“You might do a drawing today that you think is nice, and you show it to the other kids but they don’t like it, or the teacher won’t put it up. But don’t let that discourage you. That’s just today. You never know what you are going to do tomorrow.” -Norman Bridwell
Where were you when you first met Clifford?
Were you in a classroom? A bedroom? A bookstore?
I was in first grade. Mrs. Anderson’s class. She read these books to me and I remember thinking: “I can’t even clean up after my dog Jingles, I bet that girl has to use a backhoe!”
It has been a sad month for picture books. The author/Illustrator of one of our beloved icons has passed away. But did you know Clifford almost never came to bark—er be?
It was the 1960’s. Norman Bridwell and his wife had just had a new baby and money was tight. They were living in New York city and he was a commercial artist. To make ends meet, his wife suggested illustrating children’s books.
“I made some samples and took them to eight or 10 publishers and was rejected by every one. One young editor said, ‘You’re not very good. No one’s going to buy your artwork. Why don’t you try a story, and if someone buys it, then you could do the art.’ She pointed to a sample painting, of a little girl and a dog, and said, ‘Maybe this could be a story.’ ”
So how did Clifford become big and red? Because Norman only had red paint that night he created our favorite friend! This is the part of the story that I love. Such a huge detail, all because he didn’t—or couldn’t run to the 1960’s version of Hobby Lobby. But I digress.
Then, a miracle! Out of the slush came the big red pup! After languishing in what editors call “the slush pile” someone saw the book for its brilliance and offered Norman about $2,000 for both the art and the story (almost $16,000 in 2014 money).
He told his wife: “Now don’t count on there being any more. This one is just a fluke. I don’t know if there will ever be another one.’ ”
Of course, you know the rest of the story because your mother, or a teacher or you read it to yourself. Clifford’s adventures grew into more than 100 books, a PBS series, a musical and perhaps the true indicator of success: a happy meal toy.
Mr. Bridwell gave us a big red gift, and for that we are all truly thankful. May he rest in that colorful heaven, where all kind artists go.
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