Oh, that lovely, thorny issue of ‘age ranges’ in books! It’s a minefield. But never fear! Skylark is here to attempt to get to the bottom of it.
Firstly, all these age labels – Middle Grade, Teen, Young Adult – are merely tools for categorisation, primarily for publishers, booksellers and librarians, who need to know where to put them so they find their way into the right hands.
As a writer you really shouldn’t feel you have to begin a story making sure it fits neatly into one of these categories. However, at some point it is wise, particularly if you are hoping to get published, to consider what your reader looks like and where your book will sit in the market. These bandings do have an impact on issues such as the age of your main character, for example. We know that readers are aspirational and a book will typically have a main character at the top end of the bracket, so for 8- to 12-year-old readers the protagonist would usually be 12 or 13.
It is also definitely worth bearing reading age in mind when looking at the word count of your book. See our previous blog post.
Do note that everyone has a slightly different idea of where these categories fall when it comes to age bands, so you don’t need to be entirely rigid, just aware! Don’t fall into the trap of applying the reading ‘age’ of your own children (or yourself when you were their age). What you need to consider here is how the market will view your novel. And if you’re not sure about that, please go to the library and read, read, read as many current children’s books as you can to get a clearer idea.
Here at Skylark we would roughly break up the age groups as follows:
Young Fiction (2 categories here) – roughly 5-7 years and 7-9 years
Middle Grade – 8-12 years
Teen – 12-14 years (Do be aware, lots of publishers/booksellers don’t use this and put teen in with YA)
Young Adult – 14 years +
We must stress that there is plenty of overlap between the categories because, ultimately, books are jolly hard to categorise!
As we all know, children read at wildly differing levels of ability and maturity so these brackets are NOT prescriptive in any way for anyone buying books – parents, friends, grandparents, desperate party-present seekers – they are JUST a helpful steer! There is much debate about whether books should carry age-banding on their covers. In general, we at Skylark prefer not, precisely because young readers are all so different, but there are strong arguments on either side.
We hope this post helps just a little bit. Ultimately, don’t get too hung up on age-banding. It’s just a useful rough guide!