The author and publisher Harriet Ziefert has taken full responsibility for the slip-up regarding A Snake Is Totally Tail. (See the Chicken Spaghetti post, below.) Roger Sutton, the editor-in-chief of the esteemed Horn Book, weighs in on the matter here, writing on his blog, Read Roger.
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.
But what about the following situation?
In the sixties the publisher Paul S. Eriksson printed some very popular humor books by Suzanne Heller: Misery, More Misery, Misery Loves Company, and the 1970 anthology Misery for Everybody. (There could be more; these were the ones I tracked down online.)
I remember Misery from my parents' bookshelves. The books consisted of line drawings of children with captions such as "Misery is when you're riding in the car and everyone smells dog doody and you discover it's on your shoes," and "Misery is when you have an ice cream cone and a balloon and a terrible itch: all at the same time." One cartoon in the original was about having to pee when you have on a snow suit, which I found to be the height of hilarity.
Harriet Ziefert's press, Blue Apple Books, issued the picture books Misery Is a Spider in the Bathtub in 2004 and Misery Is a Smell in Your Backpack in 2005. The latter features simple drawings and quotations like "Misery is when no one but your dog wants to hang out with you." The first book is structured similarly: "Misery is when your brother shows you his chewed food." The text is credited to Ziefert in Misery...Backpack and to someone else in Misery...Bathtub.
The used-book resource Abebooks.com lists more than a hundred copies of Suzanne Heller's various Miseries (and they're quite cheap); I got one of the Heller quotations from that site.
No one has a copyright on the words "misery" and "is," of course, but does Blue Apple Books really need to recycle somone else's old idea? If I were the publisher of the later series and I knew another one like it existed, would I have published an updated version without at least crediting the original?
Thanks to Mom for the editorial assistance. We laughed as she read the 1964 Misery over the phone. It's truly funny. The book-cover graphics at the top of this post are from abebooks.com and Amazon.
A previous Chicken Spaghetti post about Harriet Ziefert's A Snake is Totally Tail can be found at "Picture Book Plagarism?"