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

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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
AuthorJudith Viorst
IllustratorRay Cruz
CountryUnited States
PublisherAtheneum Books
Publication date
June 16, 1972

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a 1972 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 three sequels, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday,[3] Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move,[4] and Alexander Who's Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever.[5]


Alexander narrates the story of having a “terrible, horrible, no good very bad day”. From the moment Alexander woke up, he noticed the bubble gum that was in his mouth when he fell asleep had now gotten stuck in his hair. Then, when he got out of bed, he tripped on his skateboard when he was running. In the bathroom, he accidentally dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was on. So he could tell that it was going to be a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”.

At breakfast, his brothers, Anthony and Nick, find prizes in their breakfast cereal boxes. But while Anthony and Nick have cool toys, Alexander only finds cereal in his box and no prize at all. Alexander resolves that he is going to move away to Australia.

In the carpool, on the way to school, Alexander has to sit in the middle between to other kids in the back. He complains about how uncomfortable he is and that he will get carsick unless he gets the to sit window, but no one listens. At school, his teacher Mrs. Dickens discourages Alexander's picture of the invisible castle (which is actually just a blank sheet of paper) and says that l Paul's picture of a sailboat was better. At singing time, she claims that Alexander sang too loud. Then at counting time, Alexander forgets to count “16” when the class is counting from 1 to 20. When Mrs. Dickens says he forgot the number, his response to her is that no one needs "16" and again laments how bad his day is.

But the problems have still only begun. At recess, he learns that he is no longer Paul’s best friend. Paul has decided to choose Phillip as his first best friend and Albert his second best, Alexander has been brought down to third best. Alexander;s response is that he hopes that Paul sits on a tack and also that the next time when he gets an ice cream cone, the ice cream will fall off and land somewhere in Australia.

Then at lunchtime, all four close friends have desserts in their lunch sack, except for Alexander. Respectively, there are two cupcakes for Phillip’s dessert, a Hershey bar with almonds for Albert, and Paul has a jelly roll with coconut sprinkles. But since Alexander's mother forgot to put in dessert, there is no dessert with his lunch. Once again, Alexander laments having a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day".

After school, Alexander's mother takes him and his brothers to the dentist. At the appointment, the dentist, Dr. Fields finds Alexander is the only one with a cavity. Dr. Fields announces that he will call Alexander in next Thursday and fix it. To which Alexander repeats his plan about moving to Australia for good. Alexander then recalls other bad things on the way back to the car. First the elevator door closed on his foot and outside Anthony pushed Alexander into a mud puddle. Then, as Alexander cried, Nick called him a "cry baby". Finally, when started Alexander hitting his brother for calling him names, his mother scolded him for getting dirty and starting a fight.

At the shoe store, Alexander wants blue sneakers with red stripes, but they are sold out. His mother buys him plain white shoes, which are the only shoes available in his size. Alexander states that the store may sell them to him but he refuses to wear them. When his family comes to pick up his father at the office, Alexander gets in trouble for making a mess and playing with the following things in the office, the copy machine, the stack of books, and the telephone (which he wanted to use to call Australia). This culminates in the father asking the family not to pick him up anymore.

That night, the family has lima beans for dinner which Alexander hates; he also hates seeing kissing on TV. During Alexander's bath, the water is too hot, he gets soap in his eyes, his marble lost in the drain, and then he is forced to wear his "railroad-train" pajamas which hates as well. Lastly at bedtime, his nightlight burns out, he bites his tongue, Nick has taken back a pillow he said Alexander could keep, and the cat decides not to sleep with Alexander but with Anthony.

The running gag throughout the book is Alexander saying that he wants to move to Australia because he thinks it's better there.[6] His mother reassures him that everybody has bad days, even those who live there.[6] In the Australian and New Zealand versions, he wants to move to Timbuktu instead.

TV adaptation[edit]

On Saturday, September 15, 1990, the book was adapted into a 30-minute animated musical television special that was produced by Klasky Csupo and aired on HBO in the United States.

While the special is mostly true to the book, the following differences are:

  • Aside from the running gag of Alexander making references to Australia, the producers added another running gag in the special: he searches everywhere for his favorite yo-yo, a purple glow-in-the-dark one.
  • Alexander has red hair instead of orange.
  • Dad has no mustache and has brown hair instead of blonde.
  • Nick has blonde hair instead of brown and wears glasses.
  • Anthony has brown hair instead of blonde.
  • The cat (who says he wants to sleep with Anthony instead of Alexander) is unnamed in the book. However, in the television special, the cat's name is Timothy.
  • Phillip Parker is white instead of black and does not wear glasses.
  • Albert Moyo is black instead of white.
  • Audrey is replaced with Margaret.
  • Anthony and Nick join the car ride.
  • Instead of Anthony deliberately shoving Alexander in the mud like in the book, what happens is that while lunging at Anthony and Nick for mimicking his pain (by hopping on one foot like Alexander), Alexander accidentally bumps into Anthony, loses his balance and falls.
  • The Mickey Mouse night light is replaced with a lamp light, to avoid copyright conflicts with Disney.

This special features 12 more bad things for Alexander:

  • He opens a drawer too far, making it land on his right foot.
  • He spills cereal on the floor while searching for a free prize.
  • The kids laugh when he complains about being scrunched and smushed in the car.
  • He falls off of the seat when the car arrives at his school.
  • His friends will not let him play Monkey in the Middle.
  • He sings "roll" and "Mary Lee" (instead of "row" and "merrily") while he sings the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". The teacher (Mrs. Dickens) corrects him afterward.
  • His friends tease him multiple times when he pretends to draw a picture, sings his song loudly (at singing time) and incorrectly, and forgets to count the number "16" (at counting time). When having his turn to count from 1 to 26, he (after Mrs. Dickens said that he forgot "16") argues and says to himself that no one needs "16" (saying, "WHO NEEDS '16'?!"). He argued instead of correcting his mistake. As a result, he thinks that no one needs to count "16" (as it is useless to his thought). At lunch, he gets no dessert like all the other students (since he was the only student whose mother forgot to put in dessert; to which he says to Albert, Paul, and Phillip sadly playing a riddle on them, "I have a riddle. Guess whose mother forgot to put in dessert?"), and explains why he refuses to play ball with them after school.
  • His friends close the doors on him after school.
  • He was forced by the dentist, Dr. Fields, to sit still for 30 seconds after messing around with the toothpaste, dental chair, and tray.
  • Before Alexander falls into the mud and Nick calls Alexander a cry baby (when he cries because of the mud), Alexander's brothers laugh at their brother's pain and pretend to be in pain (imitating Alexander's pain) when Alexander hops on one foot since the elevator door closed on his foot (his brothers as a practical joke made the elevator door close on Alexander's foot).
  • The shoe salesman turns down his alternate choice of sneakers (green ones).
  • Alexander is forced by his father to sit on the couch for a time-out. His father gave him a five minute time out for playing with his things (the copy machine, the computer, and the phone) and knocking the books off his father's desk. His father asked Alexander to not play with his telephone but Alexander called Australia. His father asks him to not pick him up anymore (saying, "Alexander, please...! Please don't pick me up anymore".).

The special also includes 4 good things to show the audience that even a bad day can have something good in it:

  • Alexander's friends kindly ask him if he wants to play ball with them before he tells them he can not due to a dentist appointment.
  • Anthony and Nick make up for what they did to Alexander while waiting for their mom to pick up the car.
  • Mom finds Alexander's favorite yo-yo in the closet while turning off the bedroom light.
  • Before the end credits, Timothy (the cat) changes his mind and sleeps with Alexander while talking about how Mom says everybody has bad days, even in Australia.

Although mentioned, the three following bad things are not shown in the special:

  • The family has lima beans for dinner.
  • Alexander watching kissing on TV.
  • Alexander's bath making the evening worse.

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"


Other media[edit]

In 1998, Viorst and the Kennedy Center joined together to turn the book into a musical production.[6][7] Charles Strouse wrote the music, Viorst wrote the script and lyrics, and the musical score was composed by Shelly Markham.[7] The productions have been performed around the country.[6][8]

Other characters in it are Audrey, Becky, and many others.

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

A Disney live-action film adaptation was released in 2014.


Alexander and his two older brothers, Anthony and Nick, are based on Viorst's own three sons of the same names. But the film changed Nick to Emily, replacing the brother with a sister, and adds Trevor as well.[9]

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. The phrase is also used in the Stephen King miniseries Kingdom Hospital by the orderlies Abel and Christa. [10][11][12]


  1. ^ Viorst, Judith (June 1, 1972). Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (First ed.). Anthenum Books. ISBN 978-0689300721.
  2. ^ Scott Bernarde (2007). "I resolve to forget fishing in 2007". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  3. ^ Viorst, Judith. Alexander, who used to be rich last Sunday (first ed.). Atheneum Books. ISBN 978-0-689-30602-0.
  4. ^ Viorst, Judith. Alexander, who's not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to move (1st ed.). Antheneum Books. ISBN 0-689-31958-4.
  5. ^ Viorst, Judith. Alexander, who's trying his best to be the best boy ever (Firstition ed.). Antheneum Books. ISBN 978-1-48142353-3.
  6. ^ a b c d The Kennedy Center (2007). "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". The Kennedy Center. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Laurel Graeber (October 24, 2003). "Just One Of Those Days". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2008-05-31. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  8. ^ Hispania News (2006). "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". Hispania News. Archived from the original on 2008-05-31. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  9. ^ Mary-Liz Shaw (2007). "Grandmother learns lesson in flexibility". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  10. ^ "Dick Cheney's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day". 3 May 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-09-03. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
  11. ^ Patrick Gavin (2013-05-16). "Obama's week? 'Horrible, no good'". Archived from the original on 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  12. ^ "Political Commentary and Opinion - Washington Examiner". Washington Examiner.[permanent dead link]