The Big Red Dog

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I went to a used bookstore (surprise, surprise) this past week which had a section featuring authors who passed away in 2014. There I learned that, Norman Bridwell, the creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog, died this past December. He was 86.

Clifford, the Big Red Dog first made an appearance in bookstore in 1963. In the story, Clifford’s owner and best friend is named Emily. She was the name of Norman’s Bridwell’s own daughter. The author says that as a child he had always dreamed of having a dog large enough to ride, the publisher’s encouraged him to make the dog even bigger.

The reason Cilfford is red? Well, Norman Bridwell just happened to have a large supply of red paint on hand! Clifford, the Big Red Dog went on to become a series of books that have delighted toddlers and young children even since. The books have sold over 129 milions copies and have been translated in 13 languages. Clifford books is one of my most requested books on by families on Kids Books Without Borders.

What is it about Clifford? All children love the idea of owning a pet, especially a dog, but Clifford is more than a dog. Although he is big and clumsy and often gets into mischief, he is kind-hearted, affectionate and loves to help other people. Children are drawn to him as he learns through experiences in life as they themselves do: school, helping others, grouchy neighbors, bathtime, family.

Although book series are often formulaic and predictable, there is something comforting for a small child at the end of a long day, filled with new experiences, changes, or disappointments, to sit down with mom or dad and be greeted by a big red dog, who went through similiar experiences and always ends up on top, loved and accepted, in a warm embrace from Emily.

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For me, growing up in France, it was not Clifford books I remember. It was Babar, the little elephant by Jean de Brunhoff or Noddy books by Enid Blyton or one of my favorite read-alouds in my early childhood, the infamous Paddington Bear by Micheal Bond, complete with raincoat and red hat, also lovable, but getting into all kinds of mischief. My mother who is British, remembers a nightly routine of reading Noddy books to her two younger brothers in post-war England as they snuggled in bed. As she finished the last sentence and closed the books, Mark and Andrew would exclaim in unison: ” Read us another one, Noreen, please!”

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Whatever the character, I’ve come to realize that series, like Clifford, create in a child a sense of security, not just, from snuggling up with mom or dad, although that is a part of it, but the sense that, like an imaginary friend or a favorite stuffed animal, Clifford will be there to when times are tough to sympathize and to lighten the load.

These series are also a great way for children (and adults) to enjoy a good chuckle or laugh. My kids loved the humor in Amelia Bedelia stories, or the funny antics of Curious George. Laughter is a soothing ointment for adult and children alike. Humorous and funny story books are a great way to unwind and laugh together.

So, although I am not a huge fan of all series, or of ONLY reading series, they should have a place in your home library: books to take down from the shelf, for comfort and security when changes or sadness comes creeping into your child’s day.

Here are a few of my favorite series to consider stocking in your home library besides Clifford:

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Picture books
Berenstain Bears by Jan and Stan Berenstain (my kids loved these books)
Franklin series by Paulette Bourgeois
Biscuit series by Alyssa Capucilli
Maisy books by Lucy Cousins
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Spot books by Eric Hill (for the very young)
Frances books by Lillian Hoban (Bread and Jam for Frances is a favorite)
Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird (great for little girls)
Little Critters by Mercer Mayor
Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik (a classic)
Tom and Pippo books by Helen Oxenbury (My son was crazy about these when he was 3 – stories of about a little boy and his stuffed monkey, Pippo)
Curious George by H.A. Rey

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Early readers
Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish (humorous)
Pinky and Rex series by James Howe
Poppleton series by Cynthia Rylant
Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant (another big dog and a boy – love)
Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Ryland (an older man and his cat – also great)
Amanda and Oliver Pig series by Jean Van Leuven (my daughter loved these)

Which picture books were your favorite as a young child? Which books do your children request over and over again (until you have it memorized)?
Leave your comments (“Leave a comment” link is after blog title above) Thanks.

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