Tag Archive for Carol Skolnick

On the Passing of Norman Bridwell, Creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog


I was hired by Scholastic as a junior copywriter back in 1985 for the princely sum of $11,500. To get the initial interview, I mailed in my near-empty resume and a writing sample, which addressed the hot topic of the day, Bernie Goetz, New York’s “subway shooter.”

After the first set of interviews with Willie Ross and Carol Skolnick, I was given a bunch of children’s books and asked to write about them in two voices. First, for young children, and secondly, for teachers. Writing about Curious George to students, I wrote something like, “Yikes! That silly monkey is in trouble again!” For teachers, the idea was to take a different tone, such as, “In this classic tale, award-winning author H.A. Rey conveys the hilarious antics of Curious George, one of the most enduring and beloved characters in all of children’s literature.”

I got the job writing the SeeSaw Book Club.

One of the first assignments I was asked to perform was to write brief promotional brochures on three authors: Ann McGovern, Johanna Hurwitz, and Norman Bridwell. I was given their phone numbers, told to call them, set up an interview.

“Call them?” I asked.


“On the phone?” I asked.


“Um, me?”

“Yes, you.”

I stared at that phone for a few minutes, mustered up my courage, and pushed the numbers.

That’s the first time I spoke with Norman Bridwell. He was then, as he would forever remain, a humble, soft-spoken, generous man. The first Clifford book, published in 1963, came out in two-color, in an inexpensive, horizontal format. It looked cheap, because it was. But in the early 80s somebody at Scholastic had the bright idea of repackaging those books in a mass market, 8″ x 8″ format — and in vibrant full color. The books took off and the Big Red Dog became one of the great success stories in children’s literature. In fact, one can accurately imagine the Scholastic corporation as a great sled with Clifford the Big Red Dog hauling it through the snow. That benign character helped propel a company to greatness.

Through it all, Norman remained the same kind, gentle man. No one ever spoke badly of him. No one, not ever.

He was always courteous, generous, kind. Even grateful, I think. Norman always seemed to consider himself lucky. And the truth is, he was fortunate. I don’t think anyone makes it really big in this business without a little luck shining down on you. Norman understood that.


He deserved his success, for he had created something pure and genuine that touched hearts, and through it all he remained faithful to the essential core of what those books were all about. The love between a child and her dog, with a bunch of jokes and gags thrown in to get you to that final hug.

One other quick story about Clifford. It was sometime later, let’s call it the early 1990s, and I was in Ed Monagle’s office, chatting away. At that time, I’d moved upstate, gone freelance, and was trying to survive as a writer. (True story: I’m still trying to survive as a writer.) Ed was a terrific guy, but also a numbers guy. A financial analyst, chief bean counter at Scholastic. Ed cared about the books, and believed in the central mission of the company, but he was also impressed by profit-and-loss statements. He admired Clifford’s sales numbers, and respected the size of Norman’s royalty checks.

So on this day, Ed gave me some friendly advice. He said, “Jimmy, this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to invent a character that everyone loves. Look at Clifford the Big Red Dog. Do you have any idea how many of those books we sell? You could do that!” he continued. “I mean, think about Clifford. He’s a dog. He’s big. He’s red. How hard could it be?!

That’s the thing with magic, I guess. It never looks difficult.

Ed was right, of course, the idea was laughably simple. He was also completely wrong. Clifford the Big Red Dog was an exceptional idea, marvelous in its simplicity, executed to perfection.

Not so easy after all.

Norman Bridwell passed away this week. And I’m here to say, very quietly, that he was a really good guy. I’m sorry to see him go.


Memories: Working at Scholastic, 1986.

That’s me with the antenna. Wait, no, I’m in the middle.

I started at Scholastic as a Junior Copywriter for $12,500 a year, hired partly because of a writing sample, an opinion piece I wrote about the subway shooter, Bernie Goetz (no lie), and also because I was the first young, heterosexual male to enter the building in the last six years — besides the mail room guys, of course. There were three other copywriters working on the book clubs: Bill Epes, Karen Belov, and Cynthia Larkins. I may have muffed those spellings. My primary responsibility was the K-1 SeeSaw Book Club. I sat in a cubicle and banged away on a typewriter. Computers came in less than a year after I arrived, a transition that caused great upheaval. We threw away our little bottles of liquid white-out, learned how to boot up with an MS-DOS 5 1/4 floppy disk, and so on.

An aside: I just breezed through the brilliant biography, STEVE JOBS, and it so captured the changes of technology through my life. If you are around my age (51 yesterday), or maybe any age, you’ve got read it. The author, Walter Isaacson, also wrote the biography, EINSTEIN, that I raved about previously.

At Scholastic, in the old 730 Broadway location, I worked in-house for almost five years, rising all the way to lower-middle obscurity. Another memory: I remember when they instituted a new policy no longer allowing people to smoke at their desks. Suddenly you had to go down to the 8th floor to the “smoker’s lounge.” Many of us feared that our old-school copyeditor, the chain-smoking Willie Ross, would lose her mind completely. Such a violation of personal liberty, an outrage perpetrated by the PC police, and I was  sure the laughter I heard came from the belly of Big Brother.

I continued on with Scholastic as a consultant and favored freelancer. Launched and ran the Carnival Book Club out of my home in Albany, as both editor and promotion manager. Wrote some books, started doing Jigsaw Jones in 1998, and on and on. I assumed my time at Scholastic would go on forever. But not quite. I used to really, really love that place, and I know I’m not alone in that regard.

The man on the left of the photo is my great pal Craig Walker. In life you don’t get to know too many people who become mentors, people you respect and admire and love, and for me Craig heads that very short list. He was one-of-a-kind. There was a long stretch of about 15 years or so when we were really, really good friends. We probably ate lunch together three times a week for four years, usually in the cheapest, no-nonsense dives we could find. Or was that the bars we frequented? The truly remarkable thing about Craig is that so many people felt that way about him. Our relationship was special. Our friendship was unique and powerful. Dozens upon dozens of people could make that same claim — and they’d all be correct. He was just one of those guys that made you think, “I wish I could be more like him.” Craig is gone now, but as I’ve written before, I try to remember everything.

1986, the day we watched Game 6 of the 1986

World Series at Brenda Bowen’s parents’ summer

place. Me and Craig.

Let’s see, yes, that’s art director Scott Hunt next to me. I thought of Scott a few days ago when, reading the book, I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TALK RETRO, the author Ralph Keyes explained the origin of one of Scott’s go-to words, “skosh.” As in, “Let’s move that type down a skosh.” Confusingly, it came from the Korean War, but was adapted from a Japanese word, sukoshi, meaning “a small amount.” Reading about those origins, I wondered if perhaps Scott’s father spent time in Korean conflict, hanging out with Hawkeye, Trapper John, Hot Lips, and the gang. Scott used to complain that his father was a gung-ho outdoors type, always taking the children on camping trips and forced hikes up impossible mountains. Scott would say, “I hated those hikes. I just wanted to stay home and watch movies!”

And to the right, that’s Cynthia Maloney, a Kansas gal. Cynthia used to wear a deerskin vest the like of which you have never seen, in Manhattan, no less. She had the messiest desk on all three floors. I’d ask her about something, an important memo or whatever, or a mechanical board she had to review and sign, and she’d turn to this tilting mountain of paper and, after a considered time, miraculously extract the key document from the perilous pile. Cynthia was older than I was, married with children, but I always had a secret crush on her, the way you do in office life, ten cubicles down, a world away. She might have been the nicest person in the place.

Anyway, we started a preschool book club, called it FIREFLY, and as far as I know it’s still going strong today, 25 years later. I wrote all the promotional copy, including every book description, for several years. At the time, it was a big, risky project. Craig’s editorial meetings were hilarious and legendary. Scholastic of that time was led by a supremely talented trio: Jean Feiwel in editorial, Barbara Marcus (my first real boss) in marketing, and wise old Dick Krinsley, steering the ship. Around then I had the honor of writing their first hardcover catalog — it included a total of four books by, um, Harry Mazer, Anne Mazer, Julian Thompson, and somebody else. Oh, what was it? Something about child safety, I think. A book cover that Craig likened to those Heimlich posters you’d see in restaurant bathrooms. He’d say something along the lines of, “I don’t know if it’s a good thing that every time I look at the book cover, I think of choking victims.”

Jean Feiwel, do you remember that book?

Ah, forgive me, memory lane.

This is an advertisement  I wrote at that time. A full-page ad was a huge extravagance, and you wouldn’t believe how many people fussed over this, and revised it, and changed it again and again. That was my line, “Because Growing Up and Good Books Belong Together.


Jean wrote and gave me the name of that elusive title, CLOSE TO HOME by Oralee Wachter!

Craig had a flare for exaggeration, but the point stands: