Thoughts on writing and reading for boys and young men.
There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. -Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Featured Book: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

 Narrated by our protagonist, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (illustrated by Ray Cruz), demonstrates the many perils of childhood, like tripping, getting gum in your hair, and not getting the prize out of the cereal box.  Fortunately, Alexander has a plan--a remedy--that pops up as an amusing refrain throughout the story: he's going to move to Australia. Before the story—and the day—comes to a close, Alexander’s best friend demotes him, he fails to impress his teacher with a drawing of an invisible castle, he sings too loudly, he forgets the number 16, he doesn’t get dessert, he has a cavity, he is pushed in the mud and called a crybaby, he gets lima beans at dinner, and he sees kissing on TV.  Ew! That’s the worst! The loveliest thing about this story is that it doesn’t feel the need to end on a positive note. Instead, Alexander admits that sometimes days are just...terrible, even. But they can be bad in Australia, too. We close the book satisfied that Alexander survives the ordeal, and we hope the poor fellow has a better day tomorrow.

Bonus Review:

Two decades after Alexander has a terrible day, the poor kid still can’t catch a break.  In Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move, a late entry in Judith Viorst’s Alexander series (illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser), our plagued protagonist returns, facing yet another childhood woe: moving (no--not to Australia). Told again in Alexander’s charming voice, he lets the reader know—absolutely, positively, unequivocally—that he will not move. “Never. Not ever. No way. Uh uh. N. O.”  In fact, we never hear other characters' exact words from their own lips, with their own voices. Alexander paraphrases all of it for us, including the repetition of his brothers’ opinions of him: “Nick says I’m_____ (fill in the blank with a variety of nasty things brothers might say),” and “Anthony says I’m being immature.”  Repetition is also used to underscore the sadness that sort of oozes through the humor of the story. It's really a melancholy little tale.  Alexander notes the distance between his current and new homes: a thousand miles.  He considers his not-moving options, plotting to live with the Baldwins or the Rooneys.  Or moving into his tree house.  He packs and says his goodbyes, but all the while he plots, thinking of how not to move. Finally, his parents offer incentives to Alexander, like calling his best friend long distance and maybe getting a dog. Finally, he decides that maybe he can handle moving after all. And the “incentives” are a nice touch, because when thinking about all of the things that he likes about his current home early in the story, we encounter the neighbor’s dog and the friend he’ll be leaving behind.  While not as charming as Very Bad Day, it's a worthy entry in the Alexander canon, a sweet story about loving what you have while also being willing and able to change (and hopefully love the change, too).

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,
by Judith Viorst, Atheneum, 1972. Illustrations by Ray Cruz.

Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move
by Judith Viorst, Atheneum, 1995. Illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser (in the style of Ray Cruz).

1 comment:

  1. I love these books. I will have to revisit them again. If you've got any suggestions for books that could inspire wonderful art projects, let me know- I'm always on the lookout for those!