If you want to write for middle grade readers, you need to be able to think like one. Nine to twelve year olds experience a lot of changes in their lives, including changes in how they feel about expressing emotions and the act of kissing.
For some, kissing is a subject that is sure to start some nervous giggling. For others, it’s totally below the radar. In thinking about kissing and MG, it’s useful to think of the category in terms of younger and older middle grade readers.
For younger readers of middle grade books (ages 8 to 10), it’s probably still okay to accept kisses from parents and relatives, maybe even a younger sibling (with some quick face wiping if you’re in front of your friends). The thought of kissing a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is yucky. It’d be better to kiss your pet dog or cat.
Readers of “upper” middle grade books (ages 11 and 12) may be curious about kissing, even if they won’t admit it. I think this is especially true for girls. Boy readers probably don’t care if there’s any hint of romance or kissing in a novel, as long as it has lots of action and adventure. But older girls often connect with a bit of light romance, because they’re starting to experience the feeling of “liking” a boy or may have been wondering what it’s like to kiss a boy. The trick is to keep it light. As for kisses from parents? Probably rejected, especially in public. But that goodnight kiss when parents sneak in before they go to bed? Well, that one's okay, because you’re pretending to be asleep.
Have you ever included kissing in your novel? How did you make it work for your readers?
This discussion at Through the Tollbooth brings up some issues related to “upper middle grade” books.
Blogger Sara Nicolas talks about how the first kiss scene can make or break a YA novel.
Writer Jenn discusses some challenges of writing a kissing scene (mostly for YA but provides some food for thought).