Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50

The giant dog at the center of Norman Bridwell's children's series celebrated his 50th anniversary this week.

Norman Bridwell said in an interview that Clifford is red because Bridwell saw a jar of red paint on his desk and decided to make the dog he was drawing 'a little different.'

The popular children’s book series "Clifford the Big Red Dog," which follows the adventures of the giant dog of the title and his owner, Emily Elizabeth, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

To honor the dog and his creator, writer and illustrator Norman Bridwell, the books’ publisher Scholastic hung a large banner from their office, and Bridwell participated in a webcast on Monday, answering students’ questions. More than 5,000 classrooms tuned in for the question-and-answer session.

Almost 90 books have been published about Clifford and his adventures.

“It has gotten more difficult over the years,” Bridwell told NPR, to create fresh plotlines. “Every time I think of an idea, I think, 'Well, that's kind of like the idea that I did a couple of times before.' And I'm running out of situations."

Bridwell got the idea for the series while he was trying to find work as an illustrator for children’s books. He brought samples around to various publishers and was rejected. One publisher told him that because he wasn’t a very good artist, he’d have to write his own copy, too, if he was to have any hope of working on a book.

“She pointed to a sample painting I'd done, of a little girl with a gigantic red dog, and she said, 'Maybe that's a story,'” Bridwell remembered in an interview with NPR. “And I went home, and over that weekend I wrote the story ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ and was shocked when it was accepted for publication, because I'd never written anything before.”

Bridwell said in the question-and-answer session with students that he had the idea of a huge dog when he was growing up and wanted a dog as big as a horse that he could ride.

In “Clifford,” a young girl named Emily Elizabeth chooses Clifford to adopt despite the fact that he is the runt of the litter, and Clifford soon grows to be more than 25 feet (though his size varies in some books). Emily Elizabeth’s family relocates to a new home on Birdwell Island to accommodate the giant dog. The most recent title released was "Clifford Makes the Team," in which Clifford has trouble playing baseball with Emily Elizabeth and her friends until the children figure out a way to include him in their game.

Clifford became red when Bridwell spotted a jar of red paint on his desk while working and decided to make him "a little different," Bridwell told USA Today. The writer named his heroine after his real-life daughter Emily Elizabeth, who now works as a preschool teacher.

“As I got older and as I started to meet parents who really loved the books, they would express to me how much they meant to their family and how much they meant to their children,” Bridwell’s daughter told the Wall Street Journal. “Then I started to realize it was something special.”

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