I picked up a copy of one of my favorite children’s books at the second-hand book shop here in town. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day was one of my favorite books as a kid. It’s like sunshine for the soul to come back to it now. One of the things that stands out with this book is its emotional authenticity. I didn’t notice it when I was eight, but it’s positively gripping to me now.
If you’ve never heard of the book, or if you’re only familiar with the movie, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The synopsis says it all: “From the moment Alexander wakes up, things just go wrong in his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before ends up in his hair. He trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. He finds out that it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.”
For a book that’s older than I am, the story holds up remarkably well. In 1972, there weren’t many stories that focused on the non-bucolic parts of a child’s life. In simple, pen-and-ink drawings, Alexander navigates the complex world of breakfast cereal, school, friendship, siblings, dentists and lima beans.
Although this sounds like it might be patronizing, the reality is that it isn’t. The book’s author, Judith Viorst, pulls together simple, powerful truths about the world from a kid’s perspective. Sometimes life sucks, and things go wrong, and it hurts when that happens. Even though the book ends on a quiet note, it hits the right tone: sometimes the best you can do is finish the day and try again tomorrow.
You leave AaTTHNGVBD feeling settled, happy, and understood. You can relate to Alexander, and you can feel like Alexander would understand what it feels like when you have a bad day, too. That level of connection is what makes this book so popular. That’s an important lesson for any author to know: we must relate to our readers if we want our readers to relate to our stories.
Emotional authenticity is one of the tools I need to wield correctly as I polish Mesh. As I noted elsewhere, the story has to capture the readers’ heart. If I don’t do that, then Mesh will die on the vine. This is too important to me, so I’m focused on making Mesh work and using different ideas and writing techniques to bring the story of Roman and his geeky pals to life.
So Alexander, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say it, but here’s what I want you to know: I’m sorry you had a bad day. You deserve to have a good day every day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. But if it does, don’t worry! Things can get better tomorrow. In the meantime, we still love each other.
We would miss you if you went to Australia.