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

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For the film adaptation, see Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (film)
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Author Judith Viorst
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's
Publication date
June 1972
Pages 32
ISBN ISBN 0-689-30072-7

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, published in 1972, is an ALA Notable Children's Book written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.[1][2] It has also won a George G. Stone Center Recognition of Merit, a Georgia Children's Book Award, and is a Reading Rainbow book. Viorst followed this book up with two sequels, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday ISBN 978-0-689-30602-0, and Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move ISBN 0-689-31958-4.


From the moment Alexander wakes up things just don't go Alexander's way. As he gets up, the gum that was in his mouth the night before winds up in his hair. When he gets out of bed, he trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater into the sink while the water was running. At breakfast, Alexander's brothers, Anthony and Nick, reach into their cereal boxes and find amazing prizes, while Alexander ends up with just cereal.

On the way to school, he doesn't get the window seat in the carpool. At school,[1] his teacher, Mrs. Dickens, doesn't like his picture of the invisible castle (which is actually just a blank sheet of paper), criticizes him for singing too loudly, and leaving out 16 when he counts. His friend, Paul, deserts him for his third best friend and there is no dessert in his lunchbag. At the dentist, Dr. Fields tells Alexander he has a cavity and he has to come back next week so Dr. Fields can fix the cavity, the elevator door closes on his foot, Anthony pushes him in the mud, Nick says he is a crybaby, Alexander punches Nick for use of the word crybaby, and Mom punishes him for trying to punch Nick.

At the shoe store, they're sold out of Alexander's choice of sneakers (blue ones with red stripes), so his mom has to buy him plain white sneakers, which he refuses to wear. At his dad's office, Alexander makes a mess of things when he fools around with everything there (the copying machine, the books, and the telephone), getting to the point where Dad tells Alexander not to pick him up at work anymore.

At home, the family has lima beans for dinner (which he hates), there is kissing on TV (which he also hates), bathtime becomes a nightmare (too much hot water, soap in his eyes, and losing a marble down the drain) and he has to wear his railroad train pajamas (he hates his railroad train pajamas). At bedtime, his nightlight burns out, he bites his tongue, Nick takes back a pillow, and the family cat chooses to sleep with Anthony.

A running gag throughout the book is Alexander repeating, several times that he wants to move to Australia (presumably because he thinks it's better there). The book ends with Mom's assurance that everybody has bad days, even people who live in Australia.[1] In the Australian and New Zealand versions, he wants to move to Timbuktu instead of Australia.

TV adaptation[edit]

On January 13, 1990, the book was adapted into a 25 minute animated musical television special that aired on HBO in the United States.

While the special remained true to the book, there were some differences.

1. Aside from the running gag of Alexander making references to Australia, the producers added another running gag in the special: Alexander searches everywhere for his favorite yo-yo; a purple glow in the dark one.

2. Dad has no mustache and has brown hair instead of blonde like he did in the book.

3. Nick has blonde hair instead of brown and wears glasses.

4. Anthony has brown hair instead of blonde.

5. The cat is named Timothy, but is unnamed in the book.

6. An additional 8 more bad things for Alexander were featured to the special:

  • Alexander opens a drawer too far, making it land on his foot.
  • Alexander spills breakfast cereal on the floor while searching for a free prize.
  • Alexander's friends refuse to let him play Monkey in the Middle.
  • Alexander sings "roll" and "merlily" in the "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" song.
  • Alexander's friends tease him multiple times when he explains why he can't come play ball.
  • Alexander fools around with the toothpaste, dentist chair, and tray during his dental appointment, causing the dentist to make him sit still for several seconds.
  • The shoe salesman turns down Alexander's alternate choice of sneakers (green ones).
  • Dad unfairly punishes Alexander for playing with the copy machine and knocking the books off his desk by making him sit on the couch for a timeout, when he didn't even do those things on purpose.

7. The special also includes 3 good things to show the audience that even a bad day can have some good in it:

  • Anthony and Nick make up for what they did to Alexander while waiting for Mom to pick up the car.
  • Mom finds Alexander's favorite yo-yo in the closet while turning off the bedroom light.
  • Before the special closes to the credits, Timothy (the cat) changes his mind and sleeps with Alexander while talking about how Mom says everybody has bad days, even in Australia.

8. Although mentioned, the following bad things are not shown in the special.

  • The family eats lima beans for dinner.
  • Alexander watches kissing on television.
  • Alexander's bath makes the evening worse.

9. The special also included three original songs:

  • "So much to do, so little time in the morning"
  • "If I could be the only child"
  • "I've had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day"


In 1998, Viorst and the Kennedy Center joined together to turn the book into a musical production.[1][3] Charles Strouse wrote the music, Viorst wrote the script and lyrics, and the musical score was composed by Shelly Markham.[3] The productions have been performed around the country.[1][4]

Other characters in the play are Audrey, Becky and many others.

In 2004, a stage adaptation was run at the B Street Theatre.


In 2011, it was reported that 20th Century Fox had plans to make a live action film adaptation of the book.[5] Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Rob Lieber, the film was set to be directed by Cholodenko, and produced by Shawn Levy with Dan Levine for Levy's 21 Laps, and Lisa Henson with Jason Lust for The Jim Henson Company.[5] Steve Carell has joined in April 2012, to star as Ben, Alexander's dad.[6] In October 2012, Walt Disney Pictures picked up the project,[7] reportedly due to Fox being "uncomfortable with the budget."[8] In February 2013, Deadline reported that Cholodenko has left the project,[9] and a month later, that Miguel Arteta was in talks with Disney to replace Cholodenko.[10] In April 2013, Jennifer Garner was in talks to play Alexander's mom.[11] In June 2013, The Walt Disney Studios set the release date for October 10, 2014, and confirmed that Carell and Garner will play Alexander's parents.[12] The same month, Disney cast Ed Oxenbould as Alexander.[13] Bella Thorne will play Alexander's older brother's girlfriend.[14]


Alexander and his two older brothers, Anthony and Nick, are based on Viorst's own three sons of the same names.[15]

Cultural references[edit]

The phrase "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad . . ." has become an Internet meme, often used by bloggers, and sometimes by mainstream media, to criticize, or characterize setbacks for, an individual or political movement.[16][17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Kennedy Center (2007). "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  2. ^ Scott Bernarde (2007). "I resolve to forget fishing in 2007". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b Laurel Graeber (October 24, 2003). "Just One Of Those Days". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  4. ^ Hispania News (2006). "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". Hispania News. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  5. ^ a b Sneider, Jeff (May 3, 2011). "Cholodenko in talks for Fox's Alexander". Variety. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  6. ^ Flemink, Mike (April 9, 2012). "Steve Carell Circling Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". Deadline. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike (October 20, 2012). "Disney Picks Up Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". Deadline. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike (September 27, 2012). "Fox Puts In Turnaround Steve Carell-Starrer Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". Deadline. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  9. ^ Fleming, Mike (February 22, 2013). "Lisa Cholodenko Exits ‘Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’". Deadline. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ Fleming, Mike (March 13, 2013). "Miguel Arteta Will Helm Disney’s ‘Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’ With Steve Carell". Deadline. Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  11. ^ Flemink, Mike (April 25, 2013). "Jennifer Garner Joining Steve Carell In ‘Alexander And The No Good, Very Bad Day’". Deadline. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ "More Disney Release Dates: Two New Marvel Pics, ‘Alexander’, ‘Hundred-Foot Journey’, ‘Into The Woods’, ‘Planes’ Sequel Slotted". Deadline. June 13, 2013. Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  13. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (June 24, 2013). "Disney Finds Title Character Of ‘Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’". Deadline. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  14. ^ Kit, Borys (July 31, 2013). "Disney Channel Star Joins 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Rerporter. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  15. ^ Mary-Liz Shaw (2007). "Grandmother learns lesson in flexibility". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved December 22, 2007. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Patrick Gavin (2013-05-16). "Obama’s week? ‘Horrible, no good’". Retrieved 2013-05-16. 
  18. ^