A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.
Q: Can you define the various genres represented in children's lit?
A: Below are the children's book genre categories as I have worked with them.
Ages 0–3; 10+ pages; very few words
Ages 3–6 or 4-8; 24–48 pages (32 is standard); 500–1,500 words (750–800 is the classic standard length)
Easy readers/books for young readers/early chapter books:
Ages 5–8; 48–64 pages; 1,000–5,000 words
Young middle grade:
Ages 7–9; 48–80 pages; 3,000–20,000 words (nonfiction is usually longer at this level)
Ages 8–12; 80–160 pages; 10,000–40,000+ words
Ages 12+; up to 300 pages; up to 75,000 words
Genre classifications will vary slightly with each publisher. In general, with each step "up" on the genre ladder, you'll see more words, an increased complexity of language, reading, and reasoning skills; fewer illustrations; and more (and more tightly focused) sections within the larger work.
Works sometimes straddle genres. For example, you can find Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the forms of a board book and a picture book; an example of a different straddler type is Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is read as early as age 10/Grade 5 and is still appropriate and appealing to readers up to age 14/Grade 9. (Of course true genre straddlers, much like the two mentioned, are usually brilliant and therefore good for readers of a variety of skill and sophistication levels.)
For a bit more information (and you'll notice some slight classification differences) read the 2001 article "Understanding Children's Writing Genres" by Laura Backes. Harold D. Underdown's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, also gives a great basic genre breakdown.