When I started reviewing books in 2008 I decided that I would not review a book that I didn't like and wouldn't spend my own money on, if I hadn't already. Working as a elementary school librarian with a diverse (socioeconomically and culturally) has changed my perspective and review policies a bit. Just because I might not want my own kids to read a certain book (or have to read it myself), it doesn't mean that my students might not enjoy and benefit from a book. With that in mind, I am reviewing JoJo's Guide to the Sweet Life: #peaceouthaterz by fourteen-year-old YouTube star, JoJo Siwa.
This year, I began noticing quite a few girls wearing large, cheerful bows in their hair. About the same time, I read an article about these bows and their creator in the New York Times. While the words, "YouTube Personality," set my teeth on edge, JoJo seemed harmless enough, and maybe possibly even a positive presence. When a handful of students showed up dressed like JoJo for Halloween - and I found out she "wrote" a book, I knew I needed to get my hands on it and decide if JoJo's Guide to the Sweet Life: #peaceouthaterz was a book I should put on the shelves of my school library. And, despite the thinly veiled sarcasm that follows, this is a book I would (and will) put into the hands of my students.
JoJo's Guide to the Sweet Life: #peaceouthaterz (and yes, I die a little inside every time I have to type out that subtitle) is an autobiography/self-improvement book in which, using her own personal experience as a child of dance competitions who, by way of reality television and social media, became a celebrity, she tells readers how to have and maintain the positive outlook, compassion for others and strong work ethic that she believes she embodies. A perky, candy-loving, cheerful child with a scraped back pony tale that is always adorned by her trademark (thanks to a deal with Claire's, these bows can be bought anywhere) bow, JoJo Siwa wants her legion of fans (yes, she named them, and I will not repeat it here) to be, "confident, positive, and supportive of others," like she is. And, sometimes being these things means, "building a wall around you - and I'm not talking about the kind you make with bricks. I'm talking about the imaginary wall that keeps haters away." The child of the owner of a dance studio, JoJo was homeschooled for most of her life, except for "one quarter in third grade," where she returned to school to "see what it was like and make sure I was on track. (I was! I scored off the charts on my NESA test and had a lot of fun making new friends; but in the end I decided I liked being homeschooled better.)" During this brief period of time, JoJo was also the victim of and witness to bullying, which has shaped her (young) world view and helped her deal with bullying to come, as she became an internet star.
Using candy and hashtags, JoJo tells readers how to navigate the challenges of tween life with a smile and oversized accessories. Chapters have names like, "Sugar Babies #TBT/#FBF," in which we see baby pictures of JoJo and learn about the highs and lows of her toddler years, and, "Sour Patch Kids #peaceouthaterz," in which she discusses the pain of "online haterz," and how to cope with them. Each chapter ends with a journal prompt where readers can apply JoJo's advice to their own lives, hopes and dreams.
Almost everything about JoJo is anathema to me, from the spectacle of a toddler in full make-up competing for anything, to being a carefully marketed teenage YouTube personality. But, she is part of the world our children are growing up in and she is an influencer. If you can get past the make-up and pastel cuteness, the messages of self-esteem and kindness she promotes are worthwhile - and, coming from JoJo, someone their own age, kids just might be more likely to hear and heed them.
Source: Review Copy