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Writing Chapter Books for Young Readers

A few years ago, I wrote posts for Writer Unboxed about writing middle-grade fiction [1],  as well as young adult fiction [2], and picture book texts [3].

Today, as my new book, Four on the Run, has recently launched, [4] I’d like to talk about writing chapter books. Chapter books are part of what may be loosely termed ‘junior fiction’, for readers between 5-9 years old. Readers of that age still read picture books, but they like longer stories, too, though many aren’t quite ready for that leap into the lengths of middle-grade. Of course, depending on the confidence of the young reader, texts may vary in length and complexity, so junior fiction texts may be between 5,000—20,000 words or so, and include different genres, including fantasy, humor, family and school stories, adventure, and lots more.

Chapter books, sometimes known as ‘early readers’, are at the shorter end of the junior fiction scale: usually between 5,000—7,000 words. They are ‘mini-novels’ with a smallish number of short, sharp chapters (between 7-12 chapters is common) and at least one or two illustrations (usually black and white) per chapter. These illustrations are often full page but may also be half page or even inset. Fantasy and humor are very common genres in chapter books, as are family stories. They may be published in a different size to other junior fiction and middle-grade books—often a slightly larger size, with print size also being larger. They are always attractive books, with bright covers and snappy titles.

I have written a number of junior fiction books over the years, but Four on the Run is my first actual chapter book, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it—the length limitation of  chapter books acting not only as a challenge but as a spur to ingenuity and creativity. Indeed I enjoyed it so much that right now I am in the middle of writing the sequel to it, Four All At Sea. So here are some tips for the chapter book format, based on my experience and looking at the books of some other authors I know:

Over to you: what do you think makes a good chapter book? And which chapter books would you recommend, for aspiring writers planning to write in that area?

About Sophie Masson [9]

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in France and Australia, Sophie Masson [10] is the multi-award-winning and internationally-published author of over 70 books, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, she has a PhD in creative practice and in 2019 received an AM award in the Order of Australia honours list for her services to literature.

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