The world of children’s literature recently lost the great illustrator and author Normal Bridwell, the creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog. Mr. Bridwell passed away on December 16th, 2014. He was 86 years old. Clifford turned 50 last year.
Normal Bridwell was born in Indiana on February 15, 1928. As a boy growing up he loved to draw. He didn’t think he was very good at it. Neither did his teachers. Someone else’s drawing or writing always seemed to be better than his. But he loved to draw. He pursued art as a career after high school in New York. After college he went to work as a commercial artist but hoped to supplement his income by illustrating children’s picture books. Many rejections later, one publisher told him, after looking at his pictures of a young girl and a giant red dog, that he might want to try writing his own story to go with his work. That no one would probably want him to illustrate for them. Emily Elizabeth and Clifford came from that suggestion. After he finished the first Clifford story, nine publishers rejected it before Scholastic decided to publish it. He wrote and illustrated the story in a weekend.
Clifford was the name suggested by his wife Norma. She thought Norman's original idea for a name Tiny, was a silly name for a big red dog. Clifford was the name of her imaginary childhood friend. Emily Elizabeth, the girl in the Clifford stories is named after their daughter.
As many artists will share, there’s no guarantee as to what publishers will like or what the public, especially children and their parents, will like. Apparently, plenty of them like the Clifford books. Over 129 million copies of Mr. Bridwell’s books have been published. There are 150 Clifford titles.
Mr. Bridwell was known to be a gentle man who had a great sense of humor. Kind, compassionate and helpful, he exemplified many of the values parents and educators hope to teach their children. It is often thought that those values come through in the stories of Clifford the Big Red Dog and his little girl Emily Elizabeth.
Perhaps one of the most endearing things Mr. Normal Bridwell left with us is his sense of perseverance. He often shared with young writers that rejection, in anything in life, is not a reason to give up. That what we really love to do might not make others happy. But that if you really love it you have to keep trying and someday you will succeed. That certainly worked for him and his loveable big red dog Clifford!