Know your reader, know your age group—getting into a child’s mind
I am a substitute teacher for the Louisville schools. I sub for anything from pre-school to high school. I also host a monthly Louisville SCBWI Social where newer writers ask about age groups. Here are the age guidelines I use.
Picture Books: Ages 3 to 8. These children cling to me in class. They are Searching for Security. Even while playing, they need to know an authority figure is present to give them love and protection. They enjoy tattling on other classmates—perhaps to reinforce their security. Happy endings are a must for security’s sake.
Middle Reader’s: Ages 8 to 13. These children are sometimes described as crazy. They are not certain who they are or what their abilities are. They do things in groups to obtain peer approval, because they lack self-confidence and self-identity. They are Searching for Identity. Peer pressure is strong, and they never tattle on other students. They love books in series and books about kids in groups to help them find identity.
Young Adult: Ages 14 to 18. Teenagers are famous for rebellion, sometimes called “attitude.” They are Searching for Independence. Psychologists describe this as psychological efforts to separate themselves from their families to become adults. Teens seldom tattle on students in class, but they will do so if other kids are not watching. They like books about loners or kids fighting the system as in many dystopian novels—independence is the key.
My favorite writing rule is: Take your reader where they are not expecting to go. Once you know your audience you can take them to destinations unknown and even undreamed of.
Bio and Links:
Charles Suddeth has published poetry, picture books, middle reader’s books, young adult thrillers, and adult mysteries in English, Cherokee, and Turkish. He is active with Green River Writers and leads a monthly SCBWI Social. He lives in Louisville and teaches for the Jefferson County Schools.
Find Stone Man: And the Trail of Tears at:
Love that writing rule!
As another teacher, I agree with your breakdown. It's important to know the needs of the age-groups we are writing for.
How about you? Have you ever written for children? Can you relate to those stages? Do you like when a book takes you in unexpected directions?