How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

January Entry for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge:

As you may recall, I joined two reading challenges this year, the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, and the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge (click the image above to go to the info page for that challenge).  I posted my first review for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge last week, which you can read here: “A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1.”

Now, it’s time for my first post for the second challenge.  I decided to start from the beginning, with some of the picture books that were particularly special to me as a child.

And I’m starting with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

“What’s so special about this book?” you might ask.  Well, beside that fact that it is a wonderful, fun, beautifully-illustrated picture book, it was one of the first things that ever contributed to my path toward being a writer.

In second grade, each class had a mascot.  In my class, that mascot was Garfield.  Drawings of him littered the room, we had a stuff doll of Garfield, and everyone took turns taking him home for weekends to “babysit,” for which we all wrote little journals about the things we did together.

Now, in second grade, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in class in one.  And we all enjoyed it so much, that we decided as a class to write our own version of the book with Garfield as the star.  Each student was in charge of writing and drawing a single page.  We worked on these for at least two weeks, in between our other classroom assignments.  And I worked diligently to make sure every word was spelled correctly, every letter was written with perfectly straight, neat lines, and my drawing was as close to the real Garfield as possible.  It was my pride and joy.

At my elementary school (the third elementary school I was at, actually), Montclair Elementary School in Virginia, the school had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful program unlike most schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many), called Quill and Scroll.  First: the school had a program for which we could by small hand-bound, cloth-covered booklets with blank pages, and write our own little stories in them.  They would also take already written pages to laminate and then bind them with wire rings.  And THEN, once a month, the library hosted a Quill and Scroll Night, during which any student could read what they had written to an audience of students, teachers, and parents.

Our class had our book, Garfield and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, laminated and bound.  And then, in a vote, I was given the honor to read the whole book at Quill and Scroll Night in front of my mother, my friends, the teachers, the other parents.  I was horribly nervous (I didn’t then, and still don’t, do well in front of audiences of any size), but also ridiculously proud.

The book stayed in the second grade classroom, to be shown as an example to future students.  I can’t really remember what my page look liked, or what we all wrote exactly.  But I remember that experience to this day, and always will.

Reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day again this morning (yes, I own a copy – I’m working a collection of picture books, in fact), makes me remember with vividness the hilarity and joy we got from the book in second grade.  As Alexander awakens to gum in his hair, stubs his toe, is forced to eat lima beans, and endures all manner of other horrible things, we could all relate to his plight.  Because who among us didn’t hate eating lima beans (and probably still DO hate them)?  Who among us hasn’t had one of those days when absolutely everything manages to go wrong?  And that’s the joy of writing: even when you write things that are strange, unique, or absolutely off-the-wall, you can find a way to make it relatable for people.

That’s what a good book does.  That’s what makes me love reading.  And what makes me love writing.

So, does anybody else remember that book with fondness?  What picture books really inspired you? Or made you extra-happy?  I’d love to hear about them!

8 thoughts on “How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

  1. I liked this book too when I was a kid! Can’t say I have a copy of it now…but if I ever do have kids I’ll have to see about getting it haha. It was, as you mentioned, definitely a book with which I could relate. After all, what kid hasn’t woke up with gum in his hair (…actually I didn’t) or stubbed his toe, or been forced to eat something they don’t like (Oddly, I don’t mind lima beans…now asparagus *ugh*)

    As for picture books that inspired me to write: I have no idea. One book does stick out in my memory. It was called Taily-po (sp?) and it was basically a horror picture book. It was about this man who lived in a log cabin. He lopped this critter’s tale off with an axe and then it came back for him later. I don’t remember much about it other than that…always wanted to see if I could find that one and take another look at it haha

      • I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it or not. Could be Taily-poo too. I’ve never seen it anywhere since I read it way back in elementary school, although I’ve wanted to. It creeped me out as a kid!

  2. What a great story! I really enjoyed reading about your experience with this book, it’s really clear how passionate you were about it, I can envision it all so clearly. ^_^

    I have one book I really vividly remember, of which I encountered during first grade, when I had the good fortune to have the nicest, most creative first-grade teacher in the entire world, Mrs. Beasley. I swear, it’s almost as if she stepped right off the magic school bus when she came to our school, because I have nothing but the fondest memories from that year.

    The book I remember was ‘The Trumpet of the Swan’. It’s not a picture book really, but she thought it was such a great book that she decided to read a chapter to our class every day after lunch. And I was entranced. The book was filled with adventure, comedy, and overall, this feeling of sympathy and worry for this swan’s plight. I still remember that feeling of melancholy after she would finish reading the sadder chapters, and the elation the next day after seeing the swan rise above it.

    Thinking about it now, I really have to find this book somewhere. >_> Time to start searching!

    • Thanks, Nathan! I always loved The Trumpet of the Swan too. Another one I always remember is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My first-grade teacher (the one who is now my step-mother), read aloud to our class from Charlie and Chocolate Factory over the course of the year. I loved that book. It was so much fun, so inventive and full of sarcasm and comedy and adventure and fantasy. Roald Dahl is definitely one of the reasons I love off-the-wall weird stories so much.

  3. Wow! You had the best school ever. I would have done anything for an assignment like that back in grade school. I’m going to try to refer some teacher friends to your blog, so they can see what a cool concept this is and hopefully maybe someone will adopt the lesson plan. Garfield and the very bad day are natural fits, BTW 😀

  4. Alexander and his terrible day is my absolute favorite ever. It is a family favorite, and in such a large family as mine, that’s a lot of Alexander to go around!

  5. Pingback: Nightmares and Beasts for Children « Amanda Rudd's Blog

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