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

Page history last edited by Alyson S 9 years, 3 months ago

Plot Summary

     Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz, is a classic picture book designed to sympathize with any child who has ever had a horrible day.The story is about a young boy, Alexander, who is having a particularly bad day. On the outside, this book may seem like a typical 32 page picture book, however, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, is far from ordinary.  This book is categorized as contemporary realistic fiction due to the possibility that the events, setting, and characters could exist in the real world.  According to Literature and the Child 7th Edition, authors of realistic fiction “create characters, plots, and settings that stay within the realm of possibility, and many readers respond to these stories as if the characters were actual people.” 

     This may contribute to the reason why Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has remained popular since it was written in 1972, and remains to be a book that is not only read and loved, but is read over and over again. The main character, Alexander is easy for children to relate to and therefore easy to attract interest.  Readers of the book don’t see him as a character in a story, but as a real kid with real problems that everyone has experienced at some point. This helps readers enjoy the book more as they can relate to the predicaments that Alexander finds himself in.

     Most picturebooks for children end with a happy message and a hopeful theme, but this book escapes the falsifiable realm of fairy tale and tells a story of life in a more realistic fashion.  There is not always a princess who gets everything she has ever desired.  This isn’t a tale of a few little animals who put their heads together to accomplish the impossible.  This book takes a more practical stance that everyone can relate to no matter where or when they read it.  Everyone knows what it feels like to have one of those days when everything goes wrong.  Intended for 5-9 year olds, but appreciated by all ages, this book takes a unique and humorous spin on what it is like when nothing goes your way. 

     Alexander, knows it’s going to be one of those days, the second he wakes up.  “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  Alexander has two older brothers that seem to have everything go their way.  They both find toys in their cereal boxes when Alexander just finds cereal.  They get brand new shoes with colorful stripes, but Alexander has to get plain boring white ones because they’re sold out of his size in everything else.  At school, Alexander’s teacher doesn’t understand his drawing of the invisible castle.  When it’s time to count, he left out sixteen.  He wonders, “Who needs sixteen?”  Then Paul told him he didn’t want to be his best friend anymore and found two new best friends, and Alexander was only his third best friend.  At the dentist, he was the only one with a cavity.  His brother pushed him in the mud, he got scolded by his mother for being muddy, he upset his father, and he got soap in his eyes during his bath, which was way too hot.  Alexander wants to move far, far away to Australia, mainly because he doesn’t believe these things could happen to him there.  Little does he know, people in Australia have bad days too.  Not only is Alexander having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but no one seems to care. While there is not really an ending to spoil in this book, Alexander's bad day can easily be followed by the reader. As previously mentioned, everyone can relate to Alexander and the day he has occured, what is refreshing is that the author did include a unique ending that may or may not be what the reader is predicting. Judith Viorst created a character that has managed to have such a bad day, that hopefully children will realize their day wasn’t so terrible after all, and appreciate the good things that come their way.


Textual Elements

     The setting of the story takes place in current times, and travels from place to place as Alexander lives the events that make up his day.  Beginning in his bedroom when he wakes up, then to school, the dentist office, the shoe store, his dad’s work, and eventually back in his bedroom, the reader follows Alexander from one bad situation into the next with each new scenario. 

     Alexander is the main character, however other minor characters include: his mother, father, and two brothers, Anthony and Nick.  As well as his neighbor, Mrs. Gibson, and her kids, Becky, Elliott, and Audrey, his teacher Mrs. Dickens, his old best friend, Paul, and the dentist, Dr. Fields. 

     Alexander narrates the story from a first person point of view and is the only fully developed character.

     Throughout the plot of the book, Alexander’s facial expressions change to portray his feelings, which are represented by an array of gloomy, angry, hopeful, irritated, and sad faces.  The artistic elements discussed later also contribute to Alexander’s personality which is always a chaotic and complicated mess, much like the day he’s having. 

     The theme of the book put simply is that everyone has bad days, and it leaves you with the hopeful message that every bad day comes to an end, eventually. Because the author includes relatable topics, the reader can better appreciate the theme of the book. If the author had over exaggerated or included unreal situations, the reader, especially young readers, could lose hope in the theme. The recurring mentioning of Alexander wanting to move to Australia represents his hope that if he moves far away from everything he knows, things will go his way.  However, the book makes it clear to readers that everyone has bad days, no matter where they are, which is why it is so easy to relate to.

     Judith Viorst’s stylistic writing is illuminated by her use of repetition and unconventional use of punctuation.  Her sentence format reads in a way children can understand, and this makes children not only enjoy the book, but enjoy reading it over and over themselves.



Artistic Elements   

      Ray Cruz created the cover of this book using only primary colors.  This tactic in itself appeals to children’s tastes and gives the book at first glance a simple feel.  However, once the book is opened, the immediate contrast between the colorful cover and the black and white ink sketches makes the complicated use of line boldly apparent.  The use of line weight and detailed line variation give this book a very expressive feel.  The black and white drawings utilize a complex, cross-hatching style as well as purposeful use of shading and varying texture.

     Not only are the drawings themselves expressive, but in a way they add to the words of the story by representing Alexander’s personality.  He’s a mess, he’s having a bad day, and the drawings depict his emotions just as strongly as the text.  Filled with clutter and an abundance of varying line thickness and direction, Ray Cruz did a flawless job of complementing the textual elements of the story with his illustrations. 

     Cruz utilizes pen and ink outline style in order to emphasize line, however his immense detail makes his drawings very realistic.  As a whole, the drawings are cartoon-like as well.  Cruz’s unique technique involves a strong balance in each page’s composition, and his use of emphasis helps to create a focal point that draws the reader’s eye to the most important space in the images.  For example, Alexander is always surrounded by darker lines and exaggerated facial expression, making him the most prominent object on the page.  The fashion in which each character’s facial expressions are depicted also add to the story’s feel. 



  Read aloud on YouTube


Example of classroom activity that can be replicated. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day as a play



     Alexander himself represents in one way a simple kid who is just having a bad day.  However, his character can also be interpreted as a symbol of human selfishness and struggle.  Our society is filled with people who are living just to get through each day in their own heads in their own lives. It is rare to find a truly selfless individual who sacrifices their needs and feelings for someone else.  This is represented by the way the author did not include anyone sympathizing for Alexander, reiterating the fact that we are all very alone in the world, and that seclusion is inescapable, even in Australia. The author, Judith Viorst, included many topics that children and even adults deal with. School, friends, family are all included. This book can be brought out at anytime for someone at any age when they need to relate to someone who is having a bad day. Viorst's book is socially relatable and relevant because everyone is in contact with the topics discussed. Also the occurrence of a bad day does not discontinue after childhood, this is how the book is relatable to a large audience. This book would be beneficial to read in a classroom setting because the children would learn many valuable points. They can create lists of what consists of a bad day to help relate their own life to the story, name the settings and help learn how to identify settings, the teacher could include the assignment of writing a letter to Alexander to help learn and show compassion and relatablility. Also geography can be discussed if it a younger classroom setting because the Australia is included in the book. The discussion of characters can help young readers learn the topic of point of view and personalities or characteristics. The book would be a great read aloud because students can contribute their passion into reading the terribleness of Alexander's bad day. 



Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a timeless picture book that can be enjoyed by all ages for years to come.  It is unique in that it represents life in a more realistic fashion instead of sugarcoating it with fictional scenarios and unrealistic characters. Because the author uses very truthful scenarios, and does not soften or smooth the story line by making Alexander's day become better, the story is able to better communicate it story to readers. The author does lead toward the end to include more situations and settings for Alexander that come off as whining or complaining. The unfortunate repercussion of this could be that children may start to emulate this characteristic of AlexanderThe use of the word 'hate' is included in the book which many children are told not to use. The author does use all of this 'dialog' as dramatic effect so hopefully the reader does not take the actions of Alexander too seriously. In the end though it is truly a story that everyone can relate to and appreciate. Above all, the most important lesson the book is sure to make children feel as though their terrible day was not so terrible after all.






Galda, Lee, Bernice E. Cullinan, and Lawrence R. Sipe. Literature and the Child. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 2010, 2006. Print.


Viorst, Judith. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Illus. Ray Cruz. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1972.






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