Norman Ray Bridwell, author of the best-selling children’s book series "Clifford the Big Red Dog," died on Dec. 12 at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, at the age of 86, the Martha’s Vineyard Times reported Tuesday.

Bridwell grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, and attended John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and Cooper Union art school in New York, studying illustration. He worked as a commercial artist for 12 years before attempting to move into book illustration after the birth of his daughter Emily Elizabeth.

He was rejected by 15 publishing houses. One editor at Harper & Row told him she didn’t think anyone would want him to illustrate a book for them, according to Scholastic. However, she did suggest that he turn one drawing of a baby girl with a large bloodhound into a book. He heeded her advice. He first thought to name the dog Tiny, but his wife, Norma, suggested the name Clifford, after her imaginary best friend from childhood. Bridwell named Clifford's little owner after Emily. He increased Clifford’s size and fashioned him after the type of dog he had wanted as a child, and three weeks after sending his ideas to Scholastic Books, they offered to publish his story.

Bridwell went on to write 40 “Clifford” titles, which have sold more than 60 million copies. There are also two “Clifford” television series, a live musical and countless merchandise. Bridwell is also the author of “The Witch Next Door” and “A Tiny Family.” Collectively, his books have sold over 126 million copies.

Bridwell and his wife lived on Martha's Vineyard. He is survived by his wife and children Tim Bridwell and Emily Bridwell Merz.