Clifford and Emily

Clifford the Big Red Dog, shown with owner Emily Elizabeth, has been popular with young readers for decades. The Norman Bridwell character's first adventures were published by Scholastic in 1963. Photo courtesy of PBS. #nosale

Each young reader who attends the Clifford the Big Red Dog event Saturday morning at the Paramount Theater will head home with a free book. And each of the books handed out at the Virginia Festival of the Book event will come with a question.

Children will be asked, “Where are you keeping your book?” said Mary Jo Grieve, Ready to Learn director for the Community Idea Stations. “We want them to know that books are important, and they should go in a special place.”

Whether a child stores his or her book on a shelf, in a desk drawer or on a nightstand, once he or she signs the name plate in the front, the book becomes part of a personal library. Organizers of the 25th-anniversary Virginia Festival of the Book and the team behind the local PBS stations can’t help wondering where the joy of reading and the pride in those budding libraries will take these children in the next 25 years.

“A Morning with Clifford the Big Red Dog,” presented by WVPT WHTJ PBS, will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Paramount. Tickets are free, but pre-registration is encouraged.

A 30-minute Clifford video will be shown on the Paramount’s big screen, and youngsters will be able to get their photos taken with a costumed literary mascot in person.

Some children who are fond of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” on PBS may be discovering the books, which author Norman Bridwell started releasing in 1963. Other children who are growing up with the books may be getting acquainted with the animated television series, which can be seen at noon weekdays on WHTJ and WCVE and at 11 a.m. daily on the PBS Kids 24/7 channel.

Bridwell based his colossal canine character on his own dog and named Clifford’s human companion Emily Elizabeth after his daughter. In the books, Emily Elizabeth picked out Clifford as her Christmas present; in the television series, she receives him as a surprise sixth-birthday gift. Either way, Clifford is a huge gift in his young human’s life, and their adventures are filled with opportunities for growth.

“I think what television does is to bring the books to life,” Grieve said. “It reinforces the social skills children need. Respecting other people’s feelings and resolving conflicts. Understanding that our actions make a difference. Appreciating differences as well.”

Clifford is always 2 years old, but his fans are growing and learning all the time. Grieve said characters like Clifford can help children absorb age-appropriate lessons that can make life easier and more enjoyable, such as sharing, being kind, taking responsibility and being a good friend.

“He’s a wonderful example of empathy,” Grieve said of Clifford. “That’s what we want most.”

A variety of book festival events are designed with young readers in mind.

After the Clifford event ends at the Paramount, “Wild About Reading!” will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the nearby Virginia Discovery Museum. Hosted by WVPT WHTJ PBS, Virginia Discovery Museum and Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary, the event will include live animal guests, stories and plenty of fun facts about Virginia wildlife. Each of the first 100 children to arrive will receive a free wildlife book. The event is free.

The Storytime Marathon starts at 2 p.m. at Central Library. The free event is hosted by Jefferson-Madison Regional Library and Charlottesville Family.

A succession of children’s authors and illustrators will read from their books during the informal gathering, and there will be short activities for children ages 3 to 6.

At 2 p.m., listen to Angela Dominguez, author of “Galapagos Girl/Galapaguena.”

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson (“Everywhere, Wonder”) will read at 2:20 p.m.; they’ll be followed at 2:40 p.m. by Jennifer Elvgren, author of “The Edelweiss Pirates.”

Tracey Kyle, author of “A Paintbrush for Pico,” will read at 3 p.m., and Miranda and Baptiste Paul of “I Am Farmer” fame will follow at 3:20 p.m.

Dropping in is encouraged, and there’s no admission charge.

To look up other events for fans of children’s and young adult literature, check the schedule online at vabook.org.

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Jane Dunlap Sathe is the features editor for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7249 or jsathe@dailyprogress.com

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