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!