First a book series, now a cartoon series, "Clifford the Big Red Dog" has been delighting children and parents alike for almost 40 years. The concept of the oversized, "all-around" dog was conceived by author Norman Bridwell in the early 1960's, as he was trying to get into the world of children's book illustrating. His drawings were panned by editors as overly simplistic; one editor at Harper and Row finally gave Bridwell the advice he needed during a particularly harsh denial. She told him to think about writing a story to go with his drawings. And thus was the Big Red Dog born.

The dog was originally named "Tiny", but thankfully, Bridwell's wife thought that was boring and suggested the name of one of her childhood imaginary friends, Clifford. Clifford's owner, Emily Elizabeth, was named for Bridwell's infant daughter. The completed book was sent to Scholastic Press, who picked up the book within three weeks of receiving it.

Clifford the Big Red Dog is the size of a two-story house, and it was his growth spurt that sent the Howard family (Emily Elizabeth is the daughter of the family, aged 8; her parents are unnamed in the books, but are named Mark and Caroline in the show) from their city apartment to live in the country (in the books, they live near Mark's brother's farm; in the show, they live on a small island called Birdwell Island). The circumstances of Clifford's growth were not explained for several years, until "Clifford the Small Red Puppy" was released in 1972. In this story, we see how Clifford was born the runt of a litter of puppies that was born to the family living down the hall from the Howards. Emily Elizabeth had wished for a puppy for her birthday, and her parents allowed her to choose a puppy from the litter. She looked at them all, then decided that Clifford needed her, so she chose him. For the first few months, Clifford was tiny; he was always getting lost, and getting into clothes and shoes and purses, and getting into all sorts of mishaps.

One night, Emily told Clifford he'd have to get bigger, and she let him sleep in her bed that night. The next morning, he'd grown. She kept this up for a decent expanse of time, until he couldn't fit in the apartment anymore. They had to keep him in the backyard of the building, where he was disturbing the Howards' neighbors; and still, he grew. Finally, Emily had to tell him to stop growing; by this time, though, he couldn't fit anywhere, and the family had to move to keep the dog.

Bridwell's Clifford stories focus on building a sense of community, on acceptance, and on good values. Each story teaches children to care, to respect, and to become better little people. Plus, they're adorable, and they're fun to read.

Norman Bridwell describes Clifford thusly: "He's red and he's warm. Clifford does what you'd like to do but can't. Because Clifford is so big and also because he's a dog, he's able to do the most unbelievable and imaginative things." Perhaps more apt of a description is that ordinary things become extraordinary with Clifford.

The Books

The stories in each book focus mainly on the relationship between Clifford and Emily Elizabeth. Clifford has "dog friends", and Emily has friends, but they usually appear only as incidental characters and are never named. Clifford shows some indication of understanding human language, but does not talk.

The TV Show

The show was created by Norman Bridwell, along with Deborah Forte (also executive producer), Martha Atwater, and Jef Kaminsky. Each episode contains two short stories, split by a "Speckle Story" read by Emily Elizabeth to Clifford, and "Clifford's Big Idea for Today" at the end. The stories and big idea are not necessarily related, but all follow Bridwell's original concept of good values, good friends, responsibility, and respect.

The first episode aired September 4, 2000. There are currently approximately 60 episodes of the show, with more coming this year.

The show was nominated for Daytime Emmys in 2001 and 2002 for Outstanding Children's Animated Program and Outstanding Performers in Animated Programs for Kel Mitchell and John Ritter in 2001 and 2002 and Cree Summer in 2001 (as well as other categories). The show also won a Humanitas Prize in 2001 in Children's Animation for the episode "A New Friend".

Differences from the books: Unlike the book series, the TV series takes place on a fictional island called Birdwell Island. Clifford's dog friends, T-Bone and Cleo, are also new to the series, as are Emily Elizabeth's friends, Jetta, Charley, and Vaz. Clifford shows a definite understanding of English, reacting emotionally to Emily's speech and listening to the stories she reads to him (the Speckle stories). The dogs show an almost "anti-Hobbes" (so dubbed by Chris-O) speech pattern -- they can speak around each other, but when any humans are present, they revert to barking. While all the stories still carry the same focus, some stories centralize not on Emily Elizabeth's relationship with Clifford, but with Emily Elizabeth's relationship with her friends, or on Clifford and his friends.

The Cast

Merchandising

Where can you buy Clifford products, you ask? The answer is simple -- EVERYWHERE. Besides the books and videos, Clifford is plush dolls, toys, calendars, postcards, Christmas cards, backpacks, clothing, wall art, stickers, coloring books, and Band-Aids. The Scholastic Store in Manhattan (557 Broadway, between Prince and Spring Sts; also enter on Mercer St) and online (www.scholastic.com) carries licensed Clifford the Big Red Dog merchandise; until a year or two ago, they were the only source for Clifford merchandise. Clifford is available on amazon.com, bn.com, ebay.com, and other online toy retailers; at Toys R Us, Kay Bee Toys, and other toy stores, especially in educational toy stores like Zany Brainy; and in most bookstores, Target/Wal-Mart/K-mart-type stores, and occasionally in supermarkets.


Sources:

http://pbskids.org/clifford/
http://www.scholastic.com/clifford/kids/welcome.htm
http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/ShowMainServlet/showid-2429/
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/writers/writerdetails.asp?userid=65E8R49BAK&cid=87507#bio
http://us.imdb.com/Title?0233041
http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/classicclifford.htm

the result of a challenge from Chris-O


update September 12, 2003: John Ritter, voice of Clifford, died today. I don't know what will happen to the TV show right now, but I'll maintain updates.