Call it a red letter day—or, better yet, year—for a beloved storybook dog.
Next February, Clifford the Big Red Dog turns 50 years old, and Scholastic’s plans to commemorate this milestone are already underway. Beginning September 1, the publisher kicks off a year-long celebration with the release of Norman Bridwell’s Clifford Collection, a hardcover treasury of six Clifford stories originally published between 1963-1977. “With Norman wrapping his love and insight around this collection, it makes this book feel like a true keepsake,” says Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade.
Today, the oversized yet gentle Clifford continues to resonate with readers of all ages. “He represents friendship, loyalty, and love, and those things don’t date,” says Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media. In honor of the publishing powerhouse, Scholastic is embarking on a number of marketing initiatives to commemorate Clifford’s 50th anniversary in bookstores, in the classroom, and at home:
• Books Bonanza: Featured in the Collection are behind-the-scenes content, including the story of the real Emily Elizabeth – Bridwell’s daughter, now turning 50 herself – and his never-before-seen painting that inspired the series. “1962 had been a bad year for commercial artists,” Bridwell recalls. “My wife encouraged me to try illustrating children’s books.” After he showed his painting of a little girl and her large dog to one publishing house, the editor suggested Bridwell turn the painting into a story. The result was the three-color Clifford the Big Red Dog, published in 1963 by Scholastic.
One story quickly led to another, much to Bridwell’s pleasant surprise. “After the first book, I asked my editor [Beatrice Schenk de Regniers] if I should be putting a message in these stories,” he says. “He told me as long as I gave the kids something to laugh at and entertain them, they’d be able to take something away from the books on their own.”
And readers clearly have. More than 100 titles – and 126 million books in print – later, the Clifford library will expand next spring with the rerelease of Clifford’s Birthday Party (1988), and a new board book, Clifford’s Bedtime Story.
• An App-etite for E-Books:In September, Clifford’s Big Birthday Party App will be available for iOS and Android platforms, and will feature three birthday-themed games designed to reinforce language skills for early readers. Next spring, Scholastic’s Storia reading app will debut more than 20 Clifford e-books. “I’m glad to see Clifford in the world of computers because it seems like a popular way to get books into young readers’ hands,” adds Bridwell.
• Puppy Playtime: Further cementing Clifford’s presence in the toy market, new merchandise will roll out this year, including plush from Douglas and Zoobies, games and puzzles from Patch Products, and Canadian Games, party supplies from Buy Seasons, and coloring/activity books from Bendon. Lionsgate will also be releasing a new DVD in early 2013.
• Clifford, Screen Star: This year also marks the 12th consecutive season of the animated PBS Kids’ television series Clifford the Big Red Dog. Forte credits the series with helping give the book-based character global reach. “We extended Clifford from early, three-color storybooks into a brand that resonated with the series,” she says. “By working with Norman, we were able to build that out. We always made sure we had his blessing and enthusiastic approval.” In December, PBS Kids will also broadcast the premiere of Clifford’s Really Big Movie, which was originally released by Warner Brothers in 2004, and Clifford will return to the silver screen down the road, in a feature-length film currently in development with Universal Pictures.
• Big Birthday Bash: On September 24, Scholastic will host “Clifford’s Biggest Birthday Party Ever” at its New York City headquarters, which Bridwell is expected to attend. While invited guests of all ages sing “Happy Birthday” to the prized pooch, the event will be broadcast on the Internet and streamed live into classrooms around the country.
The party doesn’t stop there; throughout the year, children are invited to create and send their own birthday cards to Clifford via Scholastic’s Web site, while adults are encouraged to design and share photos personalized with a downloadable Big Red Ears graphic, via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. Kids can also enter Clifford’s Big Birthday Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Clifford celebration in their hometown. Five winners will each be permitted to invite 50 guests to a Clifford-themed celebration with all the trimmings.
• Clifford in the Classroom: Educators may enter sweepstakes of their own: the Scholastic Book Club is offering the chance to win a classroom Clifford birthday party for their students.
Clifford’s presence in the education market has always been a natural, according to Forte. “His experience of making mistakes, but trying to do his best, is analogous to a child’s first experience at school,” she says. “Teachers love Clifford because he’s appropriate for the social-emotional curriculum of early childhood education.”
After September 11, 2001, Bridwell received a number of letters from teachers who made a point of bringing Clifford books into their classrooms. “They told me how much it helped calm down their students,” he recalls. “Clifford lives in a world where there’s not a lot of tension.”
As for Bridwell, Clifford’s staying power has made for an amazing journey of self-discovery. “Even after 50 years, I still wake up and wonder if this really happened,” Bridwell says. “I’m not an expert on child development or child rearing, but I had a feeling about what would make kids laugh.”