ESL Book Club – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


It’s a new semester and I had no idea what book to share with the ESL Book Club. The easy solution was to do a repeat, so I went back to the very first book we read together – about a year and a half ago, I think. Only one student remains who had been in our first meeting. One other student said she had read this book before – in the “Inspiring Stories” class taught by another volunteer.

Continuing with the theme of doing the easiest thing, I also reused the “lesson plan” that I prepared for that first meeting of the book club.

When I first started the book club, I had no idea how many students to expect. We usually fill the space of three 6-foot tables pushed together into a square, 12-16 people. And we like to remain together – not separated into groups as I suggested in this original plan.

Since it was our first meeting this semester and there were a few new students, I went over my love for using children’s literature as a means for becoming more fluent in English and did my best to read the book with as much feeling and inflection as I could muster. Everyone seemed to enjoy the book after the first reading. Students discussed why Alexander wanted to go to Australia and we all laughed when one student joked that in Australia, maybe the book is written with Alexander wanting to go to the United States.

Several of the students who attend the “Inspiring Stories” class, where they practice and learn and discuss ways to develop and maintain positive attitudes, read the book as a lesson in why one should not focus on the negative.

For the second reading of the book, each student in turn read until they came to one of the repeated words/phrases: “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” or “Australia.” We paused with each change of reader to ask/answer questions. For example, no one knew what a¬† “Corvette Sting Ray car kit” or a “Junior Undercover Agent code ring” is.

Other words/phrases asked about were:
singing time
counting time
fool around with
lima beans
the pronunciation of soap vs. soup

I asked students to name the variety of emotions that Alexander experienced throughout his bad day. We did not use the OPD (Oxford Picture Dictionary) as suggested in the plan above, but a reference could be helpful.

Students either viewed the lesson of the book as the importance of a positive attitude or that everyone has a bad day now and then.

With quite a few books under our belt, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day held up as a suitable and enjoyable read for adult ESL students. They chose to read another “Alexander” book next week.

Another way to extend this book is to follow up with writing prompts. I suggested a few, but I haven’t seen any writing yet. ūüôĀ
* a time when you had a bad day
* a time when you felt like no one listened to you
* how people can tell you are in a bad mood
* if you think this is a good book to share with a child
* why you think Alexander says he wants to go to Australia

A couple of our students who have regularly participated in Book Club have recently moved away. They plan to continue reading the books that we read and participating in some discussion through our Facebook group. I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Sepia Saturday – Our Soldier Laddie

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs.

This saluting boy had me thinking “military” as a response and I was reminded of a photograph of my great uncle in uniform. Although obviously much older than the boy in the prompt photo, Uncle Norman has such a boyish appearance in the photograph.

John Norman “Norman” Webber circa 1918

John Norman Webber, who went by his middle name, was the eldest of nine children born to M. D. and Dorinda Strange Webber. He registered with the Jefferson County draft board in Fairfield, Iowa on September 12, 1918. Norman was 19, just a couple of weeks shy of his 20th birthday.

A report of the Adjutant General of Iowa provides scant information about Norman’s service in the Iowa National Guard.
1. He enlisted a few weeks after registering for the draft – on October 7, 1918.

2. Norman was first assigned to the Machine Gun Company, 4th Infantry.

3. He was transferred to Headquarters Company January 23, 1919.

I guess Headquarters Company was organized before it was “federally recognized.”

4. And one little bit of information regarding an inspection of Headquarters Co. in 1920.

Norman was not among the 20 married men. That first notation regarding Norman’s service states that he was promoted on May 25, 1920. That’s all I know about Uncle Norman in the National Guard during WWI.

Although Norman did not see combat and did not even leave his hometown (from what I can determine), his younger sister Hattie, who would have been about fourteen when Norman began his service, wrote a poem that expressed her thoughts about seeing Norman in uniform.


Late in the fall, when the apples
             Are turning a beautiful red,
And the leaves of all sizes and colors
             Are drifting down from o’er head,
When a boy in overalls and shirt
             Stood looking down the street,
He heard the sound of music,
             And the tramp of soldiers feet;
He waited for the company,
             And bravely stepped in line;
His face was bright as the morning,
             His eyes were blue as the sky,
His cheeks were like spring roses,
             He was a catch for any eye.
So, late in the fall, when the apples
             Are turning a beautiful red,
Our laddie is marching away to war,
             With the stars and Stripes  o’erhead.

                        By Hattie Webber

Hattie sent a copy of her poem to her grandmother with the following note on the back:

“Grandma, I wrote this when Norman enlisted and do not know whether I sent it to you or not.   Papa say it is’ent much but I like it anyway it is what I thought at the time.

I am getting along nicely in school I think.  Abbie is better now and expects to go to work tomorrow.

Well, I will close write to me some time     Lots of love to both        Hattie

Although I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Great Uncle Norman, he always impressed me as a gentle man, concerned with the “simple” things in life. He did not seem driven by want of material possessions nor by ambition. He and his wife might be called “minimalists” in today’s jargon, although not really, because that term implies having some wealth but choosing to downsize – or furnishing one’s home with a sleek and spare design aesthetic.¬†Of course, these assumptions are based on the memories of a child who did not know the innermost motivations of her great uncle.

In learning this little bit about Uncle Norman’s service in the Iowa National Guard, I was thankful that domestic service during a time of war was an option for him, for I wonder how he would have fared if he had seen combat.

Uncle Norman sometimes wrote down his thoughts or a little detail about his life. I’ll close with something he wrote dated October 22, 1947.

This is where I usually ask you to visit the other participants in Sepia Saturday and follow the links to what they have prepared in response to the prompt photo. Unfortunately, the links are not there today, but you can access several from the sidebar on the blog or in the comments. Hopefully all will be back to normal by next week.

  • World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,¬†Registration State: Iowa; Registration County: Jefferson; Roll: 1643119, obtained at
  • U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 obtained at