Oct 18

Chapter Book Guidelines

I like writing chapter books. They allow the writer more freedom than picture books or early readers, but they’re not as involved as middle grade or young adult.

The chapter book is just right—at least to me.

At the moment, I’m working in three different genres: picture book, chapter book, and two young adult. And, there’s also my own middle grade story which I’ve had to put on the back burner for the time being.

Working in multiple genres I know what’s involved in each and as I mentioned in the first sentence, I like chapter books best. Picture books are a close second, though.

Chapter Books vs. Picture Books

The reason I prefer chapter books over picture books is you have more words to work with. A good length for the chapter book is 10,000 words, but it can be from 5,000 to 15,000 words.

That amount of words gives the writer freedom to provide details, description, and so on that you just can’t do in a picture book as the picture book should be 800 words or under.

You need to write tight with picture books in order to get a full story arc.

Chapter Book vs. Early Reader

Compared to the early reader, chapter books allow for a lot more freedom. While you do have to take into account the age of the reader for plot, sentence structure, paragraphs, and so on with the chapter book, it’s not as stringent as the early reader.

The early reader is geared toward the emergent reader. The words, sentences, and paragraphs have to be in accordance with educational tools like the Lexile Framework for Reading.

Chapter Books vs. Middle Grade and Young Adult

The other great thing about chapter books is they’re not as involved as the middle grade or young adult.

A middle grade book is usually anywhere from 20,000 (for a simple middle grade) to 55,000 (for upper middle grade).

The young adult books are usually 55,000 up to 80,000 words. This kind of word count calls for a lot of organization, and a lot of notes. And, a good memory helps too.

While a larger word count allows for a much more in-depth story with lots and lots of details, including subplots, and even more than one point-of-view, there’s a lot to keep track of.

To add to this, if you’re working with a client, you may encounter pauses in the writing momentum due to the client taking a long time to review what you send. This is a big deal when you’ve got a good momentum going and you have to put it on pause.

So, What Exactly Are the Guidelines of the Chapter Book?

According to editor Mary Kole, the chapter book’s key element is for the reader to have “easy wins.” (1) This means the new reader will get a sense of accomplishment for each chapter he reads. This is a huge win for a child just learning to read.

  • The age bracket varies, but the usual is seven to nine.
  • Because the child is new to reading on his own, the chapters should be 500-700 words. Short and sweet. This helps with the ‘easy wins.’
  • Considering the word count per chapter, having 10-15 chapters is a good amount.
  • The book should have a full character arc as well as a full story (narrative) arc.
  • There should be one point-of-view, that of the protagonist.
  • The word count can be 5,000 to 15,000, but the sweet spot is around 10,000.
  • It can have 64-128 pages.
  • It should have illustrations here and there. The beginning of each chapter is a good place, and where you want to ‘show’ the reader what’s going on. Most chapter books have black and white illustrations rather than full color like picture books.

This is the basics of a chapter book. If you’re a children’s writer and haven’t written one yet, give it a try!


(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngDXXlVrL1U&feature=youtu.be


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