Alexander (and His Horrible Day) Then and Now

October 1, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

We were thrilled to get a lot of classic kids’ books at Lorelei’s baby shower, and she’s finally getting old enough to enjoy them. The other night she took out Judith Viorst’s wonderful Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

While the fundamentals of the story continue to ring true – some days are like that (even in Australia) – I was struck on almost every page by just how different the world is in 2015 than back in 1972, when the book first came out:

Then: The boys (except Alexander) find fantastic toys in their cereal boxes.

Now: Toys in cereal boxes? Cost + liability + choking hazard = out of the question.

Then: The car pool consists of 4 kids, plus driver, in a VW bug. One kid is in the front passenger seat. No visible evidence of seat belts or car seats. (All that’s missing is a lit cigarette, though perhaps it’s resting out of view in the ashtray.)

Now: This particular car pool would involve a Hummer, 4 well-anchored and suitably positioned Gracos, 4 cup holders filled with some kind of organic juice blend or soy milk, and 4 iPads – plus a half-caf no-whip part-skim Venti macchiato-something-or-other for the driver.

Then: Alexander’s teacher, Mrs. Dickens, is wearing a striped shirt, an argyle vest, and a herringbone skirt without apparent irony.

Now: Many variants (but, seriously – you’ve gotta love the fashions of the ’70s. I still miss my poncho and clogs.)

Then: The boys bring their lunches to school in paper bags and metal lunchboxes. They all have sweet desserts (again, except Alexander), one of which is a Hershey bar with almonds.

Now: 1) Metal and paper have been replaced with BPA-free polymerized lunch systems. 2) A Hershey bar with almonds would never make it within 100 yards of the average nut-free school. 3) No modern children’s author would mention a real-life brand without an endorsement deal and/or movie tie-in.

Then: The family takes a trip downtown to buy shoes for the three boys (Alexander’s choice, of course, is out of stock).

Now: Zappos. Amazon Prime. Etc. Nothing is ever truly out of stock but merely backordered.

Then: While picking up Dad at his office, Alexander makes a mess of his paperwork, knocks over his inkwell (!) and accidentally dials long-distance from the desk phone (!!)

Now: We still tell kids not to play with the copying machine, probably because we adults have enough trouble with them as it is. Side note: Anyone else remember those mimeograph (aka “ditto”) machines with the cool purple ink?

Then: Lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV (yuck on both counts, rules Alexander).

Now: Just one TV? That a parent controls? We can learn a lot from the 1970s.

Then: Alexander’s Mickey Mouse night light burns out and his brother steals back his pillow. The three boys are in a single room with one twin bed and two bunk beds – just like the brothers Brady.

Now: See Hershey bar product placement/movie tie-in note above; mess with the Mouse and Disney will sue you for copyright infringement before the ink is even dry on your children’s book. Bottom bunk has been replaced with loft space for creative play and clever storage compartments, courtesy of Pinterest.


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