Remembering Normal Bridwell, creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog
February 16, 2015
I was a new author. My first book was published by Little, Brown and Company in 1985 – Word Works—Why the Alphabet is a Kid’s Best Friend. Remember the Brown Paper Books series? I was the last published in the set of about 16. I was so excited to have a book and a one year old baby. I also had a full time job and life was all about juggling. So it was amazing I even had the time to drive down to one of the beach cities south of Los Angeles for an “Author’s Day” at a school. My first event as an author.
The gymnasium had about 20 writers and their tables stacked with books, all awaiting the doors to open and children with parents to come in and buy, buy, buy. I was ready.
The fellow next to me said, “Hi, I’m Norman.” He lived in Massachusetts, so I was quite impressed he had come all the way across the country for this event. We chatted, a friendly conversation, and then I asked to see his book. He showed me Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Adorable, I thought. And he had several titles about Clifford. He told me the girl was modeled on his daughter, and he had a dilemma—what did I think? Should he draw knees on the girl or not? I saw two variations and I wish I could recall what I said. I would love to take credit for whatever he decided.
He asked to see my book and I showed him. He was amazed. He said, “So many words!” Well, compared to the Clifford books it had many, many words. Pages filled with words—128 pages of words to be exact. And wonderful illustrations by Martha Weston. He kept repeating that, at least a few times, that I remember. Then we signed copies and gifted each other.
The gymnasium doors opened. And then I figured out I was a bit lagging on current popular children’s books. The clue was simple. About 98% of the children lined up at Norman’s table and it stayed that way the entire morning. I think I sold three copies.
Later I gasped when I realized this gentle, sweet man was an astoundingly successful author with his first Clifford book in 1963. Was I living under a rock?
When he passed away in December I kept his obituary in the Los Angeles Times to read carefully. We never know whose lives we touch. I can hear him as clear now as then: So many words.
I have heard his words echo many times over these decades when I would complete another book or article and remember that I had once started with a blank page or now, a blank screen. I am always grateful when the words appear. So many of them.
I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A.
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- Travels through South America February 18-28 (Lima, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo)
- Presenting at the AISA conference in Cape Town, March 6-11
- Leading a preconference and workshops at the National Service Learning Conference in Washington D.C., April 9-10
- Travels and presentations in Asia—Hong Kong, Bangkok, Myanmar—April 22-early May
Announcing Two Summer Service Learning Institutes! Read more HERE.
Education as Action: Foundations of Service Learning Institute, June 30-July 2, 2015 hosted at The Westminster School, Atlanta Georgia
An Advanced Service Learning Institute: Academics, Engagement and Purposeful Action–July 20-22, 2015 Carey Conference Center outside Albany, NY hosted by the New York State Association of Independent Schools
Credit available for international school educators.