Making the Grades
I remember the day my sister finally prevailed with my parents to adopt a furry bundle with a licking tongue and a wagging tail. Although we were not superstitious, someone should have been smart enough to recognize the events of that initial ride home as an ill omen. By the time the pup crossed the threshold of our small suburban bungalow, we were all well aware that his plumbing and bowels were completely operational, dogs really do eat their vomit, and everyone (especially the car) was in need of a good bath. Equally unheeded was the prophecy foretold by his paw size. While I only recall the next six months as a blur of chewed up toys, new shoes, and recently transplanted rose bushes, my mother refers to this period as one of the longest, most expensive, and frustrating mistakes of her whole motherhood career. When my father announced that the now 150 lb. Joey would be taking up residence at the farm of an acquaintance, he was met with tears--ours were sorrow, but my mother's were joy.
I cannot help but reflect upon this childhood experience as I review Clifford: The Big Red Dog. Unarguably the largest dog of all time, Clifford was introduced to the public in the 1960's as the lovable red canine in a popular series of children's books of the same name. In September 2000, he came to life as an animated television series on PBS Kids. Due to his gigantic success, parents who are more prudent than mine, can share in a virtual dog experience by bringing home the newly released videos, containing four episodes each, titled Here Comes Clifford, and Clifford's Best Friends.
Children like my sister will be able to relate to Emily Elizabeth Howard (voiced by Grey DeLisle) and her bad case of puppy love. Plastering posters displaying mugs of mutts all over her bedroom walls, she has wished all her young life for a pet dog. Here Comes Clifford includes the introductory episodes of the TV series, where Emily Elizabeth comes face to face with the dog of her dreams.
For her birthday, Mom and Dad arrange for Emily Elizabeth to pick a pet from a litter of pups at a neighboring apartment. Choosing the runt, Emily Elizabeth is warned that the tiny creature, capable of fitting into her mother's handbag, may never amount to much. Undeterred, the young girl pours out her heart on the newest family member. Perhaps it is a reflection of her love that he grows, and grows, and grows. With his head touching the ceiling in their tiny flat, Emily Elizabeth's parents decide, without a moments hesitation, to move out of the city, and find a home where Clifford can have more elbow space (an option my parents never even considered).
A crane is required to lift Clifford out of a second story window and place him on a flatbed trailer. (Getting his large body through a space that small must have been equivalent to removing a ship from a bottle, and perhaps just as mysterious, as no explanation is attempted). The family then heads for Birdwell Island, a tiny community unprepared for a resident of such magnitude. All it takes is one look to convince the concerned citizens that Clifford may present big problems. Their welcome becomes considerably warmer once they discover you can't judge a dog by his size.
When Clifford makes friends with two other canine residents, the audience becomes privy to their shared conversations, thanks to the voice talents of John Ritter, Kel Mitchell, and Cree Summer. While nothing about life with Clifford resembles our life with Joey, the antics of these pals provide positive messages of friendship that may be applied to real life.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Here Comes Clifford.
Don’t forget to look for Clifford books in your local library. And if that’s not enough dog for your youngster, Scholastic hosts a Clifford web page ( scholastic.com/clifford ) with games and activities for preschoolers, and educational suggestions for Mom and Dad.