Classifying a title into just one genre can straight-jacket a book and limit its appeal. A book may traverse a range of subjects. With this in mind, we provide this overview of children’s and YA fiction genres. We hope it helps you when you are making loan requests and thinking about your students' and your own reading.
Adventure fiction usually involves the main character going on a quest or journey and experiencing extreme conditions. The adventure may or may not involve history but has plenty of action. Some adventure fiction could also involve elements of mystery, dystopia or fantasy.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- The Travelling Restaurant: Jasper’s Voyage in Three Parts a novel for children by Barbara Else
- David Hill's novels would be good examples of contemporary New Zealand adventure novels.
Penned by women authors, these books can be light and funny and usually deal with relationships, dating, and romance. Some cover more delicate themes such as pregnancy, abortion, weight problems or drug abuse. Examples are:
- Ten Things We Shouldn't Have Done by Sarah Mlynowski
- Hello Gorgeous series by Taylor Morris.
The classics are titles that have established themselves as distinguished examples of penmanship of a particular period in history. Classics are time-honoured, which is why there are 'classic' classics and modern classics. Examples include:
- titles by Charles Dickens or H.G.Wells, which would be examples of older classics
- John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series which would be considered a modern classic.
- Tessa Duder's Alex series, a New Zealand classic.
This is the kind of fiction that stands out, gets mentioned and recommended. Usually set in the recognisable present, contemporary fiction is realistic with contemporary characters, events and dialogue. Examples that fall into this category are:
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and
- titles by New Zealand authors such as Kate de Goldi, Fleur Beale and Ted Dawe.
Narrated in diary format these fiction or non-fiction tales are personal recounts usually played out day-by- day. The narration could be based on an adventure, an historical event or a personal experience. Examples are:
- The My Story series written by various authors, which brings New Zealand’s past alive
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, which is very popular with young readers.
Dystopian fiction is set is new or alternative worlds, or futuristic societies and is characterised by degradation in values, social hierarchy, terror and oppression. These titles often include elements of science fiction, conflict and romance. Well-known examples include:
- The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
- The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
- The Divergent trilogy by Veronika Roth
- Blood of the Lamb trilogy by Mandy Hagar, a New Zealand example
- 1984 by George Orwell's
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Dystopian novels can lend themselves well to secondary teachers looking for genre fiction for students to read for pleasure. For example, science and social studies teachers might look to:
- The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and its sequel
- The Lord of Opium, which tackles issues such as cloning, drugs, immigration and prejudice.
Teachers of media studies and in particular advertising might look to:
- Feed by M. T. Anderson. Set in an ecologically destroyed world, people have implants connecting them to a constant feed of information, entertainment and ads.
Family and relationships
Books that reflect children and teens (and even adults) having to undergo some kind of inner conflict or interpersonal conflict at some point in their life — including 'coming of age' stories. This may involve relationships, bullying, decision making or identity crisis. Examples that resonate with this genre include:
- Bruiser by Neil Shulsterman
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- I am not Esther by Fleur Beale, a New Zealand example
- See ya Simon by David Hill, a New Zealand example.
Think imaginary lands, myths and magic. Popular examples include:
- Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien (elves, wizards, goblins)
- the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling (wizards and witches)
- the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan's (Greek and Roman gods).
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender)
This genre of literature deals with the struggle for identity, acceptance and relationships of protagonists who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Examples include:
- How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity edited by Michael Cart, a short story collection
- The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd.
The graphic novel has become an increasingly popular format of book among readers, from intermediate through to senior secondary and beyond, with an explosion in publishing for this genre. This is the case for both fiction and non-fiction graphic novels. Although a format rather than a genre the graphic novel has become a popular reading choice for intermediate through to senior secondary students.
Fiction and non-fiction graphic novels (or as some prefer – comics ) are full-length works of literature, which require you to read the pictures and text.
While some titles appeal to reluctant readers, much of the graphic novel format requires a level of sophistication in reading ability. Neil Gaiman is renowned as an international leader in this field.
Graphic novels provides a good overview of this book format and how to use them with students.
This genre of books has been written with the intention to scare the reader with gory details of blood, ghosts, vampires, skeletons, demons and the supernatural world. Examples include:
- the Zom-B City by Darren Shan
- the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy’s, which has a dark thread of humour so crosses genres
- The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman.
These novels have the story and characters pitched against a significant backdrop of time or history of a place or country. War, social history and political instability often feature, as in:
- The Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshisset
- In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner set against the Cambodian killing fields.
Other notable examples include:
- Parehaka by Witi Ihimaera
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is set during WWII and was named the Michael L. Printz Honor Book in 2013
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, about a German orphan and a blind French girl during the Nazi Occupation of France. This book is a good example of the type of fiction history teachers could recommend for students of World War II.
Stories that cause you to smile or laugh out loud at the quirkiness of their characters or stories. Good examples include:
- the brilliant Just series by Andy Griffiths
- Swim the Fly by Don Calame.
These are the Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christies of the collection. Examples of this genre are:
- the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham,
- the Bureau of Mysteries series by H.J. Harper's
- the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.
New Zealand authors
New Zealand has a growing range of authors who write progressively for children and young adults. The New Zealand Book Awards and the LIANZA book awards are endorsements that recognise excellence and their unique styles. Examples are:
- Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager
- A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik.
New Zealand Book Council's Writers Files is the most comprehensive collection of information about New Zealand writers on the Internet.
Rhyme is found everywhere, in songs, chants, jingles, books or as novels in verse. Poetry covers a vast range of subjects and is often used in schools and homes as read alouds.
Poetry provides lots of information about poetry and sharing poetry with students.
Novels dealing with the paranormal or supernatural include themes such as good and evil, relationships and conflict along with creatures such as werewolves, vampires or ghosts. It’s the type of fiction where occurrences cannot be logically explained, such as telekinesis or extrasensory perception. These novels span other genres such as fantasy, mystery, horror and romance. Popular examples are:
- the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
- the Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater
- the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by Joan Aiken, is an older example of this genre.
This genre can stand alone, but romance is often a feature of other genres such as dystopian and supernatural literature. The Crazy Things Girls Do for Love by Dyan Sheldon is pure romance, Jacqueline Wilson's The 'Girls' series touches on issues many adolescents can identify with, while Stephanie Myers' Twilight series has an appealing combination of the supernatural and romance.
The Oxford dictionary defines science fiction as 'fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.'
- The Cinder, the first of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
- The Enders Saga, by Orson Scott Card
- Across the Universe by Beth Revis.
Books such as the Divergent series by Veronika Roth are examples of books that belong in more than one genre. The Divergent series falls into both the science fiction and dystopian genres.
Short stories are a delectable anthology of the best of authors and their style. Short stories could be a selection of stories by one author or a collection by various authors. Good examples include:
- Animal Tales, a collection of stories by Dick King-Smith
- Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change, edited by Tony Bradman.
Hard to define, but this genre is said to be a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that includes technology or gadgets from the 19th century. Some describe it as the old aesthetics of the Victorian age mixed with modern technology. For an understanding of this genre try:
- Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant,
- the Soulless series by Gail Carriger
- Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.
Verse novels are a form of poetry. Offering thought-provoking stories , verse novels are often autobiographical, flexible in format making them an attractive introduction for reluctant readers.
Straightforward, shorter and faster to read than a novel, most have a single narrator and an intimacy of detail in short sound bites. Steven Herrick, Sharon Creech and Karen Hesse have captured the deceptive simplicity of this genre.
Many verse novels have provocative themes: war, prejudice, coming of age, abandonment and death. Recent novels reflect these cutting edge topics and provide insight into other cultures.
Some of the exceptionally talented names and examples in this genre are:
- Karen Hesse
- Margarita Engle
- Helen Frost
- Andrea Cheng
- Sharon Creech
- Nikki Grimes
- Steven Herrick
- Toppling by Sally Murphy
- Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes
- The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices From the Titanic by Allan Wolf. This novel in verse was written to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It brings history alive through, twenty-four voices. For other articles on the sinking of the Titanic and to find out what got reported in the aftermath of this disaster use our digitised database Papers Past.