An Interview with Deborah Forte: On the Occasion of “Clifford the Big Red Dog’s 50th Anniversary”

Oct 9, 2012 by

Deborah Forte is currently President of Scholastic Media and Executive Vice President of Scholastic Inc.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1. I understand that you have just started a birthday party for…well, a dog. Tell us about this.

Indeed – Scholastic just kicked off a school year long celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of Clifford the Big Red Dog! Our ‘Clifford’s BIGGEST Birthday Party Ever’ event took place in New York City on September 24th in front of our headquarters and was streamed live to thousands of classrooms all over the country via webcast.  We were privileged to have Clifford’s creator Norman Bridwell participate in the festivities.  In the coming year, we look forward to teachers and students participating in many of the anniversary activities – leading up to Cliffford’s actual birthday on February 14, 2013.

2. Now who is Norman Bridwell, and how did he get the idea for Clifford?

Norman Bridwell is Clifford’s creator – and the author and illustrator of the books published by Scholastic. Bridwell was working as a freelance filmstrip and slide illustrator and drawing mostly cartoons when he decided to put together a portfolio of drawings and make the rounds of children’s book publishers.  One editor made the suggestion to write a story to go along with one of his pictures. She picked out his sketch of a baby girl and a horse-sized bloodhound and casually said, “There might be a story in this,” Bridwell remembers. He wasted no time in taking her advice, but he did decide to make the dog even bigger and more of an ‘all-around’ dog—much like the one he had wanted as a little boy.  In time, he had a book about a girl and her dog and ended up dropping off his drawings and manuscript at Scholastic. Three weeks later the phone rang; Scholastic wanted to publish Clifford the Big Red Dog.

3. Will there be any new books or e-books?

Yes! Just last month, Scholastic published NORMAN BRIDWELL’S CLIFFORD COLLECTION, a collection of six classic stories originally published between 1963-1977. Also included is an original letter from Norman Bridwell to the reader, information about the creation of Clifford—including the original and never-before-seen 1962 painting that inspired the Clifford series— and the story behind the real Emily Elizabeth. Spring 2013 will see the publication of CLIFFORD’S BIRTHDAY PARTY and an all-new board book, CLIFFORD’S BEDTIME STORY. In addition to the more than fifty Clifford books in print, Storia™, Scholastic’s teacher recommended eReading app for kids, will debut more than twenty Clifford e-books.

4. Everybody seems to app happy lately, so tell us, will there be any new apps?

Indeed.  We just released ‘Clifford’s BIG Birthday App’ for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch – and the app has ranked consistently in the Top 5 among iPad Educational Game Apps since launch. The app features three highly interactive and replayable birthday-themed games, including one game that builds essential literacy skills using augmented reality. Each game reinforces the language skills needed for early-readers, including spelling, word families and sight words.   We will launch an Android version later this year.

In addition, Clifford’s Rhyme Race will be available for download from the LeapFrog App Center for use with LeapFrog’s Leapster Explorer or the LeapPad.

5. How can kids and schools practice their writing and send Clifford a dog gone good birthday card?

There are two ways for kids to wish Clifford a Happy Birthday!  Individually, they can go to www.scholastic.com/clifford/birthday to personalize their very own card.  And as a class through Scholastic Book Clubs – students can work together to create one card to send to Clifford – and be eligible to win a Clifford birthday party in the classroom come February!

Now, when will Clifford get a movie- I think he deserve one after all these years.

He most certainly does! We currently have a movie in development with Universal Pictures.

6. What are some of Clifford’s BIG IDEAS and where can we learn more about these?

Clifford’s BIG Ideas (Share, Help Others, Be Kind, Be Responsible, Play Fair, Be a Good Friend, Believe in Yourself, Have Respect, Work Together and Be Truthful) focus on simple, tangible life lessons that help young children navigate their world as they become part of an expanding community. Clifford is a kid at heart – and represents his audience’s own hopes, dreams, and fears.  Teachers can learn more about them at http://www.scholastic.com/cliffordbebig/teachers/ and can also download related lesson plans and printables.

7. Now, what is happening on Facebook and these other social sites?

Clifford has a robust presence on various social media outlets – including the official Clifford Facebook page at www.facebook.com/officialclifford  – where we’ll launch three new custom Facebook apps later this Fall to help get fans ready for Clifford’s birthday in February. We also have a newly launched ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ Instagram photo stream; you can follow @cliffordthebigreddog via the Instagram app or view the photo stream online at http://www.facebook.com/officialclifford. One can also tag photos #Clifford and share them via Instagram. There is also a new 50th celebration board added to Scholastic Pinterest (as well as new Clifford content on Classroom Ideas and Clifford Collection boards) and new Clifford 50th videos on YouTube.

8. What have I neglected to ask?

We would just like to add how grateful Scholastic is for the support of teachers over the years in helping Clifford to reach this milestone. Like everything we do – teacher feedback is so important informing our products, services and marketing outreach – so we want to thank everyone for 50 very BIG years!

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