The Library Adventure’s Quick Guide to Literary Genres

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The Library Adventure's Quick Guide to Literary Genres

The most popular way to categorize literature is by genre. Today’s post is a crash course in understanding genres and in recognizing the category to which a given book belongs. As books in each genre are published for both adults and children, each definition below is accompanied by several examples at a variety of levels.

Realistic Fiction

Books in this category are based in reality. Most are set in the present-day and read as though they are happening in real time, or just happened in the very recent past.  The events of realistic fiction stories could conceivably happen in real life, and the characters could plausibly exist.

Historical Fiction

Realistic fiction set in the past is known as historical fiction. Books in this category incorporate history into fictional narratives in order to comment upon historical events or to bring a past era to life for contemporary readers. Often, but not always, specific historical events figure heavily into the story lines of historical fiction books.


Romance novels follow a predictable formula: a man and woman (or boy and girl) meet, begin to fall in love, are thwarted by various obstacles, and then overcome them to wind up together in the end. Romance has many subgenres, including paranormal, contemporary, historical, inspirational, and romantic suspense, but they all share the common goal of a happy-ever-after ending.


Mysteries can be set in any time period, but they all usually involve a detective-like character gathering and piecing together clues to solve a puzzle and bring a wrong-doer to justice. Like Romance, Mystery has many subgenres including cozies, procedurals, legal, medical, and noir.


Fantasy stories contain events, people, worlds, abilities, and/or creatures that could not really exist. This genre includes everything from fairies, witches, and talking animals to magical wardrobes, hobbit holes, and Hogwarts. Fantasy has many sub-genres, including magical realism, high fantasy, urban fantasy, and superhero books, and it relies on an author’s ability to create a whole new world from his or her imagination.

Science Fiction

Sometimes science fiction and fantasy are lumped together in one category, but there are actually some important distinctions. Science fiction has its basis in real science. Authors begin with scientific fact or theory and raise questions about the implications of those scientific ideas on society. Dystopian, steampunk, futuristic and time travel books all fit within this category.


Books that convey facts and provide verifiable information fall into the non-fiction category. These include encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies/autobiographies, field guides, almanacs, travel guides, memoirs, parenting books, and more. Also included in non-fiction are poetry books and folk tales.

Genres are just one way that libraries might classify books. Though some titles intentionally defy categorization and others fit more than one genre, chances are that most things you and your kids read fit somewhere in the list above. Knowing the categories to which your favorite books belong makes it that much easier to locate new similar titles and it gives your librarian a great place to start in suggesting more titles for you to enjoy.

What are your favorite genres? Please share them – along with your favorite titles – in comments!

About Katie Fitzgerald

Katie Fitzgerald holds degrees in English and library science, and has worked in small town and big city libraries, serving both children and teens. You can read her book reviews and posts about story time, picture books, and early literacy at Story Time Secrets. Also follow her blog on Facebook for kidlit quotations, story time suggestions, and interesting links.


  1. Great post Katie and really good examples of each genre. I am a fantasy genre girl – ever since I discovered The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in primary school (elementary school); and also historical – put them together and it’s even better! 🙂

  2. suzan baback says:

    Thanks Katie for breaking the genres down. I would just lump most books into fiction or nonfiction. I appreciate your post.

  3. Thanks for the breakdown – it will come in handy with the kids.

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