NEW YORK (AP) — School kids sang “Happy Birthday” and Scholastic unfurled a huge banner worthy of a big red dog from the roof of its headquarters Monday to fete Clifford, the beloved book and TV character, for his 50 years of nudging kids to read.
His creator, 84-year-old Norman Bridwell, took questions from a few dozen first- and second-graders during a webcast beamed live into more than 5,000 classrooms around the country from the party held outside the downtown building as tourists snapped photos from atop open-air double-decker buses stuck in traffic.
And Bridwell’s real-life daughter, the all-grown-up Emily Elizabeth, spoke to reporters of her special place in publishing history as the inspiration for the perky, blond girl who shares her life — and 90 books worth of adventures — with the gawky, big-hearted Clifford.
She was just a year old when her father, a struggling artist from Indiana, and his wife, aptly named Norma, were trying to eke out a living in New York. It wasn’t going well when Norma suggested he try his hand at illustrating children’s books.
Norma came up with the name Clifford, based on an imaginary friend she had as a girl.
But Bridwell’s 10 paintings for kids were roundly rejected. One staffer at a publisher told him if he wanted to work on children’s books, he’d have to write one of his own.
His story eventually landed at Scholastic at a time the company was just starting in the trade fiction market.
Clifford is now one of Scholastic’s most successful endeavors, with more than 126 million copies in print in 13 languages, a TV show and a multitude of products.
“I remember my mother was visiting from Indiana,” Bridwell said, lounging in a chair and munching some fruit after the festivities.