Alexander is Entitled to His ‘Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

I am so very bummed out by this. I love Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day (and its proper use of punctuation) by Judith Viorst. I have fond memories of reading it as a child. I think it’s an excellent book! Most people have strong feelings about the books they loved as a child, which is why I refuse to watch the movie adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, because it is nothing like the very excellent book that my brother and I loved so very much and always wanted our dad to read to us at bedtime:

cloudy movie poster        cloudy book

Who are those people? And that monkey? What would have been perfect is if I could have beat the producers/writers to it and made an AMAZING live-action and stop-motion film out of the book. Live-action in the real world with grandpa and pancakes, and stop-motion in the land of Chew-and-Swallow. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE! . . .But nobody asked me.

Similarly, I refuse to watch the movie adaptation of Alexander, despite the fact that it stars Steve Carell, because it looks so unrelated to the book:

alexander movie            alexander book

I mean, what is this?

But, back to Troy Patterson and his attack on my childhood. First of all, the “Gentleman Scholar”‘s assessment of Alexander reads like an overworked children’s lit term paper. Ignoring that, I’m going to defend Alexander, because we all have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, as children and adults. Troy calls Alexander a “pill” and a “brat.” Relax. You’ve seen Alexander on one day, on his worst day. I’ve been called much worse (and probably so has Patterson, or, maybe he hasn’t because he’s a man and would probably be called ‘authoritative’ or ‘stressed’ or ‘determined’ or ‘assertive’. . .but I’m straying from my point) on my worst days. We’re all entitled to our bad days; when we’re misunderstood and no one seems to listen, and nothing seems to go our way, and all our misfortunes seems to pile up and pile up and pile up until we want to explode out of anger and frustration. At worst this book is indulgent. Alexander sinks deeper and deeper into his destructive, depressive mood. Except, it’s not indulgent because no one is willing to give Alexander any pity.

What I find difficult about this book, as an adult, is the ending. At the end of Alexander’s terrible day, after being shunned by even his cat, Alexander’s mom tells him, ‘Some days are like that. Even in Australia.’

What? What kind of comfort is that!? This is a little hard for me to swallow. In the end, it’s a good lesson. We all have bad days, running away from them, even as far away as Australia does no good, and you can’t let yourself wallow in them, because tomorrow is another day. We’ve all been there. It happens. But, after my bad days, I’d like a little sympathy. Even if it only comes in the form of my cat sleeping on my bed with me at the end of the day. None of this, however, qualifies Alexander to even be a contender for the worst children’s book.

When my brother and sister-in-law asked for friends and family to give books to their sons in lieu of cards, I had a difficult time choosing a few favorites. (Those boys are going to grow up with an awesome library, by the way.) Of course I went with Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsBallDragons Love TacosHarold and the Purple Crayon, No David! and another one or two I can’t remember right now. What I didn’t choose was Alexander. I considered it for quite a while, because it is one of my favorites, but I also think it’s a book for a certain age, and maybe for a certain kid (clearly, I was that kind of kid). It’s not a bedtime book for babies. It’s more of a toddler book, I supposed. When tantrums happen and the kids start to realize that ‘fairness’ is a much more difficult concept in the real world.

Now, in the name of fairness, Patterson’s article isn’t just about Alexander being “one of the worst children’s books ever” (and, ultimately, he declares The Princess and the Pea to be “the worst children’s book of all time.” I have no strong feelings about that particular story. It didn’t sink in during my childhood the way Alexander did), but about the larger issue of finding ‘good’ children’s books. There are a lot of bad children’s books. And a lot of bad children’s books have been deemed ‘classics.’ The Giving Tree may be my pick for worst children’s book of all time. That book makes me furious. You take and take and take, from boyhood into manhood and well into old age, and then, when I’m all used up, YOU SIT ON MY STUMP?!? SERIOUSLY??

giving tree cover

You, kid, are the worst. Way worse than Alexander. At least there’s hope that Alexander can learn from his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But you, kid, clearly learned nothing.

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