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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Having a bad day? So has Alexander...

I would like to believe that in our lives, the majority of our days are great days.  I think for the most part, we’re able to find something about each day that is positive, and makes us happy.  Life, after all, is about finding those simplest pleasures and holding on to them.

Of course, there are some days that aren’t quite so good.  Days in which you wish you had stayed in bed.  Days in which you wish you could erase from your memory forever.  Days like the ones that Kim Stockwood sings about in the chorus of her 1999 song, “12 Years Old”.

I think that we’ve all had those days. 

You know, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days?

Hey, wait a minute.  That last sentence sounds very familiar.  It’s almost as if I’ve heard it mentioned somewhere before, like in a children’s book.

Oh, yes!  That’s right.  It was part of the title.  Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”.  Now I remember!  I loved that book.

In fact, I think I’m going to discuss this book in the blog.  It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog entry on a literary work, and I think this is a great book to talk about.

Because I’ll level with all of you right here.  June 2012 has not exactly been the kindest month to me so far.  Almost every day in June so far could classify as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in many ways.  Stress from neighbours, work-related disappointments, having to back out of a couple of’s been a bit of a crazy month.  But, if there’s anything that I have learned, it’s that bad days, no matter how terrible and horrible they are, they are only as bad as one makes them out to be.

Sure, the last few days haven’t been my best.  But the month isn’t quite over yet, and I am hopeful that things will get better.  But even if they don’t, I don’t have to let them get to me.

Alexander on the other hand...well, we’ll get to him a little bit later.

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” was first printed exactly 40 years ago, in June 1972.  It is widely considered to be Viorst’s most well-known works.  The book is listed as an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book, and has won the George C. Stone Center Recognition of Merit, and a Georgia Children’s Book Award.  The book was also featured on the popular children’s television program, “Reading Rainbow”.

When it came down to creating the main characters of the book, all Judith had to do was look to her family for inspiration.  The title character was named after Judith’s youngest son, Alexander.  Judith’s other two sons, Nick and Anthony, were also drawn into the story as Alexander’s older brothers. 

And, as you might have figured out, inside the thirty-two pages of the book, Alexander is about to have one of the worst days of his whole life...all seven years of it or however old he is supposed to be at the time the book was written.  Right from the beginning, when Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he realizes that the day is not going to go very well. 

As much as I hate to spoil the book’s plot, it’s necessary for me to list all the things that happened to poor little Alexander on his most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Part of the reason why is because I imagine that we all have had some of what happened to Alexander happen to us as well.  But there’s another reason why I wanted to list everything.  I’ll fill you in once the list is up.

So, on Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the following happened;

-      He trips on his skateboard

-      He accidentally submerges his sweater in the bathroom sink filled with water

-      He’s the only kid not to have a prize inside his cereal box

-      He doesn’t get a window seat in the car pool

-      His teacher does not like his picture of an invisible castle

-      He forgets what number comes between 15 and 17

-      His best friend, Paul, decides to play with someone else

-      His mother forgets to pack Alexander a dessert inside his lunch

-      The dentist finds a cavity inside Alexander’s teeth

-      The elevator door closes on his foot

-      He is teased by his brothers, and gets in trouble when he attempts to fight back

-      The store is sold out of the sneakers he wanted to wear

-      He causes a mess inside his father’s office

-      He is forced to eat lima beans for dinner, and is forced to watch kissing on television

-      He has to wear pajamas that he absolutely hates to bed

-      His nightlight burns out

-      Nick takes back a pillow, and the cat would rather sleep with Anthony.

Isn’t that just the worst day ever?  Why, it’s enough to make one want to move to Australia or something!  In fact, Alexander absolutely insists that he will be moving to Australia in order to never have another bad day again.

TRIVIA:  In the Australia and New Zealand printings of the book, the line is changed so that Alexander wishes to move to Timbuktu.

Ah, but let’s take another look back at that list.  Right off the bat, I can say that quite a few of these things have happened to me when I was a child.  I’ve had a few cavities back in the day.  I remember the frustration of shoe shopping very well (to this day, I absolutely despise shoe shopping due to the fact that my feet are on the large side), and I remember many instances in which I woke up with gum inside my hair as well.  And, I imagine that when I was Alexander’s age, having all of these things happen in one day would be quite rough.  In fact, I can recall one instance where I myself had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  It was third grade, and we went on a field trip to a city park.  On that particular day, I fell off the merry-go-round and skinned my knee, got in trouble for eating chocolate pudding when lunch was still hours away, and I got hit in the face by a Frisbee!  It was terrible, and horrible, and certainly not a very good day. 

But, I survived it.  And for the record, the day ended on a high note for me.

As for the ending of the book, Alexander is lamenting over the fact that he has lived through the worst day of his whole life.  But in the end, he ended up surviving it as well.

In the grand scheme of things, Alexander’s bad day was just a blip.  He didn’t have to let it define his whole life.  And, certainly, I’m not letting my bad days define my whole life.  How depressing would life be if we let our bad days drive us absolutely crazy?  We’d be cheating ourselves out of the moments that make life worth living.  And that would be really terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad.

At any rate, this book is an absolute classic, and it certainly wasn’t the last time that we would hear from Alexander.  The book was turned into a television special in 1990, and in 1998, the book was turned into a musical production in a joint collaboration between Judith Viorst and the Kennedy Center.

On top of that, there were a couple of follow-up books that were released starring Alexander, including 1977’s “Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday”, and 1995’s “Alexander, Who Is Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going To Move”. 

And in 2007, Viorst actually wrote a memoir entitled “Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days”, which depicted what happened when the real Alexander and his family moved back home with Judith for three months. I have not read this particular book yet, but I think I will have to seek it out, because it sounds interesting.

I guess the point that the book was trying to make (as well as the point this blog is making) is that bad days happen...but they don’t have to take over our lives.  All we can do is leave it in the past and move on.

After all, Alexander’s mother said it best.  Sometimes, days are bad.

Even in Australia.

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