Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Snake Tale

Hey all, home with a cold here but had a bit I wanted to say re the Harriet Ziefert scandal. When I was walking around the ALA exhibits in San Antonio, I saw Harriet at the Blue Apple/Handprint booth, where she pointed out A Snake Is Totally Tail to me as something she was sure the Horn Book would like. While not as on-the-spot as the sharp (and fellow Lucinda Williams fan) Karen Breen of Kirkus, I knew the title, at least, was not new, and I asked Harriet if it was a reissue, but her attention had already gone on to someone else.

I do not think this is a case of knowing plagiarism--no one could be that venal and stupid. As I see it, the problem is one of the dangers of boutique publishing--Blue Apple, editorially speaking, is essentially a one-woman show, and while Harriet had clearly forgotten she knew the book, there was not the series of filters, nor sets of eyes, that the book would have been subjected to at a larger house. (Although, as KT Horning pointed out on child_lit, a similar boo-boo was made when a large publisher--Dell?--did not recognize a manuscript found in Louise Fitzhugh's papers as the published work of Charlotte Zolotow, and republished it as being by Fitzhugh.)

Deborah Stevenson of The Bulletin sent me a note about the story, signing it "Helen 'Frost King' Keller" and I believe Ziefert made much the same kind of mistake as the precocious--and impressionable Helen!

11 comments:

Mara Rockliff said...

How awful! As a children's writer, I am always haunted by the fear of a book I don't remember reading popping up in my head as an "original idea." I've been reading since I was two and a half, and have very few memories before the age of six, so this seems a not unreasonable fear! Even without unintentional plagiarism, sometimes it's hard to tell if something (plot twist, wording, etc.) seems right and natural because it's good, or because it's cliched.

Anonymous said...

How about BROWN BEAR BROWN BEAR and I WENT WALKING?

Them's some similar texts.

Wilhelmina Hunnewell Winthrop Ikehorn Orsini said...

Roger, mon chere, you are charmingly naive.

Roger Sutton said...

Does this mean my post proves my point? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have a copy of the new Ziefert book and the Barrett and it is astounding to see the books side by side. Then, to read them aloud, one book after another, you KNOW Ziefert had to have a copy of the Barrett on her lap when she was "writing" the second. Twelve sentences match WORD FOR WORD. Two are almost the same.
Come now--oodles of odor? wholly hoots? These are not phrases that fall out of one's brain instantly when one thinks of skunks and owls. How about "A camel is half humps"?
I feel sorry for the fantastic illustrator--he is the other one who has been harmed here. His bright primary color acrylics (maybe oils, the book is now downstairs and that seems so far away) are the perfect for the large format. He should call Barrett (and where is SHE in this little drama?) and propose a reprint.

But Roger, Harriet POINTED THE BOOK OUT TO YOU as something HornBook would like? That really tops off the story.

rindambyers said...

Well, now I'm really, really, REALLY grateful that I made the decision long ago not to rely on critique groups to help me write...I'm going to keep sweating away in my isolation...and not feel so sorry for myself. It's strange, isn't it, how AFRAID writers can be to explore themselves...and to be themselves. Thanks for the information.

the kid said...

Having endured the misery of working with Harriet, I believe she thinks she did nothing wrong. Because in Harriet's world, she never does anything wrong. Hopefully this will be a lesson learned, though I doubt it.

KT Horning said...

It's sad that Judi Barrett has been missing from the children's book scene. Her books had a very original brand of humor, almost Scieszkaesque. I do wonder what she's up to these days.

I met her husband (ex-husband?), Ron Barrett (illustrator of many of her books) at a children's literature conference years ago. He was on the staff of MAD magazine and was hilarious, both as a speaker and in casual conversation.

As for the book in question: many authors have been repeating themselves for years. It was only a matter of time before they began to repeat each other.

Meg Seaver said...

Cou cou cou we need help--any chance thru University of Chicago?????? message below forwarded by Meg Seaver, Librarian , American School of Paris Dear SCBWI,
Some of you will know the great, international children's library in Clamart run by La Joie par les Livres and Genevive Patte.See her letter below . She is currently occupying the library to prevent it closing after state funding was withdrawn without warning. There have been articles in the press. The full history of this library, and what has been going on, is at the end of this email in blue.
As lovers of children's books, please think about signing the online petition.
Merci d’avance!
Bridget
Nous occupons la bibliothque jour et nuit. Nous avons dj vit le
transfert des livres et des meubles qui devait commencer aujourd'hui mme et
se faire en douce. (La responsable de la JPL ayant donn la consigne toute
l'quipe de ne pas me prvenir de cette fermeture anticipe. Consigne
adopte...) La presse nous soutient et le collectif clamartois : Pour que
vivent nos cits est trs actif. Mais nous avons besoin de votre soutien.
Signez et faites suivre autour de vous.
Des films sont tourns actuellement sur place. Marc Riboud va faire un
reportage photographique. Jack Lang, Robert Delpire, Sarah Moon crivent des
textes destins tre publis. Chre association Laissez-les lire, ne nous
oubliez pas. Le jeu en vaut la chandelle.
Amitis.
Genevive Patte

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