Posts Tagged chapter books

How To Write Chapter Books with 8 Chapter Book Authors

From the Mixed Up Files writer Samantha M Clark here, and a couple weeks ago, my debut chapter book series, the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, was released by Bloomsbury. Moving from writing my middle-grade to writing chapter books has been a lot of fun but also had some challenges. So for this post, I chatted with some other chapter book authors about their experiences writing for this category and want to share what we said.

Before I get to our chat, a few quick notes about chapter books, in case you don’t know what they are:

  • While the sweet spot for MG readers is 8 and up, chapter books are generally appropriate for ages 6 and up.
  • They’re shorter than middle-grade too. My shortest MG, AMERICAN HORSE TALES: HOLLYWOOD, is 20,000 words. Chapter books, however, are usually between 8,000 to 12,000 words. My GEMSTONE DRAGONS are each around 10,000 words, laid out in the book with lots of spacing between the lines and a bigger font size.
  • Also, although MGs sometimes have interior illustrations, chapter books always have them. For example, the first GEMSTONE DRAGONS book has 16 illustrations sprinkled throughout the 111-page story.
  • And finally, chapter books are nearly always designed to be series; quick, multiple-read books that hook young readers into becoming lifelong readers.

So, how do you write them? In this post, you’ll hear from the following authors:

Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party by Saadia FaruqiSaadia Faruqi, whose brand new MARYA KHAN AND THE INCREDIBLE HENNA PARTY launches from Abrams Kids on October 18, with a second book, MARYA KHAN AND THE FABULOUS JASMINE GARDEN coming out March 28

Kelly Starling Lyons, whose first two books in the MILES LEWIS series, KING OF THE ICE and WHIZ KID, came out from Penguin Workshop in July

Kathryn Holmes, whose CLASS CRITTERS series from Abrams/Amulet added the third book, MADISON MORRIS IS NOT A MOUSE!, on August 16

Jennifer Torres, whose CATALINA INCOGNITO series published by Aladdin, is adding its fourth book, SKATEBOARD STAR, on November 22

Debbi Michiko Florence, whose fifth JASMINE TOGUCHI book, BRAVE EXPLORER, comes out from FSGBYR/Macmillan on October 18

Rie Neal, whose third and fourth books in her ASTRID THE ASTRONAUT series, published by Aladdin, are coming soon: HYDROPONIC HIJINKS on October 11 and ROBOT REBELLION on February 28

Lyla Lee, whose eighth book in her MINDY KIM series, MINDY KIM MAKES A SPLASH, came out this past July from Aladdin/Simon and Schuster

(And by the way, all these authors and two others are offering books in a giant giveaway right now here. Ends Aug. 20.)

Samantha: What did chapter books mean to you as a kid and what were your favorites?

Rie: I loved chapter books as a kid! I think I especially enjoyed the predictability of the setting and characters, the fact that I could read them so quickly, and … they had pictures!! I kept reading chapter books even when I was older, sometimes, when I wanted a quick dose of comfort. My favorites were the Polk Street School Kids and Babysitter’s Little Sister.

Samantha: Same here on the comfort. I loved the illustrations in chapter books and would scour them for every detail that had been in the text. When I saw the illustrations for my GEMSTONE DRAGONS books, I did the same.

Mindy Kim Makes a Splash by Lyla LeeLyla: As an immigrant and child of immigrants who came to the US at a young age, chapter books in English were my first exposure to “American culture.” In order to understand the new country I lived in and also catch up on the stories (fantasy or contemporary) my new friends in the US liked to read, I read a lot and even taught myself English through these books. I had quite a few favorites but I especially loved the Ramona Quimby books and The Magic Tree House series.

Samantha: I love that, Lyla! Why did you all want to write a chapter book series?

Saadia: I have a very popular early reader series called YASMIN, perfect for kids upto second grade. Once those readers grow a little older, they want something more advanced and complicated, but they’re not ready yet for middle grade novels. After several requests from parents and teachers about this gap, I decided to write a series for YASMIN fans who are older now.

Miles Lewis: King of the Ice by Kelly Starling LyonsKelly: Growing up, I loved to read, but I didn’t see chapter book series with Black kids as the stars. That invisibility sent a message that our stories didn’t matter. I knew that they did. My mom wrote and acted in Black theater. Our home was filled with books about heroes like Mary McLeod Bethune and Malcolm X. I didn’t realize it then, but a seed was being planted that I could help make a difference through writing books that centered Black children.

It was like coming full circle when my debut, NEATE: EDDIE’S ORDEAL, a chapter book in a series created by Just Us Books was published. I enjoyed coming up with a plot for their wonderful characters and dreamed of one day having a series of my own. A decade later, a Penguin Workshop editor invited me to write an early chapter book. Here was my chance to create the characters I longed to see. At every school and library I visit, there are children who are unsung. They need to know that they’re seen and loved. Toni Morrison famously said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” My MILES LEWIS and JADA JONES series are tributes to kids who dare to shine by being who they are.

Catalina Incognito: Skateboard Star by Jennifer TorresJennifer: Chapter books meet kids when they are beginning to see themselves as readers. To me, there’s something so special about that moment. Like Kelly, I want children, especially children who are newly devouring words, to see themselves and their stories in books. To be able to picture themselves having magical adventures like Catalina, who reflects my own Mexican-American background and experience.

Samantha: Such great answers. Chapters really are a great bridge between early readers and MG, and as the sweet spot — I think — for helping kids become life-long readers, it is SO important that all children are represented. When you first set out to write a chapter book, what did you do to prepare?

Kelly: My best advice is to read mentor texts. That’s where I started. When I was writing for Just Us Books’ NEATE series, they sent me the first three titles to study. That helped me understand how to draw readers in, the way chapter books are put together, what elements help establish characters and aid in their growth and development through the story. I did the same when writing my JADA JONES and MILES LEWIS series. I read other chapter books to see what styles resonated with me, what innovations I could bring and learn some structural tips. Read the mentor texts for the joy of the story and then take them apart and figure out how the writer made them sing.

Class Critters: Madison Morris Is Not A Mouse by Kathryn HolmesKathryn: Like Kelly, I did a lot of reading of the chapter books that were already on shelves. I’d previously published YA (and had written MG, though my first published MG will not release until 2024), so I needed to get a sense of both the younger voice and the rhythm of a story of this length. Additionally, my daughter was a toddler when I started working on the CLASS CRITTERS series, and when I took her to the playground, I found myself observing young elementary schoolers. How were they interacting with one another? What kinds of conversations were they having? What issues were they dealing with that I could potentially tackle in a story? Being a fly on the wall, so to speak, gave me a lot of inspiration and insight.

Rie: ASTRID isn’t my first chapter book series (I did a write-for-hire series for Little Bee Books before this), but I wanted to put my two cents in for this one! Yes to mentor texts for sure! And in terms of getting into the language level for chapter books, one tool I’ve found really helpful is to use a service that will scan your draft and give you a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (or any other similar metric). My tendency is to write my first drafts at more of a middle-grade reading level, which is too complex for chapter books. So, after I go through developmental edits, I use the Flesch-Kincaid (it’s available through MS Word in Editor–Document Stats–Insights), and I go through sentence by sentence until I’ve simplified the language down to between a 1.0 and 2.0 grade level rating. It sounds super tedious, I know, but it has really helped me!

Samantha: I analyzed mentor texts too! I bought some and borrowed a bunch more from the library, then I looked at everything from chapter breaks, number of chapters, sentence structures, voice… I broke down some of the stories into outlines so I could see how they were different of the same to my MG. And I did have the problem of making some of my language too MG when I was working on books 3 and 4, which come out on Dec. 27. I’ll have to remember the Flesch-Kincaid tip, Rie! It seems like a lot of us also write MG. Outside of language, how is writing chapter books different from writing MG?

Saadia: In some ways, it’s the same. You still have to write the best possible story, develop your characters, and take care of your craft. But in other ways, writing a chapter book is very different from middle grade novels. The plot has to be much simpler, and the main character takes center stage in a very obvious way. I think it’s so much fun writing chapter books!

Jasmine Toguchi: Brave Explorer by Debbi Michiko FlorenceDebbi: I agree with Saadia! As a writer, you still need to know and develop the characters just as deeply in chapter books as in novels for older readers. But because chapter books are for newly independent readers, it helps to create characters that have memorable personalities, quirks, and phrases so that the reader can anticipate some things and feel successful. Like how Jasmine Toguchi always says “Wowee zowee” when she’s excited and “Walnuts” when she’s disappointed. And also, chapter books are often part of a series, so it helps to be able to carry those things through all the books.

Samantha: Great tips! Speaking of series, how did you approach that aspect of chapter books, ie. creating characters and a world that would continue?

Kathryn: Because each book in the CLASS CRITTERS series has a different protagonist, I spent a lot of time world-building their classroom. I knew as I wrote book one, TALLY TUTTLE TURNS INTO A TURTLE, that every kid Tally interacted with was a potential protagonist down the line. I took the time to name every child and come up with an animal that they could transform into, as well as a possible reason for the transformation. I made a spreadsheet! With 24 kids in the class, I also had to think about how to introduce them in a way that would make them (and their idiosyncrasies) feel familiar in subsequent books without the number of characters ever becoming overwhelming. David Dixon (narrator of book 2) and Madison Morris (narrator of book 3) both appear in Tally Tuttle’s story, and Tally features in their books—but David and Madison’s stories also introduce kids that aren’t in Tally’s story. So, with each book, the classroom feels a little more fleshed out. No kid is just a side character; they all have the potential to be the hero of their own story one day.

Jennifer: While each of the books stands alone, I knew I wanted the main character, Catalina, to grow and change over the course of the series. So I kept track of the skills she develops from book-to-book and spent a lot of time thinking through how her relationships with others would shift as she learns and responds to challenges. I also had some threads I wanted to pull through all four books: Cat’s Stitch and Share lessons at the library, her best friend’s latest telenovela obsession, a magical disguise. I think that helped create a consistent and familiar world.

Astrid the Astronaut by Rie NealRie: For Astrid, I wanted to use the breadth of the series to especially show how she’s growing as a team player and as a friend. Teamwork is SO important for astronauts (and for so many other professions, and just for life in general! Ha!), and it’s something that Astrid doesn’t really factor into her plan in the beginning–she’s too focused on doing things her way. So while each book has its own plot and character arc for Astrid, the greater arc of the series also shows her friend circle slowly expanding with each book–often with characters only mentioned briefly in previous books later becoming Astrid’s friends (instead of just acquaintances–or in the case of Pearl, enemies!).

Lyla: With MINDY KIM, I wrote books about topics that I myself cared about/found interesting when I was a chapter book reader myself. Getting a puppy for the first time (and proving to my parents that I am responsible enough for one), feeling singled out and sometimes like a downright outcast when I was the new kid at school that packed food from my culture for lunch, trying to find ways to preserve ties to my family and culture as a child from an immigrant household (but still have fun, too!), or even something as seemingly simple as learning how to swim. Even though the series isn’t strictly autobiographical (Mindy’s family and mine are very different, for example), putting myself back into Kid Me’s shoes really helped me develop the series and the world of the books.

Samantha: Wonderful! What’s the biggest thing you have learned from writing this chapter book series so far?

Debbi: Chapter book readers are the best! These are newly independent readers, and there’s nothing like the feeling of pride, success, and joy of reading an entire book yourself, alone, for the first time. And because of this, these readers are extremely loyal and enthusiastic. I get the best reader mail from readers who fall in love with Jasmine Toguchi and I love recommending other chapter book series to them.

Lyla: For me, the biggest lesson I learned was definitely that the most seemingly random and specific experiences in life can actually resonate with a lot of people. For example, when I first wrote the first MINDY KIM book, MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS, I thought: “Okay, so I had this not-so-good experience in third grade where I was the new kid and the other students made fun of the lunch I brought from home” and for the third book, MINDY KIM AND THE BIRTHDAY PUPPY, I thought: “Well, in third grade I was so obsessed with dogs that getting a dog was all I could think about/was my ultimate goal in life.” These (and other plot points that I didn’t mention here) are seemingly arbitrary things that I pulled from my own life, but I still get emails today from both adults and children telling me they could relate with these parts of the stories.

Samantha: What was the biggest challenge creating this chapter book series?

Kathryn: Writing a series with different protagonists means coming up with a new, distinct voice for each book. It was a challenge to make each protagonist sound like themself—rather than a third-person omniscient narrator telling everyone’s stories. But it’s a challenge I’ve loved! For instance, David Dixon was my first time ever writing a boy narrator, and it was a delight to get inside his head. (I channeled my five nephews…) One of the most satisfying moments in each book’s process has been when I can fully hear the character in my head, speaking in their own unique voice as they experience their adventure.

Gemstone Dragons: Opal's Time To Shine by Samantha M ClarkSamantha: Different voices would be a challenge! For the GEMSTONE DRAGONS, I used third person because it had the classic feel of the chapter books I had grown up with, so that has been easier. But I’d say the biggest challenge has been separating myself from the MG mindset when I’m working on chapter books. As Saadia said earlier, there are a lot of similarities. I plot the stories the same way as my MG, just with fewer subplots. But I have to keep the readers’ age in my head much more when I’m writing and revising for both the language and story. For example, book 3 in the series has spooky elements and it was challenging to find just the right level of spookiness for this age group. What’s your best tip for writers who want to get into chapter books?

Saadia: Read a ton of chapter books! There is a lot of variety in the books already out there, in terms of word count and reading level. You want to make sure you absorb all that variety before making up your mind about where your book will fit.

Jennifer: I agree with Saadia! In developing the CATALINA INCOGNITO series, what most helped me get a feel for the voice, pacing, and plot structure of chapter books, was reading lots of chapter books. Luckily, there are so many good examples (many of my favorites are represented here!) and studying them is a joy. I also think it’s good to spend some time understanding chapter book readers, and who they are developmentally. Many of them are exploring new kinds of independence, discovering strengths and interests, and navigating their roles in friend groups and teams. They’re kind and inquisitive and often hilarious. All of that can inform and enrich your writing.

Samantha: Yes! Great advice. This has been such a fun conversation. Thank you to everyone! And readers, good luck in creating your own chapter books.

The winner of two Trillium Sisters chapter books is…

Thank you to everyone who read the Trillium Sisters interview with authors Laura Brown and Elly Kramer and helped celebrate the release of the first two books in their exciting and magical chapter book series.

The winner of Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed and Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day is…



Huge congrats, Regina! I’ll e-mail you soon and hope you love this new chapter book series as much as I do. Happy reading. 🙂

Trillium Sisters Interview & 2 Book Giveaway

I’m thrilled to welcome Laura Brown and Elly Kramer to the Mixed-Up Files to celebrate their upcoming release of two exciting new chapter books: Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed and Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day. They’re illustrated by Sarah Mensinga and will be published by Pixel+Ink on June 1, 2021.

Three sisters discover that they and their pets have superpowers they can use to protect the world around them in this fantastical new chapter book series about family, friendship, and environmental responsibility perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.

This is such an amazing concept for a series. How did you come up with the idea?

Laura: It was originally inspired when I was on a family ski trip in Colorado. I was alone on a slope when I found myself by a gorgeous stand of Douglas Firs. The setting was so beautiful, I just had to stop. I began to imagine what it might be like to live in that beautiful spot, surrounded by nature! Who might live there and how? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I got home, I called  Elly and we built the world and characters from there.

Elly:  So, we had the setting. We knew where the stories would take place but had to figure out who the stories would be about. I had always wanted to tell a story featuring families. While they all look different, it’s something that every reader can relate to. And as someone who has an incredibly special relationship with my sister, the idea of writing about sisters popped into my head. (And in case he’s reading this, I love my brother very much, too. Trillium Brothers is next!) 


What inspired the two of you to co-write the Trillium Sister series?

Elly: Laura and I had worked together in children’s television for years and we had recently co-written some scripts for a show on Nick Jr. We loved the collaboration and realized we had some ideas of our own. That sparked the partnership. We both wanted to do something that empowered girls to be the heroes of their own stories. We call that modern princess magic.

Laura: It was also important to us that there were strong boys/men beside these strong girls. That’s why the family is headed by a single, nurturing dad and there’s a little brother who has his own unique gifts. 


What are some of the pros and cons of co-writing, and do you have tips for anyone who is considering working with a co-writer?

Laura: I think co-writing was natural for us given that we came from television. We’ve both been part of writer’s rooms where story ideas are workshopped with lots of different people at once. It’s loads of fun to create stories collaboratively – it’s almost like playing pretend when you’re little! My favorite part of co-writing is taking an idea in an unexpected direction when the other brain gets involved. Elly and I call this  “yes anding” each other!

Elly: What I love about our co-writing process is that we get each other unstuck. If I’m unsure where a chapter is going or if Laura wants the dialogue punched up, we turn to each other.  In terms of co-writing tips, I’d say figure out what you are each best at and lean into your strengths. No one has to do it all.

Laura: Yes, and pick a partner who has different strengths than you do so you each bring unique qualities to the team. Then, talk, talk, talk! You don’t want anything left unsaid when you’re writing together.

Elly: And don’t over use semi- colons! Apparently I used them way too much! 


LOL. It’s easy to see how well you work together. It sounds like such a fun way to write, brainstorm, and revise.

How have your backgrounds and lived experiences helped with your new chapter book series?

Elly: Having worked in television, I was used to thinking about all of the elements that go into telling stories. Things like, knowing who your audience is. How to think about world building and character development. There are some practical things that are different between developing for television and books, but ultimately you want your audience to fall in love with what you’ve created and to keep coming back for more.

Laura: The older I get, the more I love and respect nature. So few kids today have the opportunity to spend a day in the woods! My passion for the natural world really shaped the book. In terms of career, I’m an educational psychologist and I’ve spent years running focus groups with young children, exploring how they react to stories. That gives me a strong understanding of what engages children and what they understand at different ages. 


What surprised you the most while writing these books?

Laura: How easy it was to get lost in the stories! I love the world so much that sometimes I’d write an entire scene only to realize it wasn’t going to work. I had done it because I wanted to explore that part of Trillium Mountain! Of course, that doesn’t mean the writing was always easy. It wasn’t, but that’s when it was essential to have a partner and a great editor. Bethany Buck helped us in so many ways, but one thing that stands out is what she taught us about pacing the reveal of new information over the course of the series. 

Elly: To see how these girls have come alive off the page! We put mood boards together while we were developing the books. Everything from their clothing, to their rooms, to what kind of music they would listen to. We compiled images of what we envisioned they would look like before they were designed. My niece recently was looking through my phone and saw an image of a young girl. She said, “That looks like Giselle!” and it was a piece of inspiration I had pulled for Giselle. To see and feel how dimensionalized these girls have become, even though they’re not animated, has been incredible. 

Pics that inspired the sisters. Emmy is sensitive and compassionate. She loves nature and all living things. Clare has big out of the box ideas and loves design and fashion. And Giselle? She lives to move and she’s a confident decision maker. 

I love that your niece was able to look at your inspiration photo for Giselle and recognize her! The inspiration photos for the girls are amazing, and I can’t stop smiling at the inspiration photos for their adorable pets, too. Readers will want their own mini’mals after meeting these cuties.

Inspiration for the pets – Soar the eaglet, Fluffy the wolf pup, Claw the bear cub

Here’s the inspiration for the incredible world they created. What an amazing place to live! It’s an alpine oasis with touches of the fantastical. Where you can drink daisy juice, bring your pet to the Paw Pad for a massage, and find the most exquisite rocks. Trillium flowers hold special meaning for the girls.


Can you share a writing exercise with us?

Laura: One thing I struggle with is getting out of my everyday brain (which has a lot of “to do” lists in it) and into my creative brain. To do that, I go for a walk with my dog, Charley Brown. Then, I go home and “vomit write” for 10 minutes, which means I write whatever pops into my head without worrying if it makes sense.  It’s something I used to do with my daughter when she had trouble coming up with a writing topic for school. There’s often a little gold in all the mess.

Elly: Similar to Laura, I just write at first. I get everything out and then go back to re-read and edit. I’ve also found it incredibly useful to give myself  time and space between each revision. I see things differently the next day than I do after working on a chapter for 4 hours. 


Thanks for the great writing exercise and tips! Fast-drafting without allowing a pesky internal editor to interfere helps me discover so many gems, too. And giving myself time between revisions is a huge help! 

What’s next for both of you?

Laura: I’m working on a picture book and another chapter book series. The picture book is a humorous take on sibling relationships, based loosely on my own kids. They’re grown now and very close but when they were little, I worried it wouldn’t work out that way!  Elly and I are also writing some short stories for an online platform.

Elly: I have some new TV ideas I’ve been working on, but one of the greatest things that have come out of this process has been working with Laura. I am so much better working with someone else. It’s hard for me to come up with ideas in a vacuum. Laura and I are always talking about what we can do next together. I can always tell when she’s been out walking Charley … she usually calls with some great new idea as soon as she gets home from her walk. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

Laura: I want readers to know Trillium Sisters is first and foremost an adventure fantasy. We hope kids get lost in our stories and have fun.  In our opinion, those experiences teach us the most and make passionate readers.

Elly: Nothing to ‘yes and’ there. Perfectly said. 


Thank you so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files, Laura and Elly. It was great chatting with you.

Laura and Elly: Thank you! This was trilltastic!


Laura Brown, an early childhood expert, collaborates with organizations to create high quality educational media properties and products. She has written curricula and scripts and served as Content Expert and Research Director for series produced by Nick Jr., Disney Junior, Amazon Kids, DreamWorks Animation Television, PBS Kids, and many others. She is currently Curriculum Director at WarnerMedia Preschool/Cartoonito. A mother of three, she lives in Tenafly, NJ, but in another life, she would happily live in a treehouse in the forest. (Instagram: @laurabrownauthor)


Elly Kramer is currently the VP of Production & Development at Imagine Entertainment in their Kids and Family division and has created and led the development of numerous award-winning and highly-rated TV shows, online games, and innovative apps. As VP of Production and Development with Nickelodeon, she led the development of long and short-form content. She has also produced and developed over thirty-five shorts. Elly is a frequent speaker at film festivals and industry events. She lives in Los Angeles, CA. (Instagram: @ellykramerauthor)


Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a copy of both Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed and Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day. (U.S. only)

Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed

Eight-year-old triplets Emmy, Clare, and Giselle are excited to celebrate Founding Day, the day their dad found them and they became a family. The girls want this year’s celebration to be extra special. And Dad has a big surprise—trillium petal charms that he found with the girls.

But when the girls’ little brother, Zee, slips into the river while helping them plan a special surprise, something magical happens: The charms are drawn together, forming a glowing flower, and the girls suddenly have superpowers! Channeling their new abilities, they work together to try to save Zee, but will they be able to figure out how to help in time?



 Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day

The Trillium Triplets are flying into action!

Wondering if their powers will return, Clare, Emmy, and Giselle throw themselves into preparations for Bestie Day, when everyone in Trillsville celebrates the special people in their lives. The girls are planning to make presents for one another from fallen flower petals. That way, they can enjoy the beauty around them without causing harm.

But at the flower field, instead of finding beautiful blooms, the Trills find a big problem. Two girls from town are cutting so many flowers for their Bestie Day bouquets that the bees can’t get enough nectar. And without the bees, the entire mountain ecosystem could fall apart! When their Trillium powers activate, will the sisters be able to buzz to the rescue?

The winner will be announced on Sunday, May 30. Good luck. 😊


a Rafflecopter giveaway