October 29, 1993 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s the year of the Big Red Dog, as Clifford celebrates his 30thbirthday and his just-released 35th book. There’s no question: He’sbigger than ever.With a slew of licensed products, including six educational yetentertaining videos, Clifford has become a household name. Meanwhile,his 65-year-old creator, Norman Bridwell, has stood quietly in theshadows, watching his crimson canine’s success with wonderment.”Clifford came about as a series of accidents,” he says. Afreelance illustrator, Bridwell was rejected by 15 publishers until avisionary editor suggested he write a book based on his painting of agirl and her horse-size dog. ”When I was a kid, I wanted a dog Icould ride,” Bridwell says. ”But then I thought it would be evenfunnier if I made him bigger, so I drew him house- size.” He paintedthe pup red because ”I had an open jar of red paint on my drawingtable.”The result: 1963’s Clifford the Big Red Dog, which introducedEmily Elizabeth and her oversize pet. At first, Bridwell was going toname his creation Tiny, but his wife, Norma, thought that was ”astupid idea.” She suggested Clifford, based on an imaginary playmatefrom her childhood. Emily Elizabeth was named after the couple’sdaughter, now 31. That first Clifford remains the top seller of theseries (all of which are published by Scholastic and cost $2.25).Bridwell’s personal favorite is 1969’s Clifford’s TrickS, whichemphasizes love in the face of imperfection. Although Clifford islovable and well intentioned, he’s awkward and makes mistakes-minorflaws that kids can certainly relate to. ”I think the fact thatClifford’s not perfect has a lot to do with his popularity,” Bridwellsays. ”He’s gentle, he’s big, and he’s on your side.”One thing the Clifford books do especially well is incorporatewords and pictures. In 1972’s Clifford the Small Red Puppy, thelittle red runt grows to / humongous proportions on lots of love.When Emily Elizabeth allows frail little Clifford to sleep on herpillow, the next page simply reads, ”That was a mistake,” as agrowing Clifford hogs the bed and Emily Elizabeth ends up on thefloor. To a 4-year-old, this is a sidesplitter.Now Clifford fans, who have already bought more than 32 millionbooks, will enjoy his latest, Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit, whichfollows his trip to the city to spend the holiday with his mother. Asusual, Clifford’s size gets him into some funny predicaments-thistime with trains and drawbridges-and he even passes by his own floatat Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (This Nov. 25, the character’sinflated version will make its fourth appearance suspended above thestreets of New York.)The first children to embrace Clifford are now rediscovering himwith their own kids, and there’s a lot to enjoy. Clifford’s HappyEaster will be out next spring, and Bridwell is working on Clifford’sFirst Christmas and a book about his fire-engine red friend as afirehouse dog. Considering the ever-changing tastes of pint-sizereaders, the Big Red Dog’s staying power is nothing to sniff at. AllClifford books and videos: A

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