Study Guide

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

By Judith Viorst

  • Isolation

    One of the hardest things about hard-to-deal-with feelings is that fact that they make you feel so stinkin' alone. Misery may love company, but who wants to go to that party?

    For a young child, the isolation of sadness, anger, frustration, and the like is no different—in fact, it may feel even stronger. Even though he's surrounded by people for the whole of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Alexander is disconnected from all of them on many levels: he doesn't get what they got; he's physically separated from the crowd; and the cat just up and runs away form him.

    For all intents and purposes, Alexander is the cheese.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Is Alexander really isolated from his family? His friends? The lunch box dessert crowd?
    2. The last illustration still shows Alexander by himself. Do the author and illustrator want us to think that he still feels alone? Is his day still terrible?
    3. When does Alexander feel the most alone in the story? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Alexander might feel isolated all day, but we all have bad days like that.

    Alexander really is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

  • Youth

    Kind of obvious, right? Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a children's book; of course youth is a theme. But every author who writes about children also has their own point of view about what youth is really like—their own representation of a period of life that has long passed them by. For Viorst, youth seems to be self-centered, dramatic, irresponsible, and altogether lovable in all of its imperfections.

    But Viorst also captures some pretty accurate aspects of a youngster's mind. The self-centered aspect isn't too far off the psychological construct of "ego-centrism": kids have trouble understanding a point of view that is not their own. And Alexander's use of Australia as an escape is pretty accurate in regards to a kid's understanding of geography: Australia = far away. So while Alexander may remind us of the difficulty of being young, he also represents an authentic childish mindset.

    The best thing is, thanks to the book, you get a sneak peek at what your child may be thinking on their bad days, too.

    Questions About Youth

    1. How old do you think Alexander is?
    2. Is he being particularly immature? Or just a kid?
    3. What are some clues in the book that Alexander is still really young at heart?
    4. True or false? Alexander thinks Lima beans are the best thing since sliced ice cream.

    Chew on This

    Alexander represents many of the qualities that children his age possess. 

    The no good, very bad stuff Alexander has to deal with throughout the day frustrates him and makes him act more immature than he might usually.

  • Dissatisfaction and Injustice

    What can we say? Alexander does not like his life at this point. Things that he might normally enjoy—like sweet, sweet cereal—are rendered terrible by his mood. And in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, things just build on each other like a snowball; but the snowball is made of swamp scum and rotten avocado skins.

    The funny thing is, Alexander also feels like all this stuff is just flat out happening to him. No blame is his, even when it is clearly his own fault. And that's the key to his feeling of injustice: nothing—absolutely nothing—is fair on this particular day.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction and Injustice

    1. Which parts of the day are actually unfair?
    2. Which parts of the day is Alexander responsible for?
    3. Look at the pictures with your child. Can they tell which of Alexander's expressions look the most upset?

    Chew on This

    Even though it seems like everything is only happening to Alexander, other people probably had bad days, too.

    Alexander's bad mood made his day get worse and worse, but he could have made it better if he had tried to cheer up.