• Happy birthday Eve Rice (Sam Who Never Forgets), Deborah Hopkinson (Under the Quilt of Night), Mary Cassanova (One-Dog Canoe), and Lin Oliver (Hank Zipzer series).
  • It’s the birth date of Pura BelprĂ© (1899–1982), Firefly Summer, the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library System. The Pura BelprĂ© Award in her honor, recognizes books that celebrate Latino culture.
  • Also born on this day was Rebecca Caudill (1899–1985), A Pocketful of Cricket. Illinois children vote to determine the recipient of the annual Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Books Award.
  • In 1925, dog sleds carrying diphtheria serum reached Nome, Alaska, and inspire the Iditarod race. Hence, it’s Sled Dog Day. Read Balto and the Great Race by Elizabeth Kimmel.

Today Judith Viorst, author, poet, and journalist, celebrates her birthday. She became known as a writer through her Redbook columns, full of witty and stylish prose, often about family life. They naturally led to a series of children’s books, some of them addressing childhood psychological issues. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney helps children process grief about the death of a beloved cat, as the family states positive things about him at his burial.

Viorst was born in Newark, New Jersey, and married Milton Viorst in 1960. She always knew she wanted to be an author and actually began her career writing about her parents at the age of seven. However, these pieces got her into a bit of hot water; she had constructed odes to her dead parents though they were still very much living—and annoyed. That experience, however, did not stop Viorst from using those near and dear to her as the subject matter for essays or books. Her three sons, Anthony, Nicholas, and Alexander, gave her ideas and protagonists for her stories.

Alexander exhibited a potential for stardom from the beginning, first appearing in 1972 in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Viorst’s real son Alexander had lots of bad days—he fell out of trees and off chairs, knocked out his front teeth, and broke bones. She used this emotional material and created a five-year-old protagonist who tells us in the first line, “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning, I tripped on the skateboard . . . I think I’ll move to Australia.” The day proves to be just as bad as Alexander thinks it will. At the end he goes to sleep, comforting himself that others have bad days, even in Australia.

The book presents a common human experience—a day where things just seem to go wrong from the moment you get up. Because it occurs in only one day, it suggests these problems can be contained. It allows readers to laugh about themselves and their own situations, while they are laughing at Alexander. In one school I know, they read this book the first day of class and then set up the time-out corner, labeled “Australia.” The book has been adapted for theater and millions of copies are now in print. Often, when I ask young men in their twenties about their favorite picture books, they respond with two titles—Where the Wild Things Are and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

I hope Judith Viorst isn’t having one of Alexander’s days on her birthday. For all the joy she has brought children over these last forty years, for her generous help in getting so many of us over bad days, she definitely deserves some very good ones. After all, she has given us a refrain we use from time to time when things are going awry—“I think I’ll move to Australia!”

Here’s a page from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day:


Originally posted February 2, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Family, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


  1. Chelsey says:

    Pretty sure I first heard of this book on Reading Rainbow. Nowadays it’s one of those stories that every kid knows, but maybe isn’t sure how they do! And everyone feels like Alexander sometimes!

  2. Andrena says:

    I think about this book EVERYTIME I have a bad day. I didn’t discover it until I was an adult, working at a community center in the Bronx. But once I did, not only did I read it for my own enjoyment, I read it to children who “got in trouble” during homework or after-school activities. It seemed to soothe them that they weren’t the only ones having a bad day. I know it still soothes me.

  3. Debbie St. Thomas says:

    I love this book! Happy Birthday to Judith Viorst~what a nice birthday present to be featured here!

  4. Sydnee says:

    I remember this book from elementary school. Our teacher had us write about our very worst day; I don’t think any were were quite as bad as Alexander’s.

  5. Alison says:

    My brother’s name is Alexander, and when I was small, reading this book made me feel very guilty about being mean to my little brother (who is now MUCH taller than I am.)

  6. commonweeder says:

    This book is a classic! I also love Lilly’s Plastic Purple Purse by Kevin Henkes. “Tomorrow will be a better day.”

  7. Jen says:

    We were just going through our baskets of books upstairs and when I saw this one I was able to say, “Hey, it’s her birthday today…the author, I mean!” All thanks to the Almanac!!! :)

  8. Jacquie says:

    This is one of those wonderful books that can be such a great ‘social learning’ tool. When my kids had one of their “really bad days”, we would pull this out and by the end of the story, they were feeling much better. It’s a great way to show kids that everyone can have a bad day and get through it.

  9. G.Perry says:

    I loved this book. Of course I read it as an adult thanks to Anita. When I was growing up, you weren’t allowed to have a bad day. When I read this, I felt exonerated. And I absolutely love the titile.

    Happy birthday Judith!

    Like Anita, you’re one of those people that I need to know is out in the world somewhere.

  10. Tess W. says:

    I. Love. This. Book! My mom had a copy in her picture book library she kept for my sister and I. She only bought books we wanted to read over and over and this was one of them. My sister and I used to run around shouting, “I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day!” and laughing ourselves silly.

  11. Sam L. says:

    I feel like I have these sort of days all the time. My mom read me this book when I was younger, and it is still one of my favorites.

  12. Sarah S. says:

    I am the youngest of four children and it seems that a week didn’t go by without my mother referring to this book. In fact, between Alexander and Pierre my mother had plenty of literary fuel to coax us out of our bad moods. Still, a great reminder that a bad day is just that, one day in a long life of days.

  13. Joe Sottile says:

    I taught for 33 years, and I always used this book to do creative writing. It’s a wonderful book. Kids love it.

  14. Debbie Sauer says:

    Judith Viorst’s book on sibling rivalry, “I’ll Fix Anthony” is equally delightful. A huge favorite in the preschool where I started my teaching career. I heard Judith speak a couple of years ago, and she is a pleasure to listen to.

  15. Anita says:

    Debbie: Yes, a fabulous speaker for anyone who gets the rare chance to hear her.

  16. G. Perry says:

    A year later, and..

    This must be one of the best titles out there in children’s literature.

    Oh, and because of this web site, I’m having a terrific, wonderful, very good, marvelous comment day.


  17. Erin says:

    I did have a day once where I actually woke up with gum in my hair. I learned my lesson, but whenever I have a bad day, this book comes to my mind. Also, I have been known to post on Facebook, telling the world in the exact words that I am having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. And I know I am not the only one.

  18. Beverly says:

    Love this book! Often my despondent thoughts end with “even in Australia” but I try not to say it aloud because I’m afraid no one else will get the reference.

  19. suzi w. says:

    This week I had an Alexander day. So I actually went to the shelf, where all our raggedy copies of Alexander were gone, replaced with three copies of the Alexander trilogy ensconced in one book. I have to say, I felt a little cheated. I *wanted* the single copy of Alexander’s day, with that puce green cover, not this brand new book bound in a white and red cover.

    Alas, the words inside were the same. And I posted the entire first sentence as my Facebook status, because I knew people would get it, and I had no desire in sharing with the world WHAT had made my day like Alexander’s, just that I had one.

    This was a book I discovered as a bookseller in my 20s. It was not a book read to me or to my siblings. But it is dear, indeed. Happy birthday, Judith! Thank you for making it possible to say to my boss “I’m having a Judith Viorst day” and her understand exactly the meaning.

    Suzi W.

  20. Tomangleberger says:

    As an undiagnosed Aspie, I had many bad days In school. This book helped. Later pinkwater would help me through middle school and hitchhikers guide to the galaxy would help me through high school, but this book was there for me in elementary school.

  21. Anita says:

    Tom and Suzi: Thanks for your comments on the book. It works in so many different situations, with so many different kinds of readers.

  22. Kathleen K. says:

    This was one of the picture books I remember my mother reading to my sister and me as a kid. Since we were the only two, we didn’t know what was so bad about sitting in the middle seat in the car. My mom, one of five, explained that it really isn’t fun. We also have lots of relatives in Australia, so we both sympathized with Alexander for wanting to go there, but also definitely grasped that people could have bad days there, too! Nowadays, I tend to reserve “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” for only the most dire situations as both a useful shorthand and a way of hopefully lightening the mood. I have yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t get the reference, which makes me happy.

  23. Diane V says:

    I loved this book when I was younger! So much fun to read at story time. Did not know that it became a movie!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.