Norman Bridwell Interview Transcript
The author was interviewed by Scholastic students.
Where did you get the idea for Clifford books?
I got the idea actually when I was a little boy, and I wanted a dog big enough to ride like a pony. The books were really based on an art sample I did of a girl and a big red dog. An editor saw it and suggested that I try writing and illustrating a book.
From Mrs. Kemner's Second Grade Class from Dandridge Elementary School Dandridge, TN: How old is Clifford the Big Red Dog, and how much does he weigh?
In the stories, he's probably about five or six years old, and we don't know how much he weighs — we've never found a scale that he could fit on!
How did Clifford get so large?
He was born in my mind as a big dog, but later when children began to ask about how he got so large, I wrote a book about how when he was a puppy, he was a very puny pup and Emily Elizabeth wished very hard for him to grow. And he grew!
From Mrs. Anderson's Kindergarten Class in Oneonta, AL: Why did Clifford grow up but Emily Elizabeth never did?
Heh, heh. That's a good question! Emily grew a little. When I drew her for the puppy books, she's not as tall as she might have been. She grew a little bit, though.
Why is Clifford red?
Because on the day I did the first painting, I happened to have a jar of red blazing poster paint, and after I painted the sky blue and the grass green, I dipped my brush in the bright red. I thought he would be more fun that way.
Mr. Norman Bridwell, I love Clifford!! What kind of dog is he?
Thank you! He's kind of a mixture. He's no special breed of dog. He's the kind of dog you like yourself.
Do you like to draw Clifford?
Yes, I do. I feel very lucky to do something that I enjoy and that children like. I like drawing the drawing more than I like doing the words.
Are you in any way associated with either of the Clifford TV series, or are those done independently from your work (apart from drawing on the ideas laid down in the book series)?
When the series first started, I went over the first 10 scripts, and I approved the sketches for the animation. I approved the background art. Since then I've stayed out of it since I don't know anything about writing screenplays. I have enough work writing the books.
Does anyone help with story ideas?
Yes. I have an editor who makes suggestions on every book. Sometimes she throws out my whole idea! The editor helps me with making sure that the story flows along.
Do you enjoy being a writer? When did you first begin writing stories?
Yes, I do enjoy it. Even when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time making up stories. I made them up in my mind when I was walking home from school. The first book that I wrote was Clifford the Big Red Dog in 1962!
How many books have you written?
Of all books...That's a tough question. I guess I've done close to 90 books that have been published (and another 120 that were rejected).
Andrew asks: How long does it take for you to write one book?
Andrew, that is a GOOD question. The first book took three days to write and do the sketches. Every book is different. The longest was done in one year; the shortest in one night. But on average, three months.
What's the best thing about being an author?
The best thing is meeting somebody who doesn't know who you are, and they say, “Gee, I really love Clifford books.” I meet people who read the books when they were children, and they are surprised that they are meeting the author. One thing that I never planned — but it seems to have worked out that way — is that teachers use these books to get kids started on reading.
Do you have any kids? Were they young when Clifford was born?
When I wrote the first book, my daughter Emily Elizabeth was one year old. I had a boy named Tim a couple years after the first book - that's why he didn't wind up being a character in the books.
How much did Emily Elizabeth pay for her dog?
As I recall, she didn't pay for Clifford. The man living down the hall in her family's building gave him away as a puppy. A good deal pound-for-pound, until the dog food bill came in.
I thought Clifford's birthday was in September, based on Emily Elizabeth pointing to a September calendar in the story, Clifford's Birthday Party. She is pointing to the calendar in the first illustration. Can you clear up when Clifford's real birthday actually is?
That is a very good question. When I got a call from Scholastic, it was the fifth of September, and I consider that his birthday. But since teachers have a lot going on that time of year, Scholastic suggested that his birthday be February 15th since it's my birthday and it's a good time to have a party. So you can celebrate it in September or February.
Do you only write children books?
Yes. My wife has always wanted me to write a book for grown-ups, but I think mainly in pictures, and I think I would be lost in a story that was all words. And I like my audience.
From Mrs. Marino's 3rd grade class in Etiwanda, CA: What was the first book title that you had published? (Mrs. Marino still has her first Clifford book purchased in the early 1960's!)
The first was Clifford the Big Red Dog. Thanks for hanging on to that book!
Did your children love Clifford growing up?
My children liked the books, but they never quite understood that other kids were reading them too. My daughter was very surprised to meet other kids who had read the books.
Cole asks: Can you make a book about Clifford and Emily playing hockey? What is your next book going to be about?
That's a good question. I can TRY to do a story about them playing hockey, and if I can make it funny enough, maybe we can get it published. My next book is Clifford's First Sleepover, about when he's a puppy and stays at a friend's house for the first time. (My son is a big hockey fan — maybe he'd like your idea!)
Joshua asks: Can you write a Clifford baseball book?
My editor worries that Clifford has an unfair advantage in sports. But after I conquer hockey, maybe I'll try baseball.
Clifford recently visited our PreK class — can you please tell him hello from St. Louis?
He was REALLY in your class? I'll see if I can pass along your hello.
How old are your children now? From Mrs. Linn's 3rd grade
My daughter just turned 42, and my son is 39.
Is Clifford going to be a movie in the theater?
Yes! It's supposed to be in 2004, actually. Again, I didn't write it — I just approved the script and the sketches.
I have a couple of witch stories, The Witch Next Door, and The Witch's Vacation, from my childhood. Are there more witch stories? Teresa Meredith, Kindergarten teacher
I'm glad you remember them. There were four witch books including, The Witch's Christmas and The Witch Grows Up.
What inspired you to become a children's author?
I was inspired to be a children's author because I always enjoyed the artwork. I enjoy entertaining children, and it's nice to make them laugh.
Does Clifford enjoy being a cartoon on TV?
Yes, Clifford is very glad to be animated and to be on PBS. There was an earlier attempt to put the show on another network, but it just wasn't right. But he's happy on PBS.
What did you want to be when you were little and why?
I wanted to be a doctor, and I didn't realize at the time how much schooling it would require. That was sort of unrealistic for me in the time and area where I grew up.
You mentioned earlier that you had close to 120 stories that were rejected. Have you ever experimented with creating any other series besides Clifford and the Witch stories?
I did a series about monsters, not scary monsters — funny monsters. The book we did was How to Care for Your Monster, based on the idea that a kid would have to take care of their Frankenstein monster or a werewolf. I've done other books like Kangaroo Stew, A Tiny Family, and Tiny Charlie.
How hard is it to write a story?
Getting harder every day! Sometimes they come very quickly; other times they start off, and you come to a point where you don't know what to do next. It's very hard to tell how it's going to be.
When you receive a rejection, how do you handle it? Also, do you try to rewrite the same story or do you begin a new one?
There have been times where it was disappointing, but I've gotten used to it. It's part of the game. I sort of sit down and write what seems funny to me, and the editor decides whether it should be published. Sometimes the author will like eight pages out of a story, and I'll have to change the rest. I've never really been upset with changing things. The editor is there for that purpose.
If you could go back in time and change anything, what would you change?
I don't think there's much that I would change. I've been very lucky. After I got out of art school, there were times we had to struggle, but there was always fun. I couldn't think of anything that I would change, actually.
Will you ever write chapter books with Clifford as the main character?
No, I won't. I have a certain place in the business that I'm content with. I don't know how people can keep track of all the details in a chapter book!
Why did you decide to make Clifford puppy stories?
Because after the first four stories, I got letters from children asking how he got so big. So I thought it would be fun to have him start as a very small puppy and give him room to grow.
Do you think Clifford will ever meet another friend as big as he is? Steubenville, Oh
No, I don't think so. Right now, he is the only giant dog in his world, and that makes him special. The minute you put another dog in that size, that takes away a special thing about Clifford.
From Mrs. Linn's 3rd grade class, Steubenville, Oh: How old were you when you started writing?
Let me think... I was 34 years old.
Where were you born?
February 15, 1928 (same year that Mickey Mouse was born!) in Kokomo, IN.
Where did you attend school as a child?
I went to a public school in Kokomo, and then to an art school in Indianapolis.
What is your favorite food?
Oh, boy... I guess some form of spaghetti. I like pasta with stir-fry vegetables, and an occasional piece of chicken.
Could you make a Clifford movie in 3-D?
Well, I don't decide those things. I think the movie is just in 2-D.
Has Clifford ever met someone who speaks a different language? Has he traveled in the stories?
He's never traveled because my editor said that most families that travel don't take their dogs along. He's never met someone who speaks another language because I don't speak another language.
Mrs. Boucher's first grade: What do you do if you want to write but don't have any good ideas?
Well, sometimes if it's summertime, I'll sit on the beach. If there aren't too many people, I'll look at the waves and doodle on my sketchpad. Sometimes, I just doodle on my pad and hope that something shakes loose in my imagination.
Do you get any Clifford ideas from your wife or real life situations?
Once in a while, there will be something that my children will suggest. My wife would rather stay out of it. But the name of the dog of was her idea — I was going to call him Tiny.
Will you ever draw picture-only books so children could use their imaginations to write the text?
I tried doing that twice in the early days, and they just didn't work out. My editor felt I needed the interplay between the pictures and the words.
Mrs. Sass'computer class wants to know if you were as helpful as Clifford when you were a child?
Eh, I was PRETTY good I guess. I tried to help out my mother and father around the house, but I was not a perfect child. I spent a lot of time with my mind in the clouds.
From Mrs. Boucher's first grade: How do Emily Elizabeth's parents feel about Clifford?
Well, they seem to tolerate him. I don't know that they're wild about all the fur and the food bills. But I think they must like him. They would be afraid to NOT like him.
Do you think Clifford will get married some day and have puppies?
I suggested this idea once, and my editor didn't care for it. Sometimes in comic strips and TV shows when a character gets married, it's the end of the show. Since the books are read out of sequence, it would be hard to have him married in one book and not another.
Has Clifford ever found his dog family, or is this something he's not interested in?
Yes, in Clifford's Family, when Emily's family moves out of the city and he found where his dog family lived.
Do you get lots of letters from children?
I get quite a bit of mail. I try to answer all that come in.
Children's Librarian, OCLS, Orlando, FL: I love Clifford. How long do you think you will continue to write Clifford books?
That's a good question. Well, I am 75 now, and I would hope that I could keep writing for another three or four years at least.
I am a teacher in a K-4 classroom on a Hutterite Colony in Manitoba, Canada. You have been our author of the month for September, and we have enjoyed reading many Clifford books. If my students were to write you letters, is there somewhere we could send them to?
Send them to Scholastic, and Scholastic will send them on to me!
I just want to thank everyone who likes Clifford and reads the books. You've given me a wonderful life, knowing that I've made you laugh once in a while.