Everybody’s Favorite Big Red Dog

Here at Midwest Almanac we love to celebrate authors and artists from the Heartland. Today we get to do both.

Norman Bridwell grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, and attended the John Herron School of Art, in Indianapolis. In the early 1960’s, Bridwell tried to land a job as a children’s book illustrator, but was rejected 15 times. An editor at Harper & Row suggested he try to write a story based on one of his illustrations—a picture of a large dog and a little girl.

The result was Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Bridwell’s inspiration for Clifford came from his own childhood. He said he always wished for a big enough dog to ride like a horse. At first he wanted to name the dog Tiny, but his wife objected. She suggested Clifford, which was the name of her imaginary friend when she was a child. The little girl who owns Clifford is named Emily Elizabeth, after Bridwell’s daughter.

Clifford is no special breed of dog. “He’s the kind of dog you like yourself,” Bridwell said in an interview.

Clifford the Big Red Dog was a tremendous success when it came out in 1963. Children responded to the book’s bright illustrations and gentle humor, while teachers appreciated its easy-to-read story. The Clifford series is credited with establishing Scholastic Books as a first-rate publishing house. Today Clifford is still the symbol of early childhood education for Scholastic.

Norman Bridwell wrote more than 90 books before his death in 2014.

Credits: Scholastic.com: Norman Bridwell Interview (undated). Clifford the Big Red Dog at the Smithsonian, Amy McKinney, May 1, 2017.

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