This is a basic overview of some of the genres in children’s literature. Please keep in mind that children’s lit is a constantly-changing market, so these genres may shift as new trends emerge.
Genres by Age Range
Middle grade stories usually feature characters in the preteen age range. Often the main character’s family members play an important role in the story, as do the relationships between them. This is where you’ll find classic stories like Bridge to Terabithia and Because of Winn-Dixie.
Young adult literature often centers around a character searching for a personal place in the world, figuring out who she is, developing relationships with friends and finding first love. Usually the main character will be between 15 and 18 with some exceptions. The Twilight series, books by Sarah Dessen, and the Lunar Chronicles are some examples of young adult fiction.
In my experience, stories in the new adult market seems to have one of two audiences: adult women looking for steamy stories featuring younger characters or upper young adult readers and college-aged students.
I do not review erotica, so that’s not something you’ll find here. I do, however, review other new adult stories, such as stories about college-aged kids navigating life on their own for the first time, or young couples beginning a marriage in a historical novel.
Technically coming-of-age is a genre of adult fiction. Stories usually feature a youthful narrator who often watches larger events unfold around them. Think To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, or Peace Like a River.
Because I have a soft spot for coming-of-age tales, I do review them here sometimes.
Genres by Content
This includes stories that could happen exactly as they are in the real world today. Contemporary fiction is set usually within the last 30 or so years.
Fantasy is kind of its own special group of fiction. The bigger umbrella term includes basically anything that couldn’t happen in real life. (For my list, I’ve separated fantasy and science fiction, though at one time sci-fi was kind of a sub-genre within fantasy, I think.)
Urban fantasy includes stories set in a real-ish world plus the existence of otherworldly creatures– faeries, vampires, etc. Think The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare or the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater.
Magical realism again features a realistic setting but has some departure from reality that can’t be explained. Flora & Ulysses, Bone Gap or The Walls Around Us are examples of these.
Epic fantasy is big stage fantasy featuring any combination of magical creatures, quests, humans with magic abilities, elves, dwarves, etc set in a made-up world that’s Medieval-ish. I’m going to go super classic here and say Lord of the Rings.
High fantasy is similar to epic fantasy though usually shorter and can be Medieval or futuristic. Some people classify these together, which I probably tend to do myself. Fantasy writers would have a much better sense of the differences and should be trusted about these distinctions far more than my own opinion.
This is a bit obvious. Realistic setting, but at a time more than 30 or so years ago, more or less depending on who you ask. Historical fiction may reference actual events and historical figures, some even playing a significant (fictional) role in the story.
A note: because we’re talking about children’s literature here, I think the timeline for historical vs contemporary is a little closer to the present than for adult fiction. Most readers are under 20 years old, so things that happened, say in 1985 happened before they were born.
For now my reviews still have stories written about the 1980s classified as contemporary fiction, so if you’re looking about stories set in that time period, you might check both places.
Mysteries usually feature a crime that’s already happened and now must be solved. The main character plays an important role in uncovering the truth and identifying the perpetrator. In a mystery, the reader only knows what the hero knows.
In suspense stories, the crime or big scary event (maybe a natural disaster or something) usually hasn’t yet happened. The main character usually focuses on trying to prevent the big scary event from happening. The villain often appears as a point-of-view character (where scenes are written from his or her point-of-view), so the reader learns things before the hero does. This creates that nail-biting tension when the hero is about to walk into what we already know is a trap.
Thrillers are pretty similar to suspense, and sometimes you’ll see the labels mashed together. The primary thing to know about a thriller is that the main character will begin the story already in danger.
For the purpose of my reviews, I group all three of these sub-genres together as one label. I really don’t read enough of them to justify distinguishing between them.
Yep. You already know what this one is. It’s your basic love story.
You’ve probably already got this one figured out, too. Sometimes these are set in space, other times they may be set on earth often either in future or present but featuring some kind of made up scientific advancement like spaceships, human clones, or entire races of artificial intelligence. Often science-fiction grapples with some issue of morality related to the advanced technology.
Newer to the genre is the delineation between science-fiction and light sci-fi. Light sci-fi would be like a story that’s basically a romance set on a giant spaceship. There’s some made up science-y stuff, but it’s not what’s really driving the story. The characters and relationships usually take that primary role.