers

  • Ages 6-9


    First chapter books and graphic novels

  • Ages 8–12: Middle-grade novels and graphic novels

  • Ages 12-18: Young adult (YA) novels and graphic novels

  • Nonfiction books also exist for all these age groups

A note on illustrations and age groups

Even though the story, word count and book types vary from age to age, most illustration styles can work for any age group.  

Your options are many. The main thing to keep in mind is if a kid in your age group will like and understand the drawings. Too abstract won’t work for toddlers. Too baby-ish may put off older kids.

A Young adult book rarely contain illustrations, but could still have (especially for the cover).

Top tip: Look at other books for your age group to see what is selling.

Picture Books

A picture book is a book where the text and drawings work together to tell the story. Without the illustrations, the book won’t make sense or will be incomplete.

A Picture book is meant to be read out loud, so write them with that in mind. In fact, read them out loud and make sure they read well, have a good flow and sound great.

Picture books exist for different age groups from age 0 to 8, so you’ll see it a few times below.

Age 0 to 4 years-board and soft picture books

**Note: I cite many examples in this article.

You can enlarge the thumbnails on each book’s page and/or use the “Look Inside”

function to get a better look at these books.**

Board books for babies and toddlers are shorter with lots of full-color illustrations. These can be story, or concept or novelty books.

Concept books can deal with almost any subject. These books teach factual information with illustrations and text (often single words). Common concepts covered are shapes, body parts, colors, spatial relationships, counting, the alphabet, opposites, and animals.

Novelty books are books with pop-ups, flaps to lift, textures or buttons for sound, or with pages that fold out like a concertina.

Board books are commonly 12 to 16 pages and word count is under 200 words for babies and 500 words or fewer for toddlers.


Story board book examples

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

Soft book examples (fabric or plastic)

Smart Novelty Soft Cloth Books for Babies and Toddlers

Concept board book examples

First 100 box set

My First Books Set of 4 Baby Toddler Board Books

Novelty and interactive board book examples

Bookscape Board Books: A Forest’s Seasons by Ingela P Arrhenius

TouchWords: Clothes by Rilla Alexander

Little Shark: Finger Puppet Book by Klaartje van der Put

Age 2 to 5 years–early picture books

A Picture book for kids aged 2 to 5 years can have up to 800 words, but it’s best to aim for under 500 words. These books average 32 pages and have lots of full-color illustrations (usually on every page).

The most common types of picture books are story (or fiction), concept, activity, and novelty picture books. These can overlap (for instance, a book can be a concept and a novelty picture book). These can also be written in rhyme.


Story picture book examples

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Concept book examples

Cement Mixer’s ABC: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault         

Activity book examples

These books are interactive and require the child to color, draw, do puzzles or quizzes, or write, for older children.

Press here by Herve Tullet

My First Toddler Coloring Book: Fun with Numbers, Letters, Shapes, Colors, and Animals! by Tanya Emelyanova

Novelty book examples

Leaves by Janet Lawler (do yourself a favor and check this one out!)

World of Eric Carle, Around the Farm by Mark Rader

Little Green Frog Chunky by Ginger Swift

The site Best Pop-up books also have amazing examples.                                 

Age 5 to 8 years-picture books

Picture books for 5- to 8-year-olds can have up to 1000 words, lots of full-color illustrations and a strong story.

Novelty and activity books are also common, with activities suitable for this age group.


Story picture book examples

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett

How to Catch a mermaid by Adam Wallace

Age 4 to 8 years-Early (or Easy) readers

Classified as early readers, this age group is a step up from picture books. The best books for this age group are short with lots of illustrations. Word count can range from 1000 to 3000 words.

Short books often come in a series to enable kids to devour one after another. This helps them build their reading skills.


Mac and Cheese by Sarah Weeks

Big Shark, Little Shark by Anna Membrino

Age 6 to 9 years-chapter books

After short books, we have chapter books. Like short books, they also often come in series, but the word count is higher: 5,000 to 10,000 words per book.

These books usually contain sketches and not full-color illustrations.


Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish

Unicorn Academy #1: Sophia and Rainbow by Julie Sykes

Age 9 to 12 years-middle grade

Middle graders want books with an advanced story and prose. At this age, readers have advanced readers skills. As such, they can read books with 30,000 to 50,000 words per book.

These books have fewer or sometimes no illustrations.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Age 12 to 18 years – young adult

YA books are sometimes divided into two age groups, which are 12 to 15 and 16 to 18. An interesting point to note, though, is that about 50% of YA readers are adults.

The typical word count falls between 50,000 to 80,000 words.


Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Eden East Novels by Sacha Black


There are nonfiction books for all age groups. These include biographies, autobiographies, books on countries, animals, history and other factual information. These are often illustrated or contain photos.

Nonfiction publications frequently have a higher word count than their fiction counterparts for the same age group.


2- to 5-year-olds

Welcome to Our World: A Celebration of Children Everywhere! by Moira Butterfield

6- to 9-year-olds

Super Cool Space Facts by Bruce Betts

Middle Grade

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) by National Geographic Kids


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Are you excited to dive into age groups now that you know more about them?

Choosing an age group is a big step in your journey and has a lot to do with the success of your book. I hope this article has been a great help!

The best advice I can give is to look at many books in the age group(s) you are interested in. Get familiar with their topics, how they’re written, laid out and illustrated. This is the best way to learn.

If you are writing for any of the younger age groups, having the right illustrations is critical. We’d love to help you with this step of your author journey. If you’d like, have a look at our portfolio here.  Or schedule a call if you want to chat or have some questions!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

  1. Books for which age groups are your favorite?

  2. Have you chosen an age group for your writing? Which one?

FREE Webinar: How To Write A Picture Book Without Self-Doubt Or Procrastination, Even If You’ve Always Struggled To Turn Your Idea Into A Story.

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What age should kids stop reading picture books?

Understanding children’s books age groups


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