The Age Categories of Picture Books

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

C.S. Lewis

The publishing world can’t run properly unless books are connected to the right readers and when it came time to upload the app onto iTunes we had to decide what age the ideal reader would be. We guessed the category of 4+, because younger kids seemed to enjoy playing with the caterpillars. Older kids and adults would understand the themes. But once again we’re about to upload our next storyapp onto the store in the coming weeks, and I’m scratching my head about the age category thing because until the story’s out there, really out there, you don’t actually know how it’s going to be received.

Do picturebooks need an age category at all?

(Excluding board books, of course, which are clearly for toddlers and babies.) To my mind, picturebooks are for everyone except for maybe adolescents, who self-identify as too old for kid-lit and are keen to identify as adults. Adults, especially adults with children and grandchildren, often revisit picturebooks and derive as much pleasure the second-time around.

The ideal picturebook must surely appeal to all ages. Yet it feels like hubris to announce that ‘this is for everyone!’ when we all know that no book can possibly be for everyone.

On picturebooks and age categorisation, Maria Nikolajeva writes:

Even today in many countries children’s books carry age recommendations: “7 to 10 years”. The same practice in mainstream literature would seem ridiculous; no one would suggest recommending an adult novel “for men between the ages of 35 and 45.” These recommendations and genre markers, however, have arisen out of the common prejudice that “children” are a homogeneous group with homogeneous preferences, tastes, interests and previous knowledge.

from Children’s Literature Comes Of Age (1996)

Philip Nel writes similarly:

Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them.

And in an article headed ‘How Not To Write About Children’s Literature‘:

Children’s literature is quite unique in that it has to appeal to both the ‘adult’ and the ‘juvenile’ reader in a way that, say, Chesil Beach never can.

And that pretty much sums it up.

See also

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Header illustration was made with Midjourney AI generator using the prompt “house in eric carle style”


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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