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

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 three sequels, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday ISBN 978-0-689-30602-0, Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move ISBN 0-689-31958-4, and Alexander Who's Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever ISBN 978-1-48142353-3.

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



From the moment Alexander wakes up, things just go wrong in his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth last night somehow ends up in his hair. He trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. He finds out that it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

At the table, his brothers Nick and Anthony find prizes in their breakfast cereal boxes at breakfast time. Nick finds a decoder ring and Anthony finds a toy car. But as for Alexander, he only has breakfast cereal.

In the carpool on the way to school, he does not get a window seat. He says that he is going to be carsick if he ever again does not get a seat at the window. But no one answers him. At school, his teacher, Mrs. Dickens, she says she likes Paul’s picture of a sailboat. She likes Paul's picture of a sailboat better than Alexander's picture of the invisible castle (in other words: "nothing"). At singing time, she says that Alexander sang too loud. At counting time, she says that Alexander skipped the number 16. Then Alexander (after he forgot "16") says that no one needs the number "16" (saying to himself, "Who needs sixteen?"). Then at recess, Paul says that Alexander is no longer his best friend in school. He says Alexander is not his best friend anymore at school and never is going to play with him again. Paul says that Phillip is his first best friend and Albert is his second best friend. But Alexander is only his third. Then Alexander says that he hopes Paul sits on a tack. He also says that he hopes the next time Paul 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 Paul's dessert is a jelly roll with coconut sprinkles. But since Alexander's mother forgot to put in dessert, there is no dessert in his lunch bag.

After school, 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. But Alexander replies to that comment, "Next week, I am going to Australia, forever!". On the way down, 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 when Nick said “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 sneakers with red stripes, but they are out of Alexander's choice, 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 tells the family to stop picking him up from work by saying, "Please don't pick me up anymore" to Alexander.

At home, they have lima beans for dinner (which he hates), Alexander watches kissing on TV (which he also hates), his bath-time is worst (the water being too hot, getting soap in his eyes, and his marble going down the drain), but the worst of all, he is 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 (but not Alexander). In the end, Alexander says it has been a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day for him.

A running gag throughout the book is Alexander repeating several times that he wants to move to Australia, most likely because he thinks it is 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.

TV adaptationEdit

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.
  • Mom does not have a bandana.
  • 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), unnamed in the book, he is named Timothy.
  • Phillip Parker is white instead of black.
  • Albert Moyo is black instead of white.
  • The Mickey Mouse night light is replaced with a lamp light, due to copyright from 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 Alexander says that he is being scrunched and smushed in the car.
  • He falls off of the seat when the carpool arrives at his school.
  • His friends don't let him play Monkey in the Middle.
  • He sings "roll" and "Mary Lee" (in lieu of "row" and "merrily") while he sings the song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". The teacher corrects him afterward.
  • His friends tease him multiple times when he pretends to draw a picture, sings his song loudly and incorrectly, skips the number "16" (when counting up to 20) which he replies back that no one needs "16" (saying, "Who needs '16'?!"), gets no 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.
  • 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 on the couch for a time-out for playing with the copying machine and knocking the books off his father's desk. And when he calls Australia, his father tells him to not pick him up anymore (saying, "Alexander? 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 ask him if he wants to play ball with them before Alexander told them he can't because of a dentist appointment.
  • Anthony and Nick make up for what they did to Alexander while waiting for their mom to pick up the car. Also, instead of Anthony deliberately shoving Alexander in the mud like in the book, what happens is that while lunging at Anthony and Nick for mocking him, Alexander accidentally bumps into Anthony, loses his balance and falls.
  • 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 mediaEdit

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.

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.[5]

Cultural referencesEdit

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. [6][7][8]


  1. ^ a b c d e 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.
  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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Mary-Liz Shaw (2007). "Grandmother learns lesson in flexibility". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 31, 2008. Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Patrick Gavin (2013-05-16). "Obama's week? 'Horrible, no good'". Archived from the original on 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  8. ^ "Political Commentary and Opinion - Washington Examiner". Washington Examiner.[permanent dead link]