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The Books that Made Me: Clifford the Big Red Dog

If you know me, you may know my love for Clifford runs deep. When I was young and Clifford was all the rage, I had a secret. You see, my dog was a huge golden retriever who bathed outside with the hose water which we didn’t put through the softener. Our well water had a lot of natural rust, so…I basically had Clifford.

In first grade, we were put into reading groups. Our group had two red-heads, so obviously we called ourselves “The Cliffords”. I wore that name with pride because, like Clifford, my beg red dog was waiting for me when I got home from school each day.

Kids have loved these books for almost fifty years. Norman Bridwell's lovable, red dog was actually based off his wife's childhood imaginary friend. Like any idea that catches on, Clifford goes on many adventures, celebrates almost all the holidays, and inadvertently gets into lots of trouble. In fact, Clifford has 188 books worth of adventures, holidays, and trouble. When we put out holiday books, there’s almost always a Clifford book in the mix because I’ve passed down my love of Clifford to my kids. In fact, my youngest two dressed up as Emily Elizabeth and Clifford years ago for Halloween. How cute were they?

This blog series is all about what we as adults can learn from children’s books. Obviously, I couldn’t leave out my favorite book series, but is it too simple? I’ve thought and thought about it and I think it comes down to this:

What does it mean to be a Clifford? And what does it mean to be an Emily Elizabeth?

Let me explain.

Clifford is a great friend. He’s loyal and helpful. He shows up big for Emily Elizabeth. He makes mistakes and he can’t help that his size gets him into trouble, but he takes good care of Emily and his other friends too. In Clifford Takes a Trip, Emily Elizabeth's family rides on Cliffords back to travel. How helpful is that? He also rescues people from a fire (which he proceeds to help put out) in Clifford the Firehouse Dog.

When I think of the Cliffords in my life, I think about friends who show up. In the worst times, there are people who don’t shy away from my pain. They take care of me and they do it in a big way. There are times when I go out of my way for someone and my kids may ask, “Who is this person again?” And I tell them, “It doesn’t really matter. I want to be the kind of person who shows up.” I want to be a Clifford.

What is an Emily Elizabeth? That’s a different kind of friend. If you haven’t read a Clifford book lately, here’s a spoiler: Clifford often does something to help Emily Elizabeth, but because he’s huge, he causes all kinds of mayhem. Like jumping into a hockey game and breaking the ice. All the players and clifford fell into the freezing water. Clifford also chases a rat...right into the side of the barn he demolishes. But Emily is patient. She doesn’t get frustrated with him or yell at him. She sees his heart and gives him the benefit of the doubt. I’ve had friends who cut and run when things got real. Heck, I’ve been that friend. But it’s not what Emily Elizabeth would do. She stays.

Clifford shows up.

Emily Elizabeth stays.

I want to be both of them. I look for both of them in my friendships and I’m thankful for friends who are both.

In September, on my daughter’s Birthday actually, a live action Clifford movie is set to hit theaters. It looks unbelievably cheesy and you better believe I’ll be there to see it. Maybe I’ll bring my Clifford tote bag and try and sneak snacks in. Probably not, but maybe. These are definitely books that made me who I am and they’re still challenging me as an adult. If you have a Clifford or an Emily in your life, give them a call and thank them for showing up and sticking around. They’re as rare as…well, a big red dog.




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