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Farewell to Norman Bridwell

The life and legacy of the beloved author and illustrator of Clifford the Big Red Dog



Grades

PreK–K , 1–2 , 3–5 , 6–8 , 9–12

Norman Bridwell, the creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog, died Friday, December 12, 2014 at the age of 86. He was one of the most popular authors for children ever, as well as a gracious, appreciative fan of teachers. Bridwell spoke about the special connection his creation, Clifford, had with teachers and students in a 2013 interview with Scholastic.

“I'd like to thank the teachers all around the world for seeing something in Clifford that I never really saw myself,” said Bridwell. “I didn't intend to be teaching things, I was just entertaining. But I hear from teachers how they use the Clifford books to teach certain principles, certain lessons. It amazes me, really. Thank you, teachers!”

Bridwell and the Big Red Dog

Born in Kokomo, Indiana in 1928, Norman Bridwell grew up loving to draw. Bridwell created the character of Clifford in 1963 and went on to write and illustrate more than 150 titles, all published by Scholastic, with 129 million books in print in 13 languages. In 2000, everyone’s favorite big red dog made his television debut on PBS Kids, and the animated series quickly became one of the network’s biggest children’s hits.

Clifford was originally to be called “Tiny,” but Bridwell’s wife of 56 years, Norma, instead suggested he be named “Clifford” after her childhood imaginary friend. The character Emily Elizabeth from the series is named after Norman and Norma Bridwell’s daughter Emily Elizabeth.

For most of their life together, Norman and Norma Bridwell lived on Martha’s Vineyard, which some might say bears a rather striking resemblance to the “Birdwell Island” home of Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Norman Bridwell is survived by his wife, Norma; their daughter, Emily Elizabeth; their son, Timothy; and three grandchildren. 

Scholastic Remembers

Richard Robinson, Chairman and CEO of Scholastic, shared these remembrances of Bridwell.

Norman Bridwell, the creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog, died on Friday, December 12 at the age of 86.  He was one of the most popular authors for children ever, and was a gracious, caring friend to teachers and to Scholastic. 

Clifford arrived at Scholastic in 1963, having been rejected by every traditional children’s publisher, when Beatrice de Regniers, then the editor of Lucky Book Club, and herself a Caldecott winning author, saw Norman Bridwell’s cartoon-like picture book, and knew immediately that Clifford would be adored by children.

Norman Bridwell always said he was fortunate to have come to the right editor at the right company at the right time.  Because we sold books directly to children, Clifford became popular in book clubs and book fairs where children choose and buy the books they want to read.

Norman Bridwell himself personified the values of Clifford.  He was polite, generous, courageous, kind, and always thought of others.  He also was unwavering in his caring for Clifford and for children.  In turn, he and Clifford were beloved by all. 

One hot summer day in Martha’s Vineyard, more than 20 years ago, I was with him at a book signing, which for Norman meant drawing an original Clifford for every child, each personalized by name or by sketch to the individual child, and signed by Norman.  I will always remember how resolute Norman looked that day, as he sat patiently on a stool in the sun for six or seven hours, waiting for the last child who wanted a drawing. 

Norman Bridwell will live on through Clifford, who was known and loved by children everywhere and so became an icon of childhood.

 

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