Thursday 25 March 2021

Are you writing a Chapter Book or Middle Grade Novel? by Manju B. Howard #ChaBooCha

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 Are you writing a Chapter Book or Middle Grade Novel? 
by Manju B Howard

Recently, I accepted the role of Early Reader and Chapter Book Community Lead in another online writing community called Inked VoicesWe hold book chats, discuss publishers and collectively answer member questions. One question that has popped up several times – What are some differences between writing chapter books and middle grades? 

So, I compiled these lists to show how fictional chapter books defer from middle grades 

These are general guidelines, not unbreakable rules. 


Chapter Books (CB)  

•  Target readers to 9 years old 

•  Main character (MC) is usually age 7, 8 or (or an animal) 

•  Manuscripts range from 5,000 words to 20,000 words  

•  Younger themes with less characters and subplots 

•  Black and white illustrations  

•  Action is key, faster pace 

•  Chapters are 4-6 pages and end with a hook  

•  Shorter sentences and paragraphs  

  Clear story problem in the first chapter 

  Characters are less developed 

  More dialogue than prose 

•  Story timeline is usually days or weeks 

•  Stakes are lower 


Middle Grade (MG) novel 

•  Target readers 8 to 12 years old  

•  Young MC is usually age 9, 10 or 11  

•  Older MC is usually age 12 or 13 

•  Manuscripts range from 20,000 to 60,000 words  

•  More complex plots and subplots  

•  Few or no illustrations  

•  Action and description are important, pace varies 

•  More advanced themes with longer chapters  

  Clear story problem by the end of the third chapter 

•  Character’s journey and development are key 

  More prose than dialogue 

•  Story timeline could be up to a year or more 

•  Stakes are higher 

Another way to know whether your story should be a chapter book or a middle grade novel is the main character’s voice. By reading stacks of chapter books and middle grades, you’ll develop a sense of whether your main character acts and sounds a certain age. 

At the moment, I’m writing a realistic middle grade novel. What are you writing? 



Manju holds degrees in communications, theater and marketing. She has worked as a bookseller, merchandiser, scheduler and graphic artist. With motherhood came reading picture books, which led her down a path of creating stories for young readers. Now she leads writing communities within Inked Voices, SCBWI and Kidlit Creatives. Check out Manju’s blog for interviews with authors, agents, editors and publishers.


Today's giveaway is a copy of Writing Your Story's Theme: The Writer's Guide to Plotting Stories that Matter by K. M. Weiland. If you are already a signed-up member of the challenge, all you need to do to enter the drawing for this prize is to leave a comment on this blog post.  The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st, 2021.


  1. Thank you this is so helpful. I was told to take my time with world building in my chapter book so really the problem doesn’t come in until I think chapter 2. I think the beginning when he gets thrown into a gumball machine but then there’s also another small problem later also. My idea is that this kid is traveling into the gumball machine and each book will be about each of the gumball characters and him and him learning a lesson from them.

    1. With any set of writing guidelines there's flexibility. Melissa Stoller's chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, might be a good mentor text for you.

  2. Manju, this is a wonderful article -- very concise and clear. Thank you for sharing your expertise! --Elisa-

    1. I'm glad. Hope you have a great writing day!

  3. Thanks for your breakdown above! Have you any insight on how the market defines "early middle grade?" For instance, what would you label the Goddess Girl series? Thx!!

    1. Hi. I'm not familiar with the Goddess Girls series. But a great example of early middle grade is Ranger in Time Series by Kate Messner. The word count for each book is between 12,500 to 15,500 words.

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