The Publisher as Plagiarist

By Carmen Comment

It all started when Kirkus children’s book editor Karen Breen got a copy of Harriet Ziefert’s A Snake Is Totally Tail for review and realized that the book seemed awfully similar to an out-of-print children’s book by Judi Barrett — with the exact same title. And as the Book Standard’s Kimberly Maul reveals, “12 of the 23 lines in Barrett’s version are repeated in Ziefert’s, including identical concluding lines: “A dinosaur is entirely extinct. This book is finally finished.” Furthermore, “in 11 of the 12 instances in which an animal is mentioned in both books, the language is duplicated word for word, for instance: “A crab is conspicuously claws,” “a duck is quantities of quack” and “a porcupine is piles of prickles.”

As a result, Blue Apple Books won’t publish Ziefert’s book, set for release in April, after all. Which would be all noble and altruistic but for the fact that Ziefert, a longtime children’s book writer whose books have been published by HarperCollins Random House, Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin, runs Blue Apple Books.

The book was taken off the publishing schedule in enough time so that only advance copies were made available to reviewers, but don’t expect Kirkus to review the book anytime soon. “…[T]here’s no point now,” Breen said. “I don’t know whether to be outraged, mystified or what. Part of me is insulted because those of us in this business know our books. It was because I knew the book that I noticed something was wrong.”