skip navigation | text only | accessibility | site map

[A drawing of Alexander]
[Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day]

[Tour Schedule]
[Behind the Scenes]
[The Author, Judith Viorst]
[Student's Corner]

[the StorytimeOnline logo]

An online adaptation of
Alexander, read by author
Judith Viorst with the
original illustrations

Click here to play

The Author, Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, her most famous children's book, was first published in 1972 and has since sold over two million copies. Ms. Viorst received a B.A. in History from Rutgers University, and she is also a graduate of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute where she is a research affiliate. She began her career as a poet and has since completed six collections of poems for adults. Her first novel for adults, Murdering Mr. Monti, was published in 1994 and her most recent work of non-fiction, Imperfect Control, was published in January 1998 by Simon and Schuster. Her book Necessary Losses, published in 1986, appeared for almost two years on The New York Times best-seller list in hardcover and paperback. Ms. Viorst's children's books include The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, The Alphabet From Z to A, and the "Alexander" stories: Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday, Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move and, of course, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Ms. Viorst lectures widely on a variety of topics, ranging from the subjects of loss and control to children's literature. She resides in Washington, DC with her husband Milton, a political writer. They have three sons, Anthony, Nicholas and Alexander, and two perfect grandchildren, Miranda and Brandeis.

Ask Judith:

We know that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is based on the experiences of your son. What was it that influenced your decision to write a children's book about Alexander?
Alexander, the youngest of my three sons, seemed to be having A LOT of bad days. He fell out of trees, fell off of chairs, broke his wrist, knocked out his front teeth, and, in addition to these breaks and bruises, was involved in a variety of non-physical disasters and disappointments. I thought that the notion of "a bad day," could serve for him, and for all kids, as it does for adults, a "container" function, suggesting that this day—this bad news—would (honest and truly!) come to an end. I was also tacitly suggesting in the book that everyone, just not our hapless hero, sometimes has bad days and that neither the fictional nor the real-life Alexander has been singled out for a unique fate. Furthermore, these bad days happen everywhere, even in Australia, and since we can't escape them we might as well muddle through them and maybe even try (at some point) to laugh about them.

Explain the process you used to adapt Alexander the book into Alexander the play.
I went through the book episode by episode as the narrator told his sad story. I wanted to keep that narration virtually word for word, which I did, while fleshing out the events Alexander describes. And so I gave dialogue to his brothers, parents, friends, etc., and put in a lot of dramatic action, showing as well as telling Alexander's story.

When did you know that Alexander should not be a play, but a musical?
As long as I was opening up Alexander's story, I decided it would be fun to also have his story told through songs. And since I love writing lyrics, the thought of making this a musical was irresistible.

Shelly Markham and Judith ViorstHow did you team up with Shelly Markham? How did the two of you work together on the music? Did you write the music and the lyrics together, or was one part written before the other?

At first—because Shelly lives in L.A. and I live in Washington, D.C.—we worked over the phone (he played the piano and sang to me) and with tapes. Later he came to D.C. and we finished our work in a room at the Kennedy Center. Shelly indulges me by letting me, in most instances, write the lyrics first, after which he composes the music to fit my works. But there are exceptions. With one song THE SWEETEST OF NIGHTS AND FINEST OF DAYS, he added a musical "bridge" between the second and third verses, after which I needed to write lyrics to fit that music. I also changed lyrics when we found that though they were easy to read they were hard to sing. For instance, in SHOES, I changed Won't fall off when you cough shoes to Stay on when you cough shoes, and Won't get soaked when you wade shoes to Stay dry when you wade shoes. The first versions were a real mouthful—too hard to sing and to understand.

 
Performances for Young Audiences | Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences on Tour | KC Home Page

Illustrations by Ray Cruz.Used with permission by Anthenum Books.