Top 100 Picture Books #8: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
#8 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz (1972)
We all have bad days—even in Australia. – Heather Christensen
Of all the books out there that deal with schadenfreude, none do it quite so well as Alexander. Now there’s a kid who just cannot win. He’s the Charlie Brown of picture books. If he isn’t losing his cash in Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday then he’s protesting a new living situation (not in Australia) in Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move. Of course he started life in this book where everything that could possibly go wrong does. The perfect antidote to any adult that claims that childhood is one sweet, blissful, stress free ride of innocence and carefree days.
The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, “He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. When he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard and by mistake dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running. He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing at all was right. Everything went wrong, right down to lima beans for supper and kissing on TV. What do you do on a day like that? Well, you may think about going to Australia. You may also be glad to find that some days are like that for other people too.”
I know little about the creation of this book but I do like that in her bio Ms. Viorst (who is still publishing to this day with such titles as the upcoming September title Lulu Walks the Dogs) writes that she has been writing, “at least since I was seven or eight, when I composed an ode to my dead parents, both of whom were alive and well and, when they read my poem, extremely annoyed.” She has three sons, one of whom is named “Alexander”. And so yet another child of an author goes on to become a cultural phenomenon.
I feel like illustrator Ray Cruz never gets enough credit for this book. I mean, half the time you hear this title mentioned it’s alongside the name “Judith Viorst”. Not Ray Cruz. And certainly the case could be made that unlike some other books it’s the writing and concept of this story that sticks in the mind the best. But I also feel that there’s a reason that this 1972 publication has never been republished with a different artist. The sole biography I was able to track down of the man reads, “Ray Cruz grew up in New York City and has been drawing since he was five years old. In addition to his work as an illustrator, he has had extensive experience in textile design and graphic art.” As for his art, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection in Minnesota may yield some answers there. “The Ray Cruz Papers contain original illustrations, color separations, layouts, and book dummies for nine books illustrated by Cruz between 1971 and 1987.” Yet the Alexander book about moving was actually done by future Fancy Nancy artist Robin Preiss Glasser. Why the switch?
As 100 Best Books for Children points out so accurately, “Bibliotherapy rarely produces a classic, but this book describes perfectly a simple childhood and adult phenomenon – a day when things just don’t go your way.” So true. And true about the bibliotherapy part as well. On this Top 100 list you will not find books to help kids deal with death, divorce, bad grades, bullies, or new little brothers and sisters. But you will find one book that talks about horrible days and the escapism of Australia (Alexander’s continual line throughout this book is, “I think I’ll move to Australia”). The Aussie travel bureau should use him as their cover boy. Possible slogan for subway cars: “Having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Why not go to Australia?” Oh, it would work.
Kirkus approved saying, “If Alexander’s mother is smart to offer casual sympathy without phoney consolation, Cruz and Viorst accord readers the same respect.”
Seems like it wouldn’t make for a particularly upbeat musical, but what do I know?
This one gets points for the song. Sort of meant to be, I suppose.
This is my favorite of the three, though.
Finally, in 1990 the following occurred:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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