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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Introduction

In A Nutshell

First things first:

We don't expect your four-year-old to be reading through this whole guide. But we do know that it will help you use Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day as an amazing teaching tool for everything from emotional understanding to problem-solving to why they should clean their room. (You're welcome.) The book has remained in our hearts and on our children's bookshelves for over four decades.

We're here to show you why.

Judith Viorst wrote Alexander back in 1972, and it's been a centerpiece of children's literature ever since. Maybe it's Alexander's lovable crabbiness, maybe it's the fact that kids and adults can empathize with his plight, maybe it's just one big pity party. Whatever the reason, Alexander is one of those books that strikes a (minor) chord.

Children's literature is a really tricky thing to sell because it actually has a dual audience: the kids who are supposed to love it and the adults who are supposed to buy it. No parent or teacher wants to shell out for a book that it is a nightmare to read. But Viorst's rambling, cynical hero reveals the humor in the tantrumy melodrama of childhood bad moods. In short, grown-ups love it. At the same time, Alexander provides a perfect mirror for the little tykes who see the world the same way he does.

There you have it. Alexander: educational for the kids and fun for the adults.

But who cares about 28 little pages in the long run? Turns out, lots and lots of people. And you should, too.

That's right, we'll say it. In this case, peer pressure is actually a valuable thing. Why? Because the concept of "childhood" is the center of some hot debate in some circles. Is being a kid fundamentally different than being an adult? When does childhood end? Are kids people, too? Thanks to lasting power of Judith Viorst's protagonist—hero of three other children's booksAlexander has become a strong representation of what our society thinks of when we think of childhood.

The book is a must-read for kids and adults alike. Viorst's version of childhood has leapt from print to stage to TV and now to the silver screen, and there's no end in sight.

If you want to know what people think it's like to be a kid, this is a great place to start.


Why Should I Care?

Do you want your books to end with a happily ever after? Then Alexander isn't for you.

But it may just be perfect for kids.

Most children's literature—from ancient fairytales to contemporary picture books—bring a happy, pro-social, we're-all-friends kind of tone to the world. Alexander, however, is the par excellence of negativity, the cynic's manifesto, the antiserum to the syrupy sweetnessthat so often prevails in children's media.

So if it's such a downer, why do people love the book so much? Is it just that misery loves company?

Well... no.

Kids get pretty emotionally invested in the story, while grown-ups get to feel good about what their kids are learning. While kids are reading about Alexander's bad day, they're presumably in a better mood than him, meaning they can think about how he could solve his problems, see how his reactions are maybe a little dramatic, and come up with ways for him to cope with all that crappy stuff that's happening to him.

Turns out, learning these strategies for dealing with terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days pays off in the long run. We're talking better grades in school, better jobs, and just general happiness.

That's right: building character is actually a thing.

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