By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— Kids Wednesday scrambled to touch a celebrity and offer him gifts of bones and balloons.
That was appropriate for the guest of honor — a big, red dog who turned 50 recently.
The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library hosted the first of three birthday celebrations for Clifford the Big Red Dog at its south branch.
“This is bigger than I expected,” said Estella Lucas, as she watched more than 50 kids play Clifford games.
Lucas grew up with the man who created Clifford, Norman Bridwell. The pair worked together on the 1945 Kokomo High School yearbook.
On Wednesday, Lucas sat in the back of a room at the library and snapped photos of the birthday party.
“I thought it would be fun to send them to Norman,” Lucas said.
He was surprised the library was even throwing a party at all, Lucas said. Bridwell said he was “so pleased that Kokomo remembers.”
As for Lucas, she’s not surprised children today still know the beloved storybook character.
“Parents like the stories he tells,” she said. “They’re simple, but they all have a lesson in them.”
And the kids, they seem to have an innate fascination with the red dog that’s as big as a house.
Five-year-old Katrell Gaillard imagined what it would be like to have a dog like Clifford.
He might be a little hard to take care of, she said.
“I would build him a big dog house,” Katrell said. “I would ride him on the sidewalk.”
Five-year-old Kyanna Haynes sat in the library with her arms crossed and a frown on her face.
She was waiting for her teachers at Crossroads Learning Corner to let her meet Clifford. She had a special surprise for him — a Valentine.
“I like Clifford,” she said. “He’s really big and soft.”
The little girl is afraid of some big dogs. A Great Dane once hurt her sister’s friend, she said.
She knows Clifford would never do that, though.
“He could probably scare away other dogs,” she said.
While kids waited to meet Clifford and eat birthday cake, they played games.
There was the relay race. Boys and girls crawled on all fours as they raced to get the bone at the end of a mat.
That was Katrell’s favorite part.
Other kids dug through plastic bins full of shredded paper to find the bones Clifford had buried there.
Along the way, some kids got sidetracked as they threw handfuls of shredded paper in the air and watched it fall like rain.
At a nearby station, one little boy tossed bean bags into a dog dish.
A sign above the game gave him instructions.
It said, “Clifford ate all his food. Can you refill his bowl before Emily Elizabeth gets home? Just toss it.”
The Damron brothers spent their time at a Clifford craft table. They used construction paper, glue and stickers to create works of art.
“I builded a Clifford out of paper,” 3-year-old Jude said.
Four-year-old Gabriel got on the floor to show just how small his own dog is. But if the dog ever grew as big as Clifford, Gabriel would definitely ride him, he said with a smile.
Their mother said they watch the Clifford television shows and read the books every day.
“They love him,” she said.