Genre and Format: The Confusing Terms Used in Children’s Publishing

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Whenever someone refers to the picture book genre, I cringe. I used to do this myself. Picture books aren’t a genre. They’re a format. If you want to publish books for young readers it is vital to know about both genre and format.   

The two broadest genres in writing are fiction and nonfiction. Within each of these categories, whether you write for adults or children, are numerous other genres. Fiction genres include: 
  • Mysteries – a crime has been committed and someone needs to figure out who did it and why. Check out Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley.
  • Fantasy – stories that involve magic. Anyone remember a series about Harry Potter? 
  •  Science fiction – futuristic science. I loved The Lion of Mars by Jennifer Holm. 
  • Historical fiction – these fictional stories are set in the past. See The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.
  • Romance – The lovers meet and then they split. Will they end up together at last? Ali Hazelwood has published romances for both adults and teens. 
  • Dystopian – A cataclysm of some kind has left the world a total mess. The Hunger Games made it from print to screen.   

There are even more fictional genres, but there are nonfiction genres as well. 
  • Memoir – This is a slice in a person’s life as told by themselves. It contrasts with autobiography (a person writes about their whole life) and biography (a person writes about someone else’s whole life). One of the latest is This Indian Kid by Eddie Chuculate.
  • How-to or DIY – These books relate how to do something whether it is hand sewing or dying cloth with plants. 
  • Science – Biology, chemistry, astronomy, and ecology are all covered in science books. Young reader science can be about anything from human anatomy to fungus. 
  • History – The history of a wide variety of topics is covered in this genre. One of the best writers of historical nonfiction for young readers is Steve Sheinkin. 
  • Popular Culture – From books about music to art and pop culture of all kinds, these books appeal to fans of everything from Barbie to Pink. 

If you write for young readers, you also need to identify your format. The most well-known formats for young readers include: 
  • Board Books – these cardboard books stand up to rough handling by babies and toddlers. One popular board book author is Sandra Boynton. 
  • Picture Books – Picture books combine texts and illustrations to tell a story. They are most often 32 pages long. For a popular series, check Ryan T. Higgins Mother Bruce books. 
  • Early Readers (also called Beginning Readers) – These books have a smaller trim size than picture books. They are fully illustrated, but the illustrations don’t help tell the story. They are there to help decipher unknown words. Step Into Reading is one popular early reader series.
  • Chapter books – Each chapter has some spot illustrations but there is much more text. The chapters are short to help newly independent readers build confidence. See Saadia Faruqi’s Yasmin books. 
  • Novels -- Tweens and teens who are fully competent readers turn the pages of novels. Many of these books are popular with adults and even make it to the big screen like Judy Bloom’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret

If you write for adults, you need to know your genre. If you write for young readers, add format to this description to help you find the right agent or editor for you. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of 40 books for young readers.  
  • To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.  
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She is also the instructor for 3 WOW classes which begin again on January 8, 2024. 
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Angela Mackintosh said...

This is super helpful, Sue! I admit, I was probably one of those people who referred to picture books as a genre. But now I know there are so many different genres of picture books, and a lot of nonfiction picture books, which I find fascinating! I'll be referring back to this list. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm sure I'll still goof up. But sometimes, someone asks what I'm working on and I just say "picture book" because so many people who write in that format write many types of picture books. It is astonishingly complex.

Renee Roberson said...

Sue, this is a great breakdown! I am guilty of getting genres confused all the time, especially with the children and young reader's market. I used to tell people I wrote YA but that is a very broad description! Now I try to say something like, "Contemporary YA with paranormal elements" or something like that.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I find that I'm generally fairly coherent when I talk to my fellow writers. But how to tell a non-writer what I do . . . um . . . uh . . .

Ann Kathryn Kelly said...

Uh oh! Guilty! I definitely would have called picture book a genre. Format -- now that makes sense!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

There is just so much to know in this industry. So many potential mistakes!

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