New LDS Book for Children Teaches to Never Sin: Not Even Once?

"The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once."


My first thought, after reading the above preface (partially), to Wendy (Watson) Nelson's new book for LDS children, was an immediate resistance. Let's face it, we all know that our children will not be successful in never breaking a commandment, so what sense does it make to raise the bar, so high, when you know they are going to fail?

I decided to go ahead and read the book (it's short), since I happen to nearly worship the ground that Wendy (now Nelson - she married an Apostle!), walks on. I came to highly respect, Sister Nelson, during the time she was still single, and chaired BYU Women's Conference. That's been  some years ago now, when I was regularly attending as the mother of school-aged children.

As I recall, Wendy (which is how I lovingly referred to her then, and which I would never use in her presence, mind you), would address the entire Conference in a packed Marriott Center during the opening session. When I heard her speak the first time, she immediately won my spirit with her ability to teach the doctrines of the gospel - brilliantly! At one particular Conference, she spoke on the topic of light. I will never forget how that doctrine affected me - mind blowing as it rang true to my very center - I understood! Her ability to teach doctrine, is exceptional.

After hearing her a number of times, a handful of us (including my best friend) who attended the Conferences together, put two-and-two together and realized that she was Sheri Dew's bestie! Are you kidding?

I'm pretty sure Sister Dew was in the general Relief Society presidency during this time. Most all of us, I'm sure, remember the initial impact she had on the women of the Church! Sister Dew, for me personally, resonated to the moon and back with how she spoke to us - still does. To this day, Sheri Dew stands at the forefront of what it means to be a latter-day-Saint woman in the last days. And the whole thing about light cleaving to light, that was how we saw Wendy and Sheri's friendship!

So, while most of the women we knew back home wanted to do lunch with Oprah, needless to say, me and my bestie wanted to hangout with those two incredible LDS women! We would have such fun imagining the kinds of gospel conversations we could have together - much like the ones the two of us frequently had - but super-duper charged!

Fun fact: shortly after Sister Watson no longer held the chair elect position for Women's Conference, my bestie and I were called to serve in our stake Relief Society presidency (she pres., me 1st. coun. ), and sooo for one of our own stake women's conferences invited Sister Watson to be our keynote speaker. Sneaky, I know. ; )

To make a short story, shorter, we planned an intimate luncheon with our presidency (lovely, I assure you), and finally had our personal encounter with Wendy. In our giddiness, I'm pretty sure we shared our secret wish about hanging with her and Sister Dew. (dorks!) Needless to say, it was a thrill. She was gracious, delightful, and "real", just like her best friend - two peas in a pod. I remember at the time, thinking how blessed I was to also have such a best friend, and how much we strengthened and enlightened each other during those tough times of raising our families.

A kind of close encounter: about two years ago, Sister Dew spoke at another of our stake conferences. I was an attendee, so I didn't get the perk of meeting her personally - but her talk was more than compensated. I was given an opportunity to meet her a few years ago, because of this blog, but wasn't able to make it to Salt Lake City on the planned date. Someday...

Sorry for the ramble, but its been fun to reminisce a bit. This is supposed to be a dignified book review. So, back to Wendy Nelson's book -- The Not Even Once Club! I knew that if Sister Nelson (still getting used to that), had written it, I had to read it. I was confident that she would teach spot-on, even if that preface threw me off a bit. And so, with that open-mindedness, I proceeded...

Book Review: The Not Even Once Club

Author: Wendy Watson Nelson
Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
Publisher: Deseret Book, 2013
Available at Deseret Book

Wendy Watson Nelson, holds a Ph.D. in family therapy and gerontology. She was a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years, prior to her marriage to Elder Russell M. Nelson. Currently, she is an Institute instructor.

Keep in mind that N. E. O.(not even once) is written for children ages 3-7, which is a perfectly appropriate stage of development to teach the principle of exact obedience to God's commandments, and to expect that most children of that age, without too much difficulty, can be relatively successful. I am convinced that these particular years, prior to baptism, are golden for teaching our children to follow Jesus Christ. And which is why, I am an advocate for this book.

Studies have shown that, at 8 years of age, children, developmentally, begin to have the ability to well understand the principle that their actions have consequences: negative or positive. The American Psychological Association, and National Association for the Education of Young Children, reference this understanding in a child development pamphlet.

It is interesting to consider why Mormons do not baptize infants/small children (topic infant baptism) - for they are "alive in Christ".  Meaning they are fully covered by the atonement of Jesus Christ, having no need to repent, because satan cannot tempt them. Nor does God require repentance from those that cannot, or do not, understand the necessity - or rather, are without law. This is an important concept to understand for this discussion. However, at age 8, children need baptism, and it should not be delayed.

God has given to parents His children, at birth, with the requirement that we are to teach and train them, prepatory to when satan will be allowed to tempt and try them. This arrangement, if you will, is how a child will come to understand their individual power in mortality: agency!

Covenant members of the Lord's Church are commanded through receiving a saving ordinance, to "receive the Holy Ghost". This priceless gift from God, is intended to be a constant influence, if followed, throughout mortality, enabling heaven and earth to communicate - ultimately guiding us back into the presence of God.

Prior to satan's influence upon a child, until the age of accountability, it is spiritually critical for parents to help children establish a righteous foundation upon which to build, and that they will draw from as they develop their own personal relationship with God - through the Spirit, which is Jesus Christ. It's a beautiful plan and without this understanding, parents may fail to take full advantage of these "golden" years to teach and tutor their children how to keep the commandments.

Which brings me back to, The Not Even Once Club, by Wendy Watson Nelson. Once again, in my opinion, she is teaching spot-on, and from the ultimate pattern that God, the Master Parent, utilized with Adam and Eve, in the garden.

Look for God's pattern for parenting (tutoring) young children in keeping commandments: (I'm not going to go into the detail of the fall, as we are simply identifying a specific pattern within the account, which I believe is valuable in the context of this post.)

In the garden, from Genesis 2:16-17, we read:

"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (italics added for emphasis)

God issued the commandment, included the consequences if disregarded, and left it at that. Commandments are Love. Adam, and Eve, accepted it as such. He is Father. Complete Trust.

Adam and Even, prior to the fall, were as "little children" - innocent that evil existed, with a desire to be obedient to God's commandments. (Although they were adults with high intelligence, intended to act in order to bring about the plan of salvation) They had no concept of evil, as they could not remember the pre-existence, and the war that took place. 

God desires that we never touch evil, ever, thus the commandment given to Adam and Eve, "thou shalt not". And to all of us, in each commandment we are given, and every ordinance we are willing to receive, it is intended to keep the faithful unspotted from the world, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Obedience is critical to receiving the blessings which God promises to those who love Him.

This is the pattern for teaching righteousness, thus spiritual progression. There is no wiggle room in the teaching of the things God commands us to "touch not"! And why?: "lest ye die"! To Mormons, spiritual death, or separating ourselves from God, is much more devastating than physical death. We believe that when we die, physically, we shall live again, through Jesus Christ. However, in order (ordinances) to return back into the presence of God, we must accept our need for repentance and exercise faith in Jesus Christ, as Savior and Redeemer. Mormons consider Jesus Christ, the perfect example of exact obedience to the will of God.

Wise LDS parents would do well to follow the pattern that Heavenly Father clearly modeled in the garden, in teaching His innocent children to keep the commandments with exactness. Why? Because we have made the choice to trust God, and through our own experience, have learned that He is completely trustworthy. 

There is nothing unreasonable about boldly teaching children what God expects of them, and instilling confidence in their ability to choose to be obedient to God, with exactness. It is the nature of children to want to do what is right. The scriptures teach that all must become like little children, willing to submit to God's will - if we desire to re-enter His Kingdom. Again, trust.

If parenting is a helpful tutorial for married couples to become like our Heavenly Parents (which Mormons believe it is), then it behooves us to follow the parental patterns that we find in sacred text. All parents, whatever the situation, can come to understand for themselves, countless principles of the gospel through righteous parenting.

In order (ordinances), to gain re-entry into the Presence of God, He has provided for us, a Savior - His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that in the Genesis account of the fall, it is not readily found the complete pattern that we are looking for, which is to identify the stage, where God introduced the plan of salvation to Adam and Eve - in order (ordinance), for them to progress going forward. We simply know that it wasn't prior to the fall -- take note. 

Considering these things, I look back at many of the lectures I gave to my children throughout their growing up years. Sigh. Which is not to say I didn't use part of the correct pattern, unknowingly - the first part. Does this sound familiar?  Do such and such.., or don't do such and such... because I say so, and I'm the parent! What kind of way is that for a parent to instill, "trust me"? Children learn to trust us, as we attach the consequences to the requests we place before them. This takes time and experience. Our children learn one of the most important characteristic about God, their Heavenly Father, through our example when we, as parents, emulate Him: God can be trusted at His Word. Whatever commandments He requires of us, enables Him to bless us. Exercising our Faith in God, will never fail us. 

Just as our children are learning how they can progress, so too, are we as parents: time and experience are necessary, thus the gift of mortality. 

Modern revelation, found in the Pearl of Great Price, Moses 4-5, with a careful reading, we begin to discover our pattern with better clarity - and in particular why this order of teaching obedience in keeping God's commandments is necessary.

Add to the above, Alma 42. In my opinion, Alma gives the best explanation of the plan of redemption, and our dyer need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. Within its content we find the complete pattern of how God taught Adam and Eve, after the fall, how to become one again with God, and why the need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I find these particular verses to be most telling, for our purposes:

16 "Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.

17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?

18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man." (italics added for emphasis)

Just for a minute, consider the first four principles of the gospel, as outlined in the Articles of Faith:

"We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
The Parental pattern that God, Himself, applied to progress Adam and Eve, and ultimately all of His children.

And this scripture from 1st Corinthians, 15:22

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

Questions to consider... 

WHY did God use this pattern to teach Adam and Eve obedience? WHY, as parents, should we apply this same pattern for teaching our young children, prior to age 8, to keep the commandments? WHAT is it, that we must teach our children, at this stage, in order to lay a strong foundation for their progression?

The Not Even Once Club, is a fun and entertaining way for parents to introduce the principle of exact obedience to age-appropriate children. Its content will help parents instill the necessary confidence into their children that they really can keep God's commandments - if they use their power of agency correctly. 

I love that Sister Nelson has used a "kids club" to present the "promise" of never breaking even one commandment.  Friends can have a tremendous influence in helping us choose the right - at any age. Teaching children, at a young age, to seek out friends with righteous standards, is invaluable to a child's confidence that they can be true to God. Think of the many scriptural accounts, where individuals' have been fearless in keeping God's commandments. Teach these to your children to build faith.

I must mention the outstanding illustrator of this book, Brandon Dorman. On every page of The Not Even Once Club, your children will be delighted as this story unfolds in bright and cheerful illustrations that bring the kids in this book to life. Dorman is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Illustrator. 

I'v only done a few book reviews. I decided to do this one, because the important principle of exact obedience is boldly taught in The Not Even Once Club - probably most important for parents! Like myself, I first questioned the premise that this was a good idea. Fortunately, after careful consideration, God's dealings with Adam and Eve came forcefully to my mind, and I knew right then, that Wendy Watson Nelson had struck gold! 

The doctrine (I'm going to call it that, because I see it as such) taught in Nelson's book may seem simple. But just as Adam and Even eventually complicated their lives through temptation, so too, will our children. Thus the need to introduce the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and its necessity to put them back on track, at the appropriate stage. 

Contained within the back of the book, is counsel for parents, and a website which they can access for further instruction to guide them on the path as they teach these beautiful saving truths to their children. Sister Nelson appears to have thought of each of the facets of bringing the concept of exact obedience to her audience: parents and children. She should be applauded for her bold teaching of truth, and her wisdom to providing the included resource for educating parents. 

For parents who are committed to exact obedience in their own lives, I highly recommend The Not Ever Once Club, by Wendy Watson Nelson. Prior to reading the book to a child, I would encourage parents to take the time to read it themselves. Then familiarize yourself with the helps in the back of the book. Be sure to take advantage and visit the book's website, found at, where other resources are provided on this topic.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on teaching exact obedience, and Sister Nelson's book.... 


Kathryn Skaggs

Photos: Deseret Book


  1. I knew that if there was merit in the teachings of the Not Even Once Club - you would expose it. And expose it, you did. I don't know that I would ever have related the story of Adam & Eve and their state of innocence to the story in this book. But now, I will never forget it. I hope that more parents read this review before forming a negative reaction to Sister Nelson's book.

    1. Thank you, Sharon. I have a habit of trying to find patterns in the scriptures. I know 'Wendy' teaches from the scripture, from personal experience learning at her feet (so to speak) and so I was determined to figure out the "method" to her seemingly madness!

      And, she didn't disappoint! Bravo for her bold teachings!

  2. Adam received conflicting signals. Eve clarified them for him.

  3. I loved your analogy, and the truth in this statement:

    "God has given to parents His children, at birth, with the requirement that we are to teach and train them, prepatory to when satan will be allowed to tempt and try them. This arrangement, if you will, is how a child will come to understand their individual power in mortality: agency!"

    1. Thank you, Diane. I'm glad it rings true to you. I enjoyed developing these thoughts.

  4. I love this blog post ❤️ I was blessed with a new grandchild and my daughter and I had long talks about teaching children to grow in righteousness. Little Dune Marie is my #17 and oh, how we pray for the Spirit to be with all of them and their parents. Thank you for the review.

  5. Thank you, and congratulations on #17! We recently welcomed our 11th, and oh what joy they bring to our life - each of them! I've also spent a good amount of time, discussing with my own daughters' how to teach these little ones to grow in righteousness. Isn't it interesting that the key is to teach them to be obedient to God, if they want to be happy. So simple, and so profound. Repentance is an act of obedience!

  6. My question/concern, not having read the book yet and still after reading your review is regarding teaching the idea of a 'club' where one mistake means you're out for good, no ifs and or buts. I don't know of any Gospel or Church parallel. Not the Church itself. Not Elder's Quorum. Not Relief Society. Not the Temple. Not the Celestial Kingdom. Not the presence of God. The consistent message of the scriptures and prophets is not "You Mess Up, and You Cannot Come Back", it is "There's Always a Way Back", with the condition that keeping the commandments makes life more joyous, and can cause less sorrow.

    This I think has been the concern. I don't think kids generally lack the "You disobey, you get in trouble" principle. I think parents generally are pretty good at making that hit home.

    Yes, as you said above, repentance is an act of obedience, but if you're disobeyed in order to require an act of repentance, under the rules of the club as I understand it, you're already out for good. Does this make sense to you why some might be a little concerned about this particular parable of sorts?

    (this is a re-write of a previous attempt to post - not sure if it got lost, or just was awaiting moderation. Apologies for the repeat if the latter is the case. I think I've restated my earlier post clearer here anyway, though...)

    1. Awaiting moderation. I'm not able to post every comment when it is posted, as I manually moderate each, before approved. And sometimes, it can take a few hours.

      Thank you, for being honest about not reading the book. Unfortunately, it sounds as though you've been reading/listening to discussions/articles about the book, from those who have also NOT read the book, or have some reason to misrepresent the content. Sigh.

      There is never a mention about what would happen to a club member, if one of them broke the "promise" to "not even once" mess up. Nope, it's never mentioned.

      The book focuses on the positive aspects of making the choice to keep the commandments, with exactness. "Kyle", the new boy who joins the club, because he has already made the promise, to himself, passes the club test flawlessly. In other words, there is no coercion from the group, pressing Kyle to agree to something he wasn't comfortable doing. Contrary, he was very happy to do, which had really nothing to do with the candy the club possessed - a perk, yes!

      What the club provides for Kyle, is like-friends, and strong support, to do what he was already committed to do, before he even met the kids in the club. This fact, is made evident is how Kyle's thoughts are revealed, while he is taking the test - he was questioning the kids in the club, wondering what they were thinking, when asking question about what he would choose. So, who was actually being tested? Now, what principle(s) is the book teaching with this message? So, the "concern" that you state, has no credibility.

      Now, hypothetically speaking, if the book did contain chapter 2, where say, Kyle stole gum from the store, felt remorseful and decided to go tell his friends that he blew it (which I think he would, based on the way the author created the positive, inclusive climate of the club - these kids wanted to help each other, rather than reject a member/friend), I could not imagine the kids in the club turning on him and kicking him out. Rather, I might see all, but one of the kids tell Kyle what they had learned about repentance, while that other "one" plays devil's advocate and perhaps struggled that all the other kids were willing to give Kyle a "pass", so to speak, as they understand the atonement of Jesus Christ. (they've had to repent before, too)This circumstance would bring about a natural discussion, among the club members, which would return hope and a renewed commitment, for Kyle, to once again make the promise: "not even once"! And here's the clincher... the one kid that seemed a bit difficult, confesses that he messed up, too, but was afraid to say anything, but now, he knows he can repent and begin anew!

      It is very simple, as a Christian parent, to know where and how this book, using this delightful kid's club premise, would go. Those who resist the content, assume this progression does not exist, when indeed it does - and naturally.

      As a matter of fact, included in the back of the book are excellent suggestions, and resources, to move this story in the direction that I, hypothetically, presented - provided by the responsible author of this book.

      Man, somebody must really have it out for this book, to spread such distortions about it's content. I'm sad to hear what you've been told, and is being discussed as factual about this book -- and getting so many riled up, willing to sign a petition to have it removed from bookshelves. Everything you've brought up here, is totally off base.

      And yes, if I believed what you are sharing about what you've heard, I would definitely have concerns. Again, whatever book your friends are talking about, I assure you, it is NOT, The Not Even Once Club, book, that I read and reviewed.

      You might consider hanging around a more credible group. Or, check out the facts, before you take up their sword. Just sayin. ;)

    2. I posted here for clarity, which you gave. Unfortunately, I didn't get a copy for review, and based on reviews, I was not interested in purchasing a copy. I don't live near an LDS bookstore. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I think it's too bad the Book doesn't include your hypothetical Chapter 2. Perhaps she'll write a sequel. From what I have read, the concerns I've read were over there not being a Chapter 2.

      Instead of assuming the negative reviewers were ill informed, not credible, or had an axe to grind, perhaps you might consider individuals feeling rather defensive having had several unfortunate personal experiences having to defend the role of Grace in Mormonism in the light of 'nobody wants chewed up gum' rhetoric sadly passed on by some well-meaning local leaders to Youth who, unknown to the leaders, had made mistakes, and saw themselves as the chewed up gum nobody wanted.

      Yes, I know this isn't proper authentic Mormonism. But authentic Mormons have had such a faulty understanding, and have passed it on in the past . I see an understandable nervousness at the thought that an Apostle's wife not only believed, but was teaching something that could easily be turned into an simplified endorsement of the "Never been chewed gum club." -which is why if the Study Guide points as clearly to your suggested Chapter Two as you make it seem, that should add substantially to resolving the concern.

      Does this make sense?

  7. Since I'm reading this off of your blog, instead of Facebook, I might as well comment here. I appreciate this a lot. A few weeks ago I saw a petition circulating online to Deseret Book asking them to take this off of their shelves. And although, like a previous commenter brings up, there's something to be said, from our perspective at least, about not teaching about the repentance concept to get back into the club if there is a mistake, look at the pattern you'd alluded to. God gave the commandment, the consequence. He didn't tell them they'd get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and wouldn't be able to go back (not without a lot of things they'd have to do, in partnership with Him). He told them they'd die, but He didn't mention then that they'd have a way to be redeemed after repentance and covenants. It was only after their use of agency, in which they disobeyed the law, that they fully realized the consequence--and it was only then that He presented the doctrine of repentance. I think that's the sequence, at least in how Adam & Eve received it. And that's exactly how it's being treated here. Yes, we always have to teach of repentance. But we don't teach it to say, it's OK to make mistakes because you always have repentance. We teach it once they've used they're agency, realized that they made a bad choice & what the consequences are, and wonder how to get back. My take on it. Thank you for sharing this again!

  8. Thanks, Christine. I'm glad you decided to comment here - my preference, actually.

    I really like how well you briefly summarized the main points of this post. Nice job! For me, when these connections came into my mind, it was that clear, and simple. I'm surprised how many choose to ignore the suggested scriptural basis that supports the concept taught in,The Not Even Once Club - exact obedience.

    From what I'm experiencing in the responses to this book, mostly on my WBMW Facebook page, most who are oppositional to the book, have clearly, previously, made that decision. Nothing I've actually written here is of any value to them. Sadly, due to the disrespect displayed in most of those type comments, I've deleted them.

    I did get a note this morning, letting me know that there is a petition to have the book removed from the shelves, by a well-meaning acquaintance. I wasn't aware of this campaign when I read the book and wrote my review. I'm so glad I didn't know. Nor had I read any of the reviews posted on various blogs and websites prior to reading/reviewing the book. However, I was made aware that some were oppositional to the book, which of course perked my curiosity to figure out why? And now, I know.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  9. Is the idea 'Be exactly obedient, or you won't get any candy' really something new and 'fresh' for kids that is lacking in being taught boldly? I mean, I teach that to my three year old. However, she also knows once she begins being obedient again and shows remorse, she'll start getting treats again. I guess I don't see the idea of repentance and forgiveness (while still having unhappy consequences for disobedience) being too advanced for the intended age-audience of this book.

    1. To be very honest with you, personally, I have a strong aversion to using "treats", consistently, to get people, of any age, to desire or do something that you want. Again, in reference to the novel I wrote you, above, Kyle, like any kid loves candy, but his eagerness to join the club, just to have the candy, in now way was the motivator for his willingness to make the promise - remember, I told you that Kyle was questioning the club, while taking the test. It's pretty easy to predict that if the "club" didn't come up to his standards, the candy wasn't going to override his own convictions.

      This book, may be too advanced for some adults. However, for children 3-7, it is exactly what it should be, on the path to teaching children about the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    2. Hopefully my latest response cleared up why those who might not love the book as much as you are not necessarily remedial Gospel students, as you now here imply. And I think it's because you needed about 3000 words to show why you trust the Author, and to justify how simple it is to place this in a pre-Gospel context, using a speculative ending that isn't included in the book to do so.

      Listen, I want to make clear again, I have no axe to grind. I have no ill will whatsoever against Sister Nelson, and I firmly believe her intentions are pure and righteous. I think the petitions are silly. I think the angry rhetoric of many is also overblown.

      In fact, I'm sure, as you've described, it's a cute story, and good teachers and parents with solid grounding, and a willingness to acknowledge that in followup scenarios that the "Not Even Once" club must, to make sense in a gospel context, actually include those who might actually at some point in a moment of weakness have broken the charter on which the name of the Club is based. Acknowledge that the end of the book must not really be the end of the story. Otherwise it's even more strict than the Law of Moses Club. And clearly nobody would consider that's what was intended, right?

      But based on the reactions I have read - and your very in depth response of what the book meant and implied to you - I think so much frustration and misunderstanding of the intent might have been avoided by including what you have clearly noted isn't there, but suggested needs to be assumed for the context of the story to make sense as a proto-Gospel.

      Alright. I'm going to quit here now, but I hope if anything was accomplished, you might see to some degree why some can not agree that the book is as a great and needed and clear (proto)Gospel instructor you feel it is, and not necessarily have that opinion due to their being ignorant, remedial thinkers with a lack of charity or credibility.