Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz

First, an apology to readers.  I’ve been going bonkers at work and have been very VERY bad about posting to this blog.  But fear not!  I have a plan! …and it involves blogging more often.

Now…I get to review one of my favourite picture books.  I had the luck to find it at a garage sale (coloured on in orange crayon, which only increases its value) some years ago, then forgot that I had it, then found it the other day when a three-year-old was over and I was pulling out things for her to look at (we have an extremely kid-unfriendly place, except for the books.  No toys, no tv, oh the horror).  Then, I sat down, re-read it, and got up feeling better because hey, at least my day isn’t terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad:

This book has got to be one of the funniest and most sympathetic kids’ books that I know – an opinion that is renewed each time that I read it.  Who hasn’t had a Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day?

Alexander, the youngest of three boys, is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  His bad mood – as the world frustrates him at every turn – is not only palpable but completely (I think) justified.  I mean, just look at this list:

  • he wakes up with gum in his hair
  • he drops his sweater in the sink
  • his brothers push him around but he gets in trouble
  • his brothers get the shoes they want, but the shoes he wants are sold out
  • he has to sit in the middle seat of the car and is suffocating, but no one will listen!!!
  • there is kissing on TV
  • there are lima beans for dinner
  • he has to wear his railroad train pajamas
  • the dog won’t sleep with him
  • etc, etc, etc.

The injuries and insults continue throughout the book, and the amazing thing is that rather than want to give Alexander a solid smack-down,** I am completely with him – and let me tell you, I am not a person who feels at all bad for Tantrum Children.  Of course Alexander is testy!  Of course he’s difficult and whiny and demanding!  He is (in case you missed it) having a TERRIBLE horrible NO good VERY BAD day and the only positive thought in his mind is that he is going to move to Australia where things. are. better! (dammit!)

Never mind that I always wanted to move to Australia as a child (a continent that I, sadly, have yet to visit).  The genius of the book – the thing that I love – is how Viorst manages to pick situations that are so exquisitely grump-inducing for a kid and memory-evoking for a used-to-be-kid.

Ray Cruz does some great illustrations in this book – with body language that telegraphs Alexander’s frustration loud and clear.  One of my favourite illustrations is when Alexander is demoted to third-best-friend and he yells names at the friend, and best friends one and two.  And then, there is the classic, ageless, tearing out the hair pose, which I know only too well from personal experience.

And do you notice that, in this illustration, Alexander’s eyes are completely black?  It’s like his bad mood has transformed him into an evil alien being.

Rating: A.  It’s funny!  It’ll make your kids laugh!  And perhaps even teach them to have a sense of humour about very bad days.  Maybe.

Reading Ages:  5 to 7, although I still think it’s funny.  And I suspect that a mature not-too-wriggly 4-year-old who likes stories could manage to sit through it.

What I think of other Viorst books:

  • Alexander Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser in the style of Ray Cruz is just not up to snuff.  I don’t want another grumpy story about Alexander.  I like to think of Alexander as a generally good kid who occasionally has bad days…I don’t want to always see him having a tantrum.  Could be useful to read to kids who don’t want to move.
  • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, illustrated by Ray Cruz.  I have to say, somewhat sheepishly, that I don’t remember this book from my childhood.  Our library must not have had it.  It sounds like it could be fun, though.

**disclaimer: NOT to be construed as supporting child abuse in any way…ooooh, I’m such a lawyer.


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