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Alluding to another work?

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Hi all! Quick question...

The popular Skippyjon Jones book, "Cirque de Olé," opens with the following line: "Skippyjon Jones was a real High-Wire Henry."

This is (clearly!) an affectionate reference to the Henry books by Mary Calhoun, which were my absolute favorite picture books as a child. While I was delighted to see the reference (especially as these books are now out of print), it confused me that there doesn't seem to be any credit given to Ms. Calhoun anywhere in the dedication or in an afterword. Additionally, it seems that the opening line will confuse to readers unfamiliar with Henry the (other) Siamese cat, and that it's an odd, somewhat-obscure reference to use as a "hook" for a story.

I am curious, as an aspiring PB author myself, about the rules of citing another work so obviously, and when and how one might include a citation or credit. "Cirque de Olé" is obviously just a play on "Cirque du Soleil," but "High-Wire Henry" is the ACTUAL title of another book - and I would have guessed that you'd need to cite that somewhere. And - is it common for a PB to cite another work? For example, I can't imagine picking up a PB and seeing the first line, "Little Lashonda was quite the Hermione Granger." Can anyone comment on this? Quite curious.


TL;DR - Thoughts on including actual pop-culture references in one's own fictional work, and how to include proper credit when appropriate?
#1 - October 03, 2016, 11:59 AM

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I'm not sure about this but my guess is that the Skippy Jon Jones reference may just be coincidental rather than intentional.  If it is intentional, I don't know that it needs to be really acknowledged anywhere. It might be like saying a negative character was a bit of an 'Eeyore'.  Unless the name itself is copyrighted, it's probably fine to use it.  Picture books go through tons of editing and I'm sure the publisher would have caught it. I would stay away from intentionally doing this, just because I think there are ways of saying the same thing without using references that not everyone will understand.
#2 - October 03, 2016, 03:36 PM
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Interesting question. I wrote a magazine story with references to other books (sort of a Just So story) and although the editors said they enjoyed the conceit of it, in the end declined because they felt *uncomfortable*.

I think it's really going to depend on the editor tastes and whether they feel completely comfortable publishing a book like this.

ETA: I've seen many novels allude to other works.
#3 - October 03, 2016, 04:04 PM
« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 04:09 PM by Vijaya »
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I agree with Stephanie. This isn't likely to be referencing the other work. The author may have just picked the name for the sound. Titles can't be copyrighted anyway.

I don't know if they needed Cirque du Soleil's permission either. Parody falls under fair use in the law. I assume the book is something of a parody although it's been a while since I read a Skippy Jon Jones.
#4 - October 05, 2016, 08:23 AM
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I'm a little surprised that most people seem to think that this could be coincidental. "High-Wire Henry" is the actual title of the original book in question - whose main character is, like Skippyjon, a Siamese cat with a big personality.

The author may have just picked the name for the sound. Titles can't be copyrighted anyway.
I didn't know that titles couldn't be copyrighted! That's good to know. So there's no [legal] problem at all with describing a character as "a bit of an Anne of Green Gables," for example? Public schools have hammered the "NO PLAGIARISM" message home so thoroughly that anything even remotely resembling an allusion makes me rush to add a Works Cited list, just to cover my butt!  :hiding

I don't know if they needed Cirque du Soleil's permission either. Parody falls under fair use in the law.

I totally agree that "Cirque de Olé" is a parody, and doesn't need any referencing; the pun adds another layer of humor IF one gets the reference, but isn't absolutely required for understanding. The reference to Henry, to me, feels a bit more out of place if one doesn't know the context (unlike referring to someone as a "Debbie Downer," for example.)

On the other hand, the character Dudley Do-Right (for example) has become so well-known that it wouldn't even occur to me that this comparison (ie "Skippyjon Jones was no Dudley Do-Right!") would need any sort of acknowledgement, just because it has become somewhat commonplace these days (like referring to a generic tissue as a Kleenex, even).

Maybe I'm over-sensitive to this particular reference because I spent my childhood adoring these books and being aghast that none of my friends had ever heard of them... and then, the one time I do see a reference to them (yay!), the original author doesn't get any credit. lol!

I would stay away from intentionally doing this, just because I think there are ways of saying the same thing without using references that not everyone will understand.

I agree completely with this, Stephanie!

Ah, well - thanks to everybody who chimed in! I really appreciate the additional perspectives.  :thankyou
#5 - October 11, 2016, 10:42 AM
« Last Edit: October 11, 2016, 10:46 AM by Rissa W. »

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