Recently, I’ve been reading some manuscripts and have written out this advice–“Make sure that themes and storyline are developmentally appropriate and that you’ve chosen the best form to express your story.” Most of us know what this means. Please don’t try to create a picture book about a 12 year-old girl preparing for her bat mitzvah. However, you could write a picture book about a 12 year-old girl’s five year-old sister watching her older sister prepare. But don’t then write a picture book starring said little sister worrying about whether she is following the latest trend at the mall and whether her posse will approve of her shopping choices. Those are concerns for an older middle grade novel.
I don’t want you to think that I completely get this. I don’t. I have started two books that I thought were YA and they weren’t. The concerns and the voice were very much tween and I transposed everything to make it younger. I have also written a middle grade manuscript and upon reflection about developmental milestones, I transposed the narrative into a chapter book.
It might be interesting to look at what some theorists say about childhood cognitive development and see if that gives you any aha insight about where your character fits on the cognitive timeline.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Jean Piaget, a development biologist, described four stages of intellectual development in children, which can be helpful to consider while developing your characters. Below I will describe the stages and what form/s would be typically the most appropriate to express a story for this age.
• sensorimotor stage (birth to age 2). During this phase, kids use their five senses to understand their world, and see the world from their point of view. In the middle of this period, children understand object permanence. In other words, objects exist even they can’t be seen. Board Books
• Preoperational stage: (ages 2 to 7). During this period, children acquire all sorts of motor skills and their egocentrism begins to diminish. They also may display magical thinking, where they assume if they clapped their ones and it thundered outside, it will happen again. Picture books, easy readers (at upper end), chapter books (at upper end)
• Concrete operational stage (ages 7 to 12). Children are able to see other points of view and think logically, but usually are very concrete. chapter books, middle grade
• Formal operational stage (ages 12 and up). Children think logically and develop abstract thought. Upper middle grade (tween) and Young Adult.
Hope this gets you thinking about what whether your character’s thoughts are developmentally appropriate! Of course, if they aren’t that might be fine too. I mean that in and of itself could generate a story problem. But I think it can interesting to be aware of the rubric.