Whether you know him from his books, TV series, movies, or video games, Clifford is undoubtedly the world’s best known Big Red Dog. (And to think that Norman Bridwell, Clifford’s creator, was told he would never succeed.) Here are 10 things you might not know about one of the most popular children's book characters of all time.
1. Clifford creator Norman Bridwell was told he was never going to make it.
Norman Bridwell was told over and over again that he was never going to make it as an illustrator; his art just wasn’t good enough. One editor finally suggested that Bridwell create a story to go with his drawings of a little girl with pony-like dog (as a kid, Bridwell had wanted a dog he could ride).
Bridwell wrote the story in three days in 1962. He made the dog a little bigger, too. “I never thought the book would see the light of day,” he told Boston magazine in 2012. After all, he’d never written anything before. But Scholastic called just three weeks after he sent in the manuscript and ended up publishing Clifford the Big Red Dog in February 1963.
2. Clifford is named after an imaginary friend.
Initially, Bridwell called his giant dog Tiny—but his wife, Norma, didn’t think that was right. “Norma said, ‘Well, that’s a stupid name for a dog like that,’” Bridwell told NPR in 2012. “And she went back to her childhood and took the name of an imaginary friend, Clifford, and gave it to the dog.”
3. The dog is red for a practical reason.
When asked how he decided on Clifford’s signature color, Bridwell admitted that “it was red because I happened to have red paint on the drawing table that night.” The color may be one reason kids love Clifford: “He’s a bright color with a lot of movement. That’s really important for brain development for younger kids,” Myra Mendez, Ph.D., LMFT, explained to Scholastic Parents in 2019. “Movement and color are aspects of the world a young brain requires to stimulate connections and learning.”
4. Bridwell’s daughter inspired a character.
Emily Elizabeth, the little girl who takes a liking to the runt of the litter in the first book, is named after Bridwell’s own daughter, Emily Elizabeth Bridwell. She was an infant when he was writing the story. ”I don’t remember the point at which I recognized that the girl in the book was actually myself,” she told the Globe in 2004. ”It was just a given that that's me in the book. It’s a unique place to have.”
5. Clifford is a bit of a mutt.
Ever wonder exactly what type of dog Clifford is? Well, he’s said to have the characteristics of a giant Vizsla now, but the very first prototype—back when he was just the size of a pony instead of a house—was of a rather large bloodhound. Bridwell has said he took his inspiration from the behavior of all types of dogs.
6. Bridwell was adamant that Clifford behave like a normal dog.
Coming up with ideas for the Clifford books ”has gotten more difficult over the years,” Bridwell acknowledged in 2012. ”Every time I think of an idea, I think, ‘Well, that’s kind of like the idea that I did a couple of times before.’ And I’m running out of situations.” Still, he wasn’t going to create titles like Clifford Goes to Outer Space or Clifford and the Dinosaurs. Bridwell, who passed away in 2014, firmly believed that although Clifford is a bit oversized, he still mostly does things normal dogs do.
7. It took around three months to create each Clifford story.
According to Reading Rockets, Bridwell drew inspiration for Clifford from watching other dogs, whether they were his own or in movies and TV. Once he knew what he wanted to happen in the story, he would sketch it out before writing and revising—a process that took around three months. No matter what the story was, though, the messaging was pretty consistent: “If there’s one message that winds up in most of the books, it’s to try, and if things go wrong, don’t give up, go back and try again,” Bridwell told PBS. “Clifford does that all the time. He’s constantly making mistakes or knocking things over, but it doesn't keep him from trying.”
8. Clifford exists in 13 languages.
More than 90 Clifford books have been published since the original first hit bookstores in 1963 and there are more than 126 million copies in print in 13 different languages.
9. Some famous voices lent their talents to the Clifford cartoon.
If you’ve ever watched the Clifford cartoon on PBS, you’ve likely recognized some of the voices. John Ritter was the voice of Clifford; Kel Mitchell of Kenan and Kel voiced Clifford’s buddy T-Bone; Cree Summers lent her vocals to another pal named Cleo (you’ve also heard her as Penny in Inspector Gadget and Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures); and Emily Elizabeth is played by voice actress Grey DeLisle, who is also the McNulty Brothers in Rugrats and Queen Amidala in the Star Wars interactive series.
10. Bridwell didn’t know why Clifford was a success ...
No one was more surprised by Clifford’s success than Bridwell, who thought his first book would be a fluke. And though he could never figure out why his character was so popular, he believed that luck was a bit part of it. “I’m lucky that Clifford was the kind of character that people wanted more of,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky that way. I sometimes feel like this is all a dream. How could this have happened to me?”
11. ... But others suspect it’s because kids could see themselves in Clifford.
Following Bridwell’s death in 2014, Scholastic chairman, CEO, and president Dick Robinson issued a statement describing why he believed Bridwell and his famous pup were so beloved:
“Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children—kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude—through the Clifford stories which have been loved for more than 50 years. The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally.”
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2023.