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

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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Author Judith Viorst
Illustrator Ray Cruz
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's
Publication date
June 16, 1972
Pages 32
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 do not go his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before it ends up in his hair, he trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. Alexander found no prizes in his breakfast cereal at breakfast time.

In the carpool on the way to school, he doesn't get a window seat. At school, his teacher, Mrs. Dickens, discourages his picture of the invisible castle (which is actually just a blank sheet of paper), criticizes him for singing too loud, and publicly scolds him for skipping the number 16 at counting time. His best friends, Paul, Albert, and Philip, desert him for being their third best friend and there is no dessert in his lunch bag. The dentist tells him he has a cavity (and thus Alexander is the only one who had one) and he has to come back next week so it can be fixed; the elevator door closes on his foot; Anthony pushes him into a mud puddle; Nick says he is a crybaby; he punches Nick in response, and their mother punishes him for being muddy and fighting Nick.

At the shoe store, they're out of Alexander's choice of sneakers (blue ones with red stripes), so his mother has to buy him plain white ones, which he refuses to wear. At his father's office, he 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 his dad tells the family not to pick him up anymore.

At home, they have lima beans for dinner (which he hates); there is kissing on TV (which he also hates); bathtime was bad for Alexander (the water being too hot, getting soap in his eyes, and his marble going down the drain); and he was forced to wear his railroad train pajamas (which he also hates). At bedtime, his night light burns out; he bites his tongue; Nick takes back a pillow he said he could keep; and the cat chooses to sleep with Anthony.

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

TV adaptation[edit]

On January 13, 1990, the book was adapted into a 30-minute animated musical television special that aired on HBO in the United States.

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

  • 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.
  • Dad has no mustache and has brown hair instead of blonde like he did in the book.
  • Nick has blond hair instead of brown and wears glasses.
  • Anthony has brown hair instead of blond.
  • The cat, unnamed in the book, is named Timothy.
  • The kid who gets the cupcake is white in the special but is black in the book.
  • The kid who gets the chocolate bar is white in the book, but is black in the special.
  • This special features 11 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.
    • He falls off of the car seat when the carpool stops by his school.
    • His friends refuse to let him play Monkey in the Middle.
    • He sings "roll" and "merry-ly" while his class sings "Row, Row, Row Your Boat".
    • His friends tease and discourage him when he draws an invisible castle, sings his song loudly and incorrectly, and skips the number 16 by saying "15" after a student says "17".
    • His friends tease him multiple times when he 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 for messing around with the toothpaste, dental chair, and tray.
    • The shoe salesman turns down his alternate choice of sneakers (green ones).
    • He is forced by his father to sit on the couch for a timeout for playing with the copying machine and knocking the books off his father's desk.
  • The special also includes three good things to show the audience that even a bad day can have something good in it:
    • 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 eats lima beans for dinner.
    • Alexander watches kissing on TV.
    • Alexander's bath makes 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"




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 it 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, it 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 Kelly, 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 played Alexander's parents.[12] The same month, Disney cast Ed Oxenbould as Alexander.[13] Bella Thorne played 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. But the film changed Nick to Emily, replacing the brother with a sister, and adds Trevor as well.[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. The phrase is also used in the Stephen King miniseries Kingdom Hospital by the orderlies Abel and Christa. [16][17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ "Political Commentary and Opinion - Washington Examiner". Washington Examiner. 

External links[edit][dead link]