The Changing Face of Children’s Literature

I’m writing this within a few hours of learning about the transition of Novel Rocket to a couple of ladies that I have grown to admire and love dearly (even though one is an Ohio State fan). I won’t dwell on the subject, but I’m excited about what’s happening here at NR, and if you haven’t been over to My Book Therapy yet, get ye there. Especially for the Thursday night LIVE pep talks where everyone comes to watch me make bad jokes in the comments. I even have my own time-out chair.


Back Then

When I was but a wee lad, I had never heard of a genre called Young Adult or Middle Grade. I would read Old Yeller one week and The Shining the next. It simply didn’t occur to me that there was this thing called genre and readers usually stuck with one or two.
I was a rebel.
Not really. Fact is, my school libraries and the bookmobile simply didn’t segregate fiction according to genre. You would find the Hardy Boys right next to The Grapes of Wrath. If a book happened to have a young protagonist, we thought nothing of it. It didn’t warrant a whole different classification.

Kids Today

Not so today. Now, thanks to massive bookstores and, especially, Amazon, books are categorized down to the skin color of the protagonist, not to mention age. While all this may seem daunting to an author who doesn’t want to spend the rest of her career writing about a twelve-year-old Korean girl solving mysteries in Toledo, it actually opens up many a new door for us.

Writing for kids of all ages

The reality for the children’s lit author is that we can write books that can be enjoyed by kids 9 to 99. Over half of YA readers are over the age of 30. Middle Grade is sub-divided into “upper” and “lower” middle grade, where upper middle grade is very much on par with an adult reading level.

For those of us who want to impact the lives of young readers, yet still reach out to an adult audience, the overlap of readership in the MG and YA categories has set us free.

Write for the kids first

Despite that, it is essential that the MG or YA author write for the younger age group. The rule of thumb is that young readers like to “read up,” meaning that they want a protagonist a year or two older than themselves. So if you want to hit it big with the ten-year-old crowd, develop an eleven-year-old protagonist. Want to be the next YA star? Seventeen seems to be the magic number, as fourteen through 16 crowd will be drawn to such a character.

Naturally, rules are made to be broken. By readers. Young readers will read younger protagonists, but you should focus on one age group. Let the others follow on their own. Eventually, you’ll get an email from a grandmother who loves your children’s lit.

Write real life issues

When I started writing children’s lit, I worried about hitting them with the deeper issues. However, you’ll be thrilled to learn that kids from nine on up are capable of some pretty deep thoughts. They may not be sure how to process them, but they will ponder the mysteries of the universe, of life and death, and right and wrong. As the genre matures, so does the subject matter. Don’t be afraid to “go deep” with your young readers. In fact, you’ll gain a larger following once you show how much you respect their intelligence. 

How about you? Have you considered writing for children? What issues would you like to present to young readers?

Ron Estrada is the author of the Cherry Hill Young Adult series, now available on Amazon and elsewhere. His current book, a middle grade historical, is in final editing and in search of an agent. You can find out what Ron is up to at