Children’s Chapter Books

by Victoria Bennion

I became interested in writing children’s chapter books after reading them to my daughter. When she was three years old she loved the Princess Evie’s Ponies picture books by Sarah Kilbride and then  graduated to the Princess Evie chapter book series. 

Along with Princess Evie we’ve enjoyed reading the Rainbow Magic series, Holly Webb’s animal stories such as Secret Kitten, The Owls of Blossom Wood by Catherine Coe and Zoe’s Rescue Zoo by Amelia Cobb.

So, this is what I found out when I started thinking about writing a chapter book…

What is a children’s chapter book?

Chapter books are generally the next step up from picture books. Instead of telling the story through pictures the story is told with words and illustrations, usually black and white, are used to support the prose.

You will often find pictures on every page. They vary in size from a third of the page to the whole page and can account for 30 pages in the book.

How long are chapter books?

For readers aged five to eight books are usually between 4,000 and 10,000 words long. The Owls of Blossom Wood series fits neatly into this category. At age five parents are usually still reading the stories to their children although some will be starting to read simple books themselves.

For slightly older readers, aged seven to nine, stories are longer. They start at about 7,500 words and can be as long as 20,000. A good example of these types of young fiction books are the popular Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton. (Natalie was working at Egmont UK when the first Mr Gum book was released and enjoyed watching them take off.)

Ingredients for success

• A strong idea with a clear concept which is apparent in the title

• Humour – This is the age when children really begin to enjoy humour

• An idea you can turn into a series

• Engaging characters which reveal themselves through action and dialogue.

• Obvious conflict

• Character flaws - can be a way to create conflict

• Tight writing, no waffle

Things to bear in mind

• Children in this age group understand far more words than they use.

• Avoid taboos in children’s chapter books. These include taking sweets from strangers, playing on railways etc

• Be careful with specifics that might date your book, for example, naming a television programme or computer game. It can be safer to make up your own.

Reading Schemes

Kids' reading schemes fall under the category of chapter books. If you've ever wondered what writing for one entails, such as the Oxford University Press' Project X, then check out what lead author for the series, Tony Bradman, had to tell us. 

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