This blog is a continuation of a class assignment for the TWU course 5603, Literature for Children and Young Adults. Subsequent entries are for TWU course 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The new entries are for TWU course 5663, Poetry for Children and Young Adults.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day By Judith Viorst

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, 
No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst

cover image retrieved from

Viorst, Judith. 1972. ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Atheneum. ISBN-13: 978-0689300721

Later published by Simon and Schuster:  
Viorst, Judith. 2009. ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Simon and Schuster. ISBN-13: 978-0689300721

Plot Summary
Ever have one of those days, when nothing seems to go right? Well then, you will understand exactly how hapless Alexander feels throughout this classic children’s tale. Alexander narrates the account of his unluckiest of days, from waking up with gum in his hair, to being smushed in the middle of the backseat in the carpool to school, to a lunchbox with no dessert. Most kids feel their bad day will get better once they get home from school, but for Alexander it’s just more of the same once he gets home. Accompanying his mother on foul errands after school, plain sneakers at the shoe store, and a mishap-laden visit to his father’s office continue to add to the misery of Alexander’s day. Lima beans for dinner, kissing on TV, and his least-favorite pajamas cap off Alexander’s rotten day. Despite  repeatedly voicing his desire to move to Australia as the day progressed, he finds himself in bed, with no pet to sleep with and a burned-out night light. His mother’s gentle reassurance that, “Some days are just like that- even in Australia,” comforts Alexander, and the reader, that things will improve with the rising of the sun the next morning.

Critical Analysis
Viorst creates a character in Alexander that everyone can identify with. All of the characters in her Alexander series of children’s books are based on her own children, and she combines the worst of the daily mishaps children can experience into Alexander’s cursed day. She deftly weaves setback after setback into Alexander’s normal day. Any of them would be an irritation, but combined they lead to complete turmoil for this poor boy. This book, published in 1972, is timeless in the adversities that plague Alexander. In today’s vernacular, Alexander would most likely proclaim the day an, “EPIC FAIL!”

The title contains Alexander’s mantra describing the day: terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. Having Alexander repeat this mantra often through the story draws the reader’s attention back to the original thesis that the day is one of Alexander’s worst ever. Viorst chooses phrases we all can identify with. Even with all his bad luck, the simple relating of this account endears the boy to readers. Viorst crafts a tale that readers of all ages will enjoy and want to read again.

The illustrations add to the charm of this simple tale. Black and white pencil sketches capture the simplicity and innocence of  Alexander. A tale of repeated disasters just wouldn’t be the same in bright, flashy colors. The black and white presentation lends itself to the dreariness that Alexander experiences as his day wears on. Illustrator Ray Cruz displays disarray all around Alexander as the account of adversity plays out. The reader gets the sense that truly nothing is right in Alexander’s world. Alexander’s facial expressions convey his consternation, his body language exudes the frustration and disappointment he is experiencing. The talents of this author and the illustrator blend perfectly to capture the reader’s attention and empathy.

Review Excerpts
Awards and Nominations:
            ALA Notable Children’s Books
            George G. Stone Center Recognition of Merit
            Georgia Children’s Book Award
            Reading Rainbow selection

Barnes & Noble
From the moment Alexander wakes up and finds gum in his hair, everything goes wrong! His brothers both get prizes in their cereal boxes, his best friend demotes him to third-best friend, there are lima beans for dinner, and there is kissing on TV. All kids experience this type of day, and will be glad to find they are not alone!

Publishers Weekly
Objecting loudly to his family's plans to relocate, the hero of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day "makes a gratifying return," said PW. Ages 5-8.

"The clever text shines."--"School Library Journal," starred review.

*     This book will lead readers to easily approach a discussion with a child or class about the misadventures of life. Extend by allowing children to express some of their own disappointments and how things eventually worked out, even if it was in a way they did not like or plan.
*     Challenge students to create their own alternate book, “Alexander and the Wonderful, Fabulous, Awesome, Outstanding Day!”
*     Assign students to work with a partner or small group to apply critical thinking strategies at various times throughout Alexander’s day to turn around his bad luck. If using this in a class, each small group could be assigned a time period to try to troubleshoot, such as before school, during the school day, after school, etc.
*     Is luck real, or do negative circumstances occur because of our own doing? Challenge kids to ponder this notion and express their own thoughts.
*     Other children’s books by Judith Viorst:
Sunday Morning
I’ll Fix Anthony
Try It Again, Sam
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney
My Mama Says There Aren’t Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, 
Demons, Monsters,
Fiends, Goblins, or Things
Rosie and Michael
Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday
If I Were In Charge of the World and Other Worries
The Good-bye Book
The Alphabet from Z to A
Sad Underwear and Other Complications
Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move
Absolutely, Positively Alexander, a collection of the three Alexander stories; 
and Totally the Messiest
Just in Case
Nobody Here But Me

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