Study Guide

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

By Judith Viorst

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


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.

What is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day About and 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.

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

Movies

Thank You, Disney
A wonderful, lovable, so good, very fun movie all about the horrible things that happen to Alexander. They made a few changes to adapt it to the big screen, and even extended the trauma to the bad days of Alexander's parents and siblings, too.

To the Stage
Alexander saw its first adaptation as a stage production at the Kennedy Center in New York in 2000-2001, leading to a national tour and many a community theater version.

Articles and Interviews

From Page to Stage
Back in the day, the Kennedy Center in New York, NY turned Alexander into a stage production musical. This revitalized interest in the book and prompted Viorst to talk about it's creation a bit more. Here's what she said: "I thought that the notion of 'a bad day,' could serve for him, and for all kids, as it does for adults, a 'container' function, suggesting that this day—this bad news—would (honest and truly!) come to an end." Also: "I went through the book episode by episode as the narrator told his sad story. I wanted to keep that narration virtually word for word, which I did, while fleshing out the events Alexander describes. And so I gave dialogue to his brothers, parents, friends, etc., and put in a lot of dramatic action, showing as well as telling Alexander's story."

Viorst Talks Parenting
A whole generation after the Alexander books first surfaced—with Alexander himself a father of three—Viorst reflects on how parenting is different in the 21st century.

Videos

The Many Talents of Judith Viorst
Judith Viorst writes for everyone: her children's books please grown-ups, too. But she also writes poetry about entering old age and essays about contemporary politics. Check out some more of her view points in this interview.

Not Such a Bad Day Anymore
HBO produced this cartoon version. It starts with a happy-go-lucky song...but we all know that doesn't last long.