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Author Norman Bridwell and His Big Red Dog Books

an image of Clifford and his writer Norman Bridwell for the header image

One of the most reputable publishers of books for younger readers is Scholastic, and if you have ever seen the company’s mascot, you will know that it is a big red dog. He isn’t just any old mutt – he is Clifford, the creation of beloved children’s author, Norman Bridwell!

Norman was a family man who enjoyed a long and happy career doing something he loved, and that was creating stories for children featuring his loveable character. The very first Clifford book was published way back in 1963, and, as a testimony to the author and artist’s talent, the last titles in the children’s books series were published in 2015, a year after Norman passed away. This is his story.

The Formative Years

Norman Bridwell was born on the 15th of February 1928 in Kokomo, Indiana, USA. His parents were Leona and Vern Bridwell.

After completing his high schooling at Kokomo High School in 1945, Norman enrolled at the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. Later, he attended New York City’s Cooper Union. It was not long before the young artist met Norma Howard, the woman who became his wife. By 1962, the couple had a daughter, Emily Elizabeth.

Norman Bridwell was not making much money in his job at the time, and so he was forced to do freelance work in his spare time. One of the ideas he had was to illustrate classical children’s books; an idea he took to an editor at the publishers Harper & Row. The editor must have had the sixth sense or something similar, because he suggested that the artist would be even more successful if he used one of his own drawings as the basis for an original story.

One of the pictures that Norman Bridwell had drawn was of a large red bloodhound and a little girl. Inspired by his own daughter, he chose that picture for the inspiration for his first children’s book.

As he began to work, the writer and artist decided to make a few changes. One of those was to turn the dog into no particular breed, and another was to make the dog even bigger than he had been drawn initially.

When Norman eventually showed his work to Norma, he told her that he had named the dog ‘Tiny.’ Well, didn’t Mrs Bridwell put her foot down and tell her husband to change the name of the children’s book character because it was too boring! Norman clearly knew what most married men know, which is that the missus usually is right, so he agreed to change the name… But to what?

It was then that Norman Bridwell’s wife reminded him about her imaginary childhood friend, Clifford. Norman liked the suggestion, and that is how the character became Clifford the Big Red Dog. Naming the little girl character was much easier. She was inspired by the Bridwells’ daughter, so it was only natural that the character had the same name as Emily Elizabeth.

It took Norman a few days to finish the manuscript, which he then submitted to Scholastic. Three long weeks passed before the writer and artist received the call in which a publication offer was made.

A Career In Writing

Clifford the Big Red Dog, Norman’s first classical children’s book was published in 1963. The character appeared again in 1965, when Clifford Gets a Job was published. By the following year, the character was popular enough to appear in two new books, Clifford Takes a Trip and Clifford’s Halloween.

In total, Norman Bridwell wrote and illustrated 80 different Clifford stories, as well as other children’s books such as A Tiny Family and The Witch Next Door. However, the Clifford books remain Norman’s biggest success. Not only do they make up the bulk of the more than 126 million Bridwell books in print, they also have inspired two TV series, a stage musical, all sorts of merchandise, and even a live-action movie.

In 1969, Norman Bridwell, along with his wife, daughter, and son Timothy, moved to Edgartown in Martha’s Vineyard. The classical children’s books writer lived there with his wife until his death at age 86 on the 12th of December 2014.

Like the Toby Books, Norman’s stories featured friendly, fun characters that children can relate to. What’s more, the stories are simple enough for children to follow along easily. Why not take a look at tobybooks.com and see if you can find something for your little ones?

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