A Scrapbook-Style Trip Down Memory Lane Inspired by Clifford the Big Red Dog
by Alexie Basil
“Sometimes you’ll do something that you really like and no one else does. You’ll feel terrible, but you’ve just got to press on and keep trying. If you like doing it and keep working at it, then someday you will succeed.” —Norman Bridwell
To celebrate the late, great Norman Bridwell (1928–2014) and Clifford the Big Red Dog, here are some fascinating details you may not know about the legendary children’s book creator and his beloved character!
As Norman told Reading Rockets in an interview, “I was not good at sports, and my high school shop teacher, after a few days of class, took my tools away, telling me, ‘Here’s a pad of paper instead. You seem to like to draw: stick to that.’”
And he did! After high school, Norman moved to New York City to attend the Cooper Union and its prestigious art school.
Before Norman became a children’s book author, he was a commercial artist who created fabrics for neckties at Raxon Fabrics. He also worked as a freelance film strip and slide illustrator. But his goal was to support his family by writing and illustrating children’s books, so he started building his portfolio.
Before Clifford became the Big Red Dog, he began as a sketch of a bloodhound that Norman named Tiny! An editor at Harper & Row liked the sketch and suggested Norman make him into a children’s book character.
So how did the name change from Tiny to Clifford?
“My wife [Norma] said that was a stupid idea, and she was right,” Norman explained.
Clifford was the name of Norman’s wife’s childhood imaginary friend, and she suggested it for the beloved Big Red Dog—the rest is history!
Scholastic published Clifford the Big Red Dog on February 14, 1963—so that means Clifford was born at Scholastic headquarters in New York City! And we certainly think Valentine’s Day is the perfect birthday for such a lovable reading friend. Since its original publication, Clifford the Big Red Dog has had several different covers—but the story inside is always the same!
Why is Clifford red? Apparently, Norman had a jar of red paint open on his desk at the time and decided to use it to color in his sketch of Clifford, and the Big Red Dog was born!
“I dunked my brush in it and decided that it would be red.” —Norman Bridwell
Norman and his wife, Norma, spent many years living on Martha’s Vineyard—which looks strikingly similar to Clifford and Emily’s home of Birdwell Island!
In many early Clifford books, we can see how the made-up town is influenced by Martha’s Vineyard’s wide-open green spaces, coast, and architectural style. Here’s a picture of a real restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1960s and a drawing of Clifford in downtown Birdwell Island. Can you see the similarities?
Clifford the Big Red Dog was an instant hit, and the book has been a beloved favorite ever since. Today, there are more than 129 million copies of Clifford the Big Red Dog in print and several television series (airing in 65 different countries), with a major motion picture coming in 2022!
In 2012, Norman Bridwell (and Clifford) came to Scholastic headquarters in New York City to celebrate Clifford’s 50th birthday!
To honor how much Clifford has meant to readers all over the world for so many decades, Scholastic’s beloved CEO Dick Robinson (1937–2021) officially named Clifford Scholastic’s mascot…and unfurled a huge banner on the side of Scholastic’s office building in New York City.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs