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The Difference Between MG & Chapter?

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Athena529

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I hope this doesn't sound too naive, but I'm a little confused about the difference between mid-grade and chapter books. I have noticed on agent web sites that they are listed in separate categories. I'm working on an MG but it is written in chapters. Can someone help me clarify the difference? In my query letter should I identify the book as a chapter book? Thanks.
#1 - September 12, 2006, 07:42 AM

Jaina

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To me, "chapter books" are like extended easy readers.  Some can be quite simple, some a bit more of a challenge.  They often deal with younger kids (not PB age, but not quite older MG), and have shorter word counts.  They don't have the complexity of language you find in MG, and lots of times the stories are simpler (and sometimes more "fun" or innocent).

An example would be the Junie B. Jones books or the Amber Brown series.  Or Judy Moody, I guess.  All clock in at 6-9,000 words?  Also, Time Warp Trio books (see "Knights of the Kitchen Table" for an example) and Captain Underpants.  Both around 5,000-6,000 words. These are for kids who are just too old for easy readers, but maybe not ready for MG yet.  I think this is such an important age group--kids are ready to learn that reading is great fun.  Boys, in particular, need instant payoff for their trouble.

There seem to be levels of chapter books.  As an example: Amber Browns come in two levels--the younger ones (second grade Amber) are only 1500 words or so?  They are 48 pages, and divided into chapters (if I remember right).  Even though they're meant for young readers, the topic isn't all fun and games (Amber's parents first split up... I found the "Fair Day" one particularly sad). 

The older Ambers seem to be more 7,000-12,000.  Still pretty short for MG, so I consider this "chapter book."  They are more on par with the Judy Moody books (which I love) as far as the text goes.

Hope this helps!
#2 - September 12, 2006, 07:54 AM

shelly

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What Jaina said, and I'll add another series of chapter books that she didn't mention: Cam Jansen.
#3 - September 12, 2006, 08:35 AM

Oh, my son is reading Cam Jansen now. Jigsaw Jones is another good chapter book series.
#4 - September 12, 2006, 10:40 AM

goldchevy

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I'm just doing a count now on my upper middle grade action adventure.  It's at around 57,000 words.  I wonder what the actual word counts were for books aimed at this age range--the initial Harry Potter books or the Percy Jackson books for example?
#5 - January 13, 2010, 08:21 AM

HP 1 was 77,508 words
PJ 1 was  87,223 words
 :yup eab
#6 - January 13, 2010, 08:29 AM

I'm just doing a count now on my upper middle grade action adventure.  It's at around 57,000 words.  I wonder what the actual word counts were for books aimed at this age range--the initial Harry Potter books or the Percy Jackson books for example?

You can go on the Renaissance Learning book finder page and look up pretty much any book and find its word count.  Here's the first HP for example:

http://www.arbookfind.com/bookdetail.aspx?q=26759&l=EN&slid=78282007
#7 - January 13, 2010, 08:32 AM
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Maybelle

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Illustrations have a bit to do with the distinction between chapter and MG books, too. Chapter books are illustrated, usually in black and white rather than color, but there tend not to be illustrations on every page as there would be with picture books. They really are a bridge between PB's and MG's. The good ones ease kids across the divide and help them to become life-long readers. Kind of a fun assignment!

Maybelle
#8 - January 13, 2010, 09:25 AM

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I've published both a middle grade novel and a chapter book series. My middle grade novel was about 30,000 words. One element of the plot was the protagonist's crush on a boy. They held hands at the end. The books were aimed at preteens. The book was not illustrated.

The chapter books were each about 10,000 words. I was very aware while writing them that these could be the first books children read on their own. I used, generally, simple vocabulary, short sentences, short paragraphs, and short chapters. There was no romance in the books. They were aimed for 6-10-year-olds. There were probably about 15 illustrations in each book.
#9 - January 13, 2010, 01:58 PM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

http://www.DebraLGreen.com

I thought I'd muddy the waters a bit and mention Diary of Wimpy Kid, which is soundly in the MG category but has lots and lots of illustrations.  It's 20,000 words, so too big to be a chapter book, plus it deals with relationships so isn't as "innocent" as a chapter book.  But it's really too short for a MG, and has lots of illustrations (which most MG don't).

In other words, the distinction IMO has more to do with content than with word count, though word count is certainly a good indication of what you have written.
#10 - January 13, 2010, 02:17 PM

SHRous

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But don't forget Wimpy Kid was originally written as a humorous little adult book to remind us of our childhood.  The publishing house decided it was better suited for kids.
#11 - January 13, 2010, 03:06 PM

laura pauling

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I just discovered the chapter books about Flat Stanley. My son loves them. Then I learned that the first one was written in 1964! I thought that was amazing! Talk about an evergreen book.


#12 - January 15, 2010, 08:38 PM

But don't forget Wimpy Kid was originally written as a humorous little adult book to remind us of our childhood.  The publishing house decided it was better suited for kids.

True.
#13 - January 15, 2010, 10:26 PM

I think MG offers more plot layers. Chapter books protags seem to have a general problem, and solve it without too much fluff or backstory.

Wimpy Kid seems to be in a category all its own. The illustrations carry a lot of the weight.
#14 - January 16, 2010, 09:17 AM
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Rena

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Thanks for this thread. I was just starting to do a search on who to send my MG story to. Like Debbie, mine is shorter @ 11,700 words. It does feature chapters, but only eight.
#15 - January 27, 2010, 02:18 PM

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As one who writes in verse AND prose, PB to MG, and maintains a 'stable' of several highly varied completed MS while seeking an agent to (hopefully) handle them in the most productive ways, I also had many questions about how to properly label each one. Having read the above posts and other SCBWI info for answers, I wonder if anyone has had any experience(s) with submitting chapter book (and other) MS in one category only to have an editor/published/agent reject it as not in the right category. Do any of them ever critique just that factor and recommend the better choice for the MS? I haven't seen much definition (on the 'wants' from the resources for publishing) of just categories. And, I don't often see "chapter books" defined more specifically.
Feedback will be very appreciated.
Thanks!
#16 - July 14, 2015, 10:28 AM

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To me chapter books are "Frog and Toad," "Mr Putter," etc.
#17 - July 14, 2015, 12:46 PM

CB focuses on the main protag.
MG also have main protags, but also subplots/side characters.

CB average 7k-10k.
MG average 30k-40k.
#18 - July 17, 2015, 11:06 AM
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Hmm. All 19 of my chapter books have subplots and secondary characters. For example, the protagonists' siblings play a big role in all three of my series. Though I imagine most middle grade novels have more subplots and secondary characters.

Also, many chapter books, including my Silver Pony Ranch books, are less than 7,000 words.
#19 - July 17, 2015, 01:22 PM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

http://www.DebraLGreen.com

Hi Debby G!

I probably should have expanded on my comment a bit. I didn't meant to imply that CB do NOT have ANY subplots or secondary characters, just that there is more room for them in MG books, so naturally you will find more. Also, MG is where I begin to see multiple POV's and that sort of thing, whereas the chapter books I've read have all been single POV.

I know many CB are less than 7k, just trying to state an average.   ;)

Your Silver Pony Ranch books look adorable, btw. I will have to introduce the series to my niece (who loves all things horses!)
#20 - July 17, 2015, 02:24 PM
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Hello, Elliah. Thanks for looking up my Silver Pony Ranch books. I'm excited that publication is only a month away!

Just to complicate this discussion even further, my Supernatural Rubber Chicken chapter books are written in omniscient view with two main characters! But that is quite rare for chapter books.

I think in general, chapter books are much shorter than middle grades, have much simpler vocabulary, sentence structure, and plotting, are geared to a younger audience, and have more illustrations. But, of course, there are lots of exceptions.

In my opinion, the best way to figure out what chapter books are is to go to a library or bookstore and look at a bunch of chapter books published in the last five or ten years.
#21 - July 17, 2015, 03:16 PM
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My understanding is that they run anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words. They are for approximately the same age group as picture books, whereas middle grade novels are for ages 8-12 or so.

Chatterbox, if an agent or editor thinks the work is spectacular, but you've miscategorized it, they'll accept it unless they don't deal with the category. I did once submit a chapter book to someone who didn't do them. He recommended a couple of other places to send it, even letting me use his name in my query, because he liked the humor. Nothing came of it though.
#22 - July 20, 2015, 07:50 AM

There is also Spiderwick Chronicles.

Muddying the waters further, what if the book is 4,000 words, but features content more fitting with older middle. grade?
#23 - August 23, 2015, 03:39 PM

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That length coupled with that age level probably wouldn't sell, Sarah.
#24 - August 23, 2015, 05:13 PM
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@mrh -- I don't know, my daughter (10) is pretty lazy, she would probably love a 4,000 word book that would "count" as reading grade level. Think _Jonathan Livingston Seagull_, which my husband's grandfather gave to each of his grandchildren at graduation -- it only has 1,386 words. If done with mastery I think a high-level short book could actually find an audience.

I wish there were more "innocent" MG books written for young gifted readers. I know several people with precociously gifted children who struggle to find books challenging enough for their children's intellect that don't introduce topics the children aren't emotionally ready to understand. One of my best friends has a daughter who read all of _Harry Potter_ by five, and started having nightmares and insomnia from them. Y'all get to work on that!
#25 - August 25, 2015, 06:50 AM

That's actually what I'm wanting to do, books that length wise are like 9,000 to 15,000 words. But content wise is more suited for older middle grade readers who find 70,000 words a scary prospect.

So you'd have the pacing and sentence structure of a chapter book, the rhythmic pattern with word emphasis to help with pronunciation with unfamiliar phrases, but content that aids in self esteem regarding their place in the larger world and learning to live with people.

Speaking as someone who was only in Special Ed for organization, but read at a 12th grade level in 6th. I want to speak to kids in similar high functioning but difficult educational experiences in our world, or the near future.

Cause there has to be more like me out there.

Edit: My biggest hurdle will be that my characters at thirteen sound like nineteen year old high school drop outs, having to pay rent for the first time.

So I'll need to edit to clarify the MCs aren't a normal situation.
#26 - August 29, 2015, 04:54 PM
« Last Edit: August 29, 2015, 04:58 PM by SarahW »

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Sarah,

There are publishers who put out work that is on level for content but below level for grade. These books are called hi-low. They are for kids who are reading far below grade level but need content that is age appropriate. (This is the kind of book you describe. You'll find educational publishers. I believe Saddleback is one.)

Most kids read up. So shorter books for high level readers doesn't make sense. Content is an issue though. I stopped my son after the third Harry Potter and made him wait two years for book four. There are plenty of books that are great and have a great level but don't have adult content. Many of the classics are like this. My daughter reads a lot of historical fiction for this reason: American Girl novels, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc. A librarian should be able to help with this.

There are some who think that 5,000 words is short story length. It might be you are writing short stories for the YA market.
#27 - September 08, 2015, 02:40 PM

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I found this great chart classifying the differences between the two: http://emmawaltonhamilton.com/is-it-a-chapter-book-or-middle-grade/
#28 - September 09, 2015, 02:29 PM
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Hello,

I'm still finding word counts doing the windshield wiper - some say 20K starts MG, others 25 or 30, and some even 35K and higher.  Which number is correct, when it comes to not being rejected?  Also, from what I found during my field trips to B&N, MG books do have chapters, just not very many (some as few as 5).  My Realistic MG manuscript has 17,000 words so far, and 12 chapters, a few quite long.  The word count uncertainty is very troubling (even stressful), because it's like running a marathon, thinking you are 1 mile from the finish line - only for someone to say its actually another 5 miles away : (

P.S.  As per usual I'm doing things in reverse order - I just read the chart, and it says MG is between 20-60K, so I'm 3,000 from at least the minimum - though the story is going through the endless rewrites, so for certain it'll be closer to 25K...
#29 - September 27, 2015, 06:09 PM
« Last Edit: September 27, 2015, 06:24 PM by Frank Oliver »

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Interesting thread here - as of today, I'm up to 152 pages double-spaced, and 20,056 words.  I decided the relationship between the two main characters needed to become more romantic, so it's meant a freshman dance (where the girl teaches the guy to dance - he only having danced with his Mom "on New Year's Eve"), so it's going along.  I'm going to try for 30,000 words, since everyone here and elsewhere seems to agree that it's the sweet spot for a Realistic MG story.  I'm hopeful it's attainable - just one week ago, I was stuck like glue at 13,300 words, totally uncertain if I could add anything else to the story, and here I am, almost 7,000 words later.  Writing (typing) after working all day is enough to leave me drained, because often that means working on the story until well past 11 p.m. (it's a good thing today is Saturday). 

P.S.  Now that their young teen "romance" is going well, I feel a bit guilty about the sad ending.  I might need to do some think on that, but the relationship sort of reminds me of the 1976 film, "Ode to Billy Joe" - that didn't have a happy ending either, but I did flash-forward in the opening scene of my story, to show him a few years later, doing well - but secretly still broken hearted...
#30 - October 02, 2015, 07:52 PM
« Last Edit: October 03, 2015, 01:34 PM by Frank Oliver »

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