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Children's Genres

Let's start this analysis by defining children's literature as both fiction and non-fiction books written especially for children from 0 to 12 years old.  Let's not include literature for teenagers - from a youth librarian's point of view, that is a different type of book - young adolescent literature or YA Lit.

Typically, Children's books are classified by the following genre: 

bulletPicture Books.  Children's books that provide a "visual experience" - telling a story with pictures.  There may or may not be text with the book.  The content of the book, however, can be fully explained or illustrated with pictures.  Note that picture books do not even need to tell stories - they might illustrate letters of the alphabet or numbers.  A picture book may even tell a story entirely with illustrations.  Many times, these books are published in a small size, something that children can actually hold in their small hands - these books are called hand-books.  (Note that "hand-books" are not a genre, but are a format for a book.)  There are fun books for young, non-reading children to play with.  Often, they can tell the story based on the illustrations, pretending to "read" the book. 
bulletPicture Story Books.  Children's books that contain pictures or illustrations that complement the story, often mirroring the plot.  Both the text and the illustrations are important to the development of the story.  The pictures are the "eye-candy" that get people's attention, but the text is also needed to complete the story.  In well-written picture books, the 2 work together in a seamless fashion.  As we read and enjoy the book, we don't even think about which is more important, the illustrations or the text.  Often, the pictures are what set the mood or allow us to anticipate what will happen next.
bulletTraditional Literature.  Stories that are passed down from generation to generation, changing slowly over time are called traditional literature.  In many ways, this is what makes them so fascinating - they provide a link between the past and the future.  The stories, while retaining much of their original flavor and content have to evolve in subtle ways to remain meaningful in different eras.  Traditional literature is a great starting point to introduce children to the concept of a story and introduce them to different types of stories or genres.   and We can further break traditional literature down as:
bulletFolktales.  These feature common folks, such as peasants, and commonplace events.   There maybe be some "make-believe" elements, like talking animals, but the stories, overall, sound logical - even realistic.  Folk tales seek to explain things about life, nature, or the human condition.
bulletFairy Tales.  Also called "magic stories," these are filled with dreamlike possibility. Fairy tales feature magical and enchanted forces.  They always have a "happily ever after" ending, where good is rewarded and evil is punished.
bulletFables.  Short stories, in verse or prose, with an moral ending.  These types of stories are credited Aesop (6th century BC), who told tales of animals and other inanimate objects that teach lessons about life. 
bulletLegends.  While based in history, these stories embellish the life of a real person. The facts and adventures of the person are exaggerated, making the individual famous for their deeds.
bulletMyths.  Some stories have to be told as related tales to be meaningful.  Myths portray themselves as representing a distant past.  They contain common themes and characters, often "gods."  Myths attempt to explain the beginning of the world, natural phenomena, the relationships between the gods and humans, and the origins of civilization. Myths, like legends, are stories told as though they were true.
bulletHistorical Fiction.  These are stories that are written to portray a time period or convey information about a specific time period or an historical event.  Authors use historical fiction to create drama and interest based on real events in people's lives.  The characters may be real, based on real people, or entirely made up.  In many ways, these types of books can be more powerful teaching tools than nonfiction, especially for children.  Often, historical fiction presents history from the point of view of young participants.  There are few contemporary accounts of how children have experienced and participated in history - children's historical fiction attempts to help readers see how history affects people of the same age.  When these books are written for young readers, they are called chapter books because they expand the concept of a story by presenting a tale in segments, each building on the last and leading to a final resolution (Note that "hand-books" are not a genre, but are a format for a book).  Children's historical fiction features youth a playing an important, participatory role in history.
bulletModern Fantasy.  This broad genre is probably easier to define by example or by what it is NOT.  The stories are contemporary or are nondescript as to when they occur.  They are imaginative tales require young readers to accept elements and story lines that clearly cannot be true - readers must suspend disbelief.  The stories may be based on animals that talk, elements of science fiction, supernatural or horror, or combinations of these elements.  When written for young readers, these books are called chapter books - a format that breaks a story into sequential chapters that move towards a final resolution.  "Charlottes Web," "Winnie the Pooh," "Alice in Wonderland", "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," and "The Wizard of Oz" are all examples of modern fantasy written for young readers up to 12 years old.
bulletRealistic Fiction.  Books that are written for today's youths, representing contemporary times, based on real-world situations are called realistic fictions.  Similar to historical fiction, except these stories are based on current events.  They feature children as their main characters and often allow young readers to "experience" different settings, cultures, and situations than what is the norm for their lifestyle.  Children's realistic fiction features main characters of approximately the age (or slightly older than) the book's intended audience.  The books present a "real-world" problem or challenge and show how a young person solves that problem.  By nature, children's realistic fiction is positive and upbeat, show young readers how they too can conquer their problems.  When written for young readers (up to 12 years old), these books are called chapter books (a format, not a genre)
bulletNon-fiction or Informational Books.  Books that are designed to help readers learn more about real things.  They provide young readers information without the literary devises common to fiction.  They can be a challenging genre for children because a given presentation about the real-world has to assume something about a reader's abilities, understanding or interests.  The challenge is to match high interest topics with appropriate reading levels and background knowledge.  For example, may children are interested in jets and rockets, but few are ready to read "rocket science."  In schools, these books have traditionally been used for academic study and research projects.  Today, more and more librarians are recognizing the value of ALL reading - both fiction and nonfiction.  Perhaps the best way to reach out to "unmotivated readers" is to find a high-interest topic and a book that matches that young reader's abilities and understanding.  Many reading specialists and librarians believe that we do not promote enough non-fiction to young readers.  Studies tend to show that many children that are not interested in fiction will become motivated readers if introduced to appropriate nonfiction - this is especially true of non-majority youth.
bulletBiography.  A form of non-fiction that is based on the life of a person.  Children enjoy reading stories about other people - biographies and form an effective "bridge" between storytelling and nonfiction - after all - everyone's life is a story!  Because biographies are almost always published about notable people in notable fields, biographies are often used to introduce children to the concept of nonfiction.  Biographies can also be extremely motivating - young children love to dream about what they will be when they grow up.  The lives of famous, important people let children see how the process of growing up shapes the opportunities, choices, and challenges people face in life.
bulletPoetry and Drama.  Poems and drama are important genres that introduce children to verse, prose, rhythm, rhyme, writing styles, literary devices, symbolism, analogies, and metaphors.  From a librarian's point of view, they are important because the they are written at different reading levels so that a young reader's interests can be matched with text that is consistent with their abilities.  This is especially important for "reluctant readers" that may read below their age group.  The simple language used in some poems and drama can be appreciated by readers of varying abilities, providing a context to teach a variety of language arts skills.

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