Classifying Children's Fiction
© Robyn Opie - All Rights Reserved.
Simply put, a book is children's fiction if the main character is a child.
Adults usually read about adults. Children usually read about children.
When reading a book, the reader likes to connect with or relate to the main character. A reader likes to
identify with the character and even romanticize that they are the hero/heroine. This is why authors spend a lot of
time trying to create believable, sympathetic characters.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. In fact, I still wouldn't mind being Nancy Drew. She has so
many fun adventures.
What is the age of your main character or characters? Let's say they are 14. How many adults do you know who
are interested in reading a story about the problems of a 14 year old? None, I'd guess - unless you happen to know
a children's author. Therefore the audience for a book about a 14 year old is most likely children between the ages
of 10 and 14.
So, a book is children's fiction if the main character is a child and the reading audience is made up of
Now, to take this further, children like to read about children solving their own problems.
From an early age, most children seek their independence, in small ways when they are very young to bigger
assertions as they mature. If you're a parent you'll know what I mean about children pushing their boundaries. I
remember pushing my boundaries. I remember them moving. And I remember them snapping back, like a rubber band.
Children rebel against what they perceive as unfair restrictions. They don't want to read about these same
restrictions in children's books. Who does? Remember, most people read to escape reality - every day life. The same
is true of children.
In children's fiction, children like to read about children solving their own problems with only minor
assistance from adults or better still, no assistance from adults. In fact, it is quite common in children's
fiction for adults to be absent. A good way to explain these absences is having parents go off to work. At the very
least, adults are kept in the background. They are minor characters.
For example, I am currently writing a novel about two brothers who solve a crime. Their father is dead. He
died in a car accident. Their mother is a nurse who is working night shift. She is gone at night and sleeps during
the day. This allows the boys to discover the crime and expose the criminals, thus enabling the police to catch
In reality, the boys cannot catch the criminals and take them to prison but they can discover the identities
of the criminals and make it possible for the police to catch them. The adult assistance is minimal, therefore
satisfying the young reader, and the boys have an adventure that fits within the realms of credibility.
It isn't always easy to find a way for children to solve their own problems with a minimum of adult
interference. The answer isn't always obvious. But you need to construct the plot so that this is possible and the
solution must seem plausible given the limited experience and restrictions of your target audience. If you can't
find a way for your main character to solve their problem then move on to another story. You can always go back to
the other one later.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a specialist children's publisher about this very subject. They
rejected my story because the main character hadn't solved her problem. It had happened by accident.
There's another reason why the main character needs to solve their problem; our main character is supposed to
learn and grow from their experiences. This is part of the satisfaction a reader gains from reading your book. If
the main character doesn't solve their problem then how do they learn and grow?
The subject matter of a children's book must be something that children can relate to given their limited
experience. Your story must be interesting to a child.
About the author: Robyn Opie is the author of more than 75 children's
books. She has been writing for children for 9 years; most of her books are sold around the world and
many have been translated into foreign languages. Robyn lives in Adelaide, South Australia, with her partner
Rob Parnell, two dogs and thousands of children's books. She works full time writing for children.
Robyn is the author of three comprehensive e-books including
How To Write a GREAT Children's Book: The Easy Way to Write for
Kids (Volume 1)