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Writer's Room => Chapter Books, Easy Readers, and Middle Grade (MG) => Topic started by: eric-loya on June 05, 2019, 08:52 AM

Title: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: eric-loya on June 05, 2019, 08:52 AM
Hello, lovely SCBWI-ers! I'm trying to get all my super basic questions out of the way these days so I can forge ahead, confident that I'm doing at least some things right. To that end:

I find myself confused just enough about the specific differences between Chapter Books and Middle Grade. Also, if I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure if Early Readers and Chapter Books are synonymous. My six-year old has recently been reading several different series that I sort of assume are considered Chapter Books, but I'm just not certain. For instance, would these all be called Chapter Books: "The Haunted Library" series by Dori Hillestad Butler, "Frog and Toad" or "Owl at Home" by Arnold Lobel, the "D.A.T.A. Set" series by Ada Hopper, and the "Here's Hank" books by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. I suspect they all are Chapter Books rather than Middle Grade, but I also feel like the range of difficulty level varies so much. For instance, I feel like a reader ready for "Here's Hank" would be bored by "Frog and Toad."

And then I think about, say, the "Goosebumps" books. Are these technically Middle Grade or Chapter Books? What about something like "Matilda," where the word count is so high but it's about a seven-year old?

Then I wonder if content is really the determining factor, and at first I considered the inclusion of peril, thinking that if the characters are in real peril that MUST mean it's at least Middle Grade... except then I see that "The Magic Treehouse" series has plenty of real peril -- drowning, volcano eruptions, hungry dinosaurs, evil wizards, imprisonment -- but they still seem to be Chapter Books!

Mostly I'm wondering about all this so that I have a clear sense of it all, but more specifically I have an idea for something and I need to figure out which category to write it toward. To that end, the rough word count guidelines I've found suggest around 4,000 to 12,000 words for a Chapter Book and about 30,000 to 50,000 for Middle Grade. do these numbers seem about right? I've just found so much slightly conflicting information that it's hard to tell what the current standard actually is. Also, I can't really find much information on number of chapters recommended for each type.

Okay! There's another of my long-winded question posts. I really appreciate how helpful this community has been. I'm hopeful that you'll all be able to help answer my specific questions here, but also please do answer whatever I haven't asked as well. There is very likely a ton that I just don't know enough to know that I should have a question about, you know?

Thanks again!
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: JodyJS on June 05, 2019, 10:10 AM
Hi Eric,

Your subject line made me snort!

I googled "difference between early readers and chapter books" and got a boatload of good intel. There's some overlap--early reader, transitional chapter book, chapter book, young mid grade, middle grade, etc, etc.

After researching and reading how people define the differences, I'd pick up a copy of one that you think mirrors what you're writing and dig in.

Have fun!

Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: Vijaya on June 05, 2019, 10:22 AM
Eric, there can be quite a bit of overlap between older EZs, CBs, and early MG because these books are on a continuum. A lot of the EZ are leveled readers so it's another division. It *is* always a good idea to figure out where your book might fit and Jody's advice is spot on to pick the book that your own book is most like and go from there. It's great you are reading all these series with your child. Isn't "research" fun?

Here are some more examples with word counts compiled by agent Jennifer Laughran, our own Literaticat:
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: 217mom on June 05, 2019, 10:55 AM
Your word count model is roughly correct. "Roughly," because it's not set in stone, just more-or-less right.

A simple way to think of this distinction (and it isn't actually all that simple if your manuscript is unusual) is the MC age plus the word count range. To that add the general interest themes/issues/plot, as chapter books are for 2nd-3rd grades while MG is for third grade to sixth grade.

Outliers include MG with fewer words, or, conversely, the somewhat longer chapter books. But for a not-yet established writer you might want to aim at not  subbing an outlier. I have expanded a chapter book to a MG because the theme  called for it.  I've done this twice now, and can see clearly how much stronger the stories became.
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: eric-loya on June 05, 2019, 10:56 AM
Jody and Vijaya, you're both incredible! Thank you! I guess I sorta guessed this would pretty much be the response, but I was hoping there was some magical key that I'd overlooked that would shine the perfect beam of light onto exactly the answer I was looking for, you know?

Jody, I think I've done countless iterations of that exact Google search you did, and that's probably added to my confusion. There's just so much information out there that it's hard to know whose specific advice to follow. I also think part of the problem is that my idea could, I think fit well into either CB or MG, and there's a part of me that just knows that if I commit to one, by the time I reach the end I'll realize that the other was the better fit all along. Blergh. Such is life, I suppose.

Vijaya, thank you for that link. I'm positive I've seen it during my searches already, but I'm glad to see it again as it's a very helpful one.

Thanks again!
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: eric-loya on June 05, 2019, 11:08 AM
217mom, thank you! It's so funny how a little thing can really make a big difference in outlook. I feel really foolish, but even though I'd been focusing so much on age range of readers, for whatever reason I hadn't really clicked that into a connection with grade level. Like, of COURSE I should have done that, but I hadn't. Seeing your 2nd-3rd grade and 3rd to 6th grade explanation makes so much sense and I feel silly for having overlooked it. I mean, I'm still not completely sure where my idea falls, but I'm definitely closer now. Thanks again!
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: Vijaya on June 05, 2019, 12:07 PM
Mirka brings up such an important point regarding topic. Friendship stories are perennial for all age groups, but you can have a hint of romance for upper MG. The younger the child, the closer to home the stories tend to be. Their world begins to expand as they get older and they begin to think outside of their family and friend circle. I have a wonderful little book about the developmental stages of children: Yardsticks by Wood. And  Alijandra Moligner's Word Book is a must if you're writing EZs. Happy reading and writing!
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: JodyJS on June 05, 2019, 12:11 PM
(Pointing to the above) Further proof that the blueboards are filled with awesomeness!
Title: Re: Confused Just Enough...
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on June 05, 2019, 08:35 PM
You have great info above. I think I can help clarify the reason for some of your confusion. I have Frog and Toad Are Friends on my shelf. It's an old copy with my husband's name scrawled in crayon. Today, it's considered an early reader, but it wasn't labeled that then. Changes in the market lead to new classifications so older books are harder to judge.

Another thing to consider is the reliance on illustrations. Picture books are for up to age 8. They are heavily illustrated and the illustrations tell part or all of the story. In early readers, the illustrations present the text visually. They support the learner in understanding the action and figuring out the words. The more proficient the reader, the less they need illustrations, so EZ books at the upper levels have fewer illustrations than those for beginning readers. Chapter books also generally have more images than middle grade novels, which may have a spot image in each chapter or even no illustrations. So, yes, it is all about grade level and reading level.

And just to be complete, non fiction has differing rules and there are books on more sophisticated topics (appropriate to the age level) for students who struggle with reading. But those are other matters.