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 ends up in his hair, he trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. His brothers Nick and Anthony find prizes in their breakfast cereal boxes at breakfast time, while Alexander does not. He finds no prize; but breakfast cereal.

In the carpool on the way to school, he doesn't get a window seat. At school, his teacher, Mrs. Dickens, says she likes Phillip Parker's picture of a car rather than Alexander's picture of the invisible castle (which is actually just a blank sheet of paper). At singing time, she says that Alexander sang too loud and at counting time, she says that Alexander left out the number 16. Then Alexander says that no one needs the number 16 ("Who needs sixteen?"). Then at recess, Alexander's best friend, Paul says that Alexander is no longer his best friend. He says that Phillip is his first best friend and Albert is his second best friend. But Alexander is only his third. Then Alexander tells Paul that he hopes he sits on a tack. He also says to Paul that the next time when he gets a double decker strawberry ice cream cone, the ice cream falls off the cone part and it lands somewhere in Australia. At lunch, Phillip has two cupcakes for dessert and Albert has a Hershey bar with almonds. And for Paul, his mother let him have a jelly roll with coconut sprinkles. But since Alexander's mother forgot to put in dessert, there is no dessert in his lunch bag. Alexander's mother takes both Alexander and his brothers Nick and Anthony to the dentist. The dentist Dr. Fields finds a cavity only in Alexander. He tells him he has a cavity and says he will see him next week and fix it. On the way back downstairs, the elevator door closes on Alexander's foot. Anthony pushes him into a mud puddle, and when Alexander cries because of the mud Nick says he is a crybaby. Then he punches Nick in response for saying cry baby. And at last, their mother comes back with the car. She then scolds Alexander for being muddy and fighting Nick.

At the shoe store, Alexander wanted blue shoes with red stripes, but they're out of Alexander's choice of sneakers, 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). He tells Alexander to not play with his phone, but Alexander calls Australia. Then, the father gets to the point where he (the father) tells the family that they must not pick him up from work anymore.

At home, they have lima beans for dinner (which he hates). There is kissing on TV (which he also hates), bath-time is awful (the water being too hot, getting soap in his eyes, and his marble going down the drain), and he's forced to wear his railroad train pajamas (which he also hates). At bedtime, his Mickey Mouse nightlight burns out, he bites his tongue, Nick takes back a bed pillow he said Alexander could keep, and the cat says he wants to sleep with Anthony (and not Alexander).

In the end, Alexander says he is having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. His mother says to him that some days are like that. And Alexander adds, "Even in Australia".

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.[1] 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. Alexander says tomorrow things cannot get any worse.

TV adaptation[edit]

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

While the special is mostly true to the book, there are eleven 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.
  • Nick has blonde hair instead of brown and wears glasses.
  • Anthony has brown hair instead of blonde.
  • The cat, unnamed in the book, is named Timothy.
  • Phillip Parker is white instead of black and wears no glasses.
  • Albert Moyo is black instead of white.
  • 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 seat when the carpool stops by his school.
    • His friends refuse to let him play Monkey in the Middle.
    • He sings "roll" and "Mary Lee" while his class sings "Row, Row, Row Your Boat".
    • His friends tease him multiple times when he pretends to draw a picture, sings his song loudly and incorrectly, skips the number 16, gets no dessert, and explains why he can't 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.
    • His brothers pretend to be in pain when Alexander hops due to the elevator door closing on his foot.
    • The shoe salesman turns down his alternate choice of sneakers (green ones).
    • He is forced by his father to sit out on the couch for playing with the copying machine and knocking the books off his father's desk.
  • 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 ask him if he wants to play ball with them.
    • 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"



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 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. Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. 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]