Facebook is all agog about The Not Even Once Club, a new children’s book by Wendy Watson Nelson, whose credentials include a PhD in family therapy and gerontology and 25 years as a professor of marriage and family therapy, plus being married to a general authority. Here’s the official plot summary:
In this LDS children’s picture book, Tyler moves into his new ward and meets his new Primary class. Tyler’s new friend, Kyle, invites him to their Primary class tree house and gives Tyler the secret password: “Not Even Once.” When Tyler sees how cool the tree house is, he’s thrilled to be a member of the club. But first, Tyler will need to pass the test, and keep the club promise. This book shows, in a fun and effective way, how Tyler and his new friends are great examples about keeping the Word of Wisdom and living the other standards of the Church. • The perfect book to help reinforce LDS standards to young children. • Full-color illustrations by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman. • Includes a link to download your own personal copy of the “Not Even Once” poster, which reads: “From this moment on, I will never break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, gossip, procrastinate, dress immodestly, break the law of chastity, in any way. I will never intentionally look at anything pornographic on TV, the Internet, a cell phone, a billboard, or in a magazine or a movie.”
I put procrastinate in bold because I’m not used to thinking of it as a sin or something that you must promise never to do, not. even. once.
I admit I haven’t read TNEOC, though I think I might stop by Deseret Book before too long so I can see for myself if it’s just as bad as many of my friends insist. I read the accompanying study guide; it’s pretty awful. It asks kids to imagine Jesus going through their closets. I wonder if kids should imagine him poking through their underwear drawers too?
Complaints center on the rigidity of the message, that even small children have to strive for abbsolute perfection and have no room to mess up. Of course there have been defenders, people saying that it’s a terrific book that teaches important gospel principles and arguing that it’s not nearly as rigid as it seems:
As far as promise to never break the commandments, the teaser on LDSLivings featured titles says it says promise to DO YOUR BEST to not break the commandments, not even once.
“Illustrated in beautiful color, this LDS children’s picture book tells the story of a young boy named Tyler who, after moving, makes a new friend, Kyle, at church in Primary. Tyler wants to join a tree house club with his classmates, but first must make a solemn promise: he must do his best never to break the Word of Wisdom and other Church standards. Not even once.”
But the the “Do Your Best” part isn’t emphasized; it’s not called the “Do Your Best Club.” It’s not the “we value striving club.” It’s the “We don’t tolerate imperfection club.” Given that that’s what the church really is, it’s good to have it stated explicitly. But it’s unhealthy, unkind, and unchristian.
As for the “do your best” part, I remember very clearly what the White Book I had to read over and over on my mission said about that: “Don’t say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ Say, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Doing your best isn’t considered respectable or good enough. If an action is approved by the church, you must do it always; if it’s condemned, you must never do it, not. even. once. So what do people who want to stay in the club do when they mess up, as they inevitably will? they lie.
People have also complained about the creepy club element, that the kids have to know the password to getinto the club and that chanting and other weird stuff happens inside the club. I don’t see how that can bug anyone who really believes that temple ordinances are necessary to salvation, but maybe that’s just me.
The book is being panned on both Amazon and Deseret Book. Here’s a review on Amazon I liked, and here’s the best on the Deseret Book site:
I love this book! My children and I have read it over and over together. Sister Nelson has written a perfect allegory for Satan’s plan in the premortal life. The primary teacher that bribes the children with creature comforts, banishment for failure, utter lack of grace, and obedience-for-reward ethic all fall perfectly into the plan proposed by the Evil One. The critics may complain, but they clearly don’t understand the author’s intent. With its cute illustrations and foreboding message this book is destined to become an LDS classic for generations! Perhaps in her next book Sister Nelson can write about the Atonement.