Can I use the three little pigs in an activity book?

Posted on April 21, 2008

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I am working on activity books that are based on traditional stories, including The Three Little Pigs. Is it a violation of copyright to use these stories? How do I go about submitting them to a publisher?

Generally speaking, traditional stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” are in the public domain, meaning the length of copyright has expired, so they can be adapted, abridged, and otherwise reprinted and published in new formats. However, using a well-known folktale also requires some research. In her article Copyright and Fair Use of Published Materials, Heather Forest points out that printed and recorded versions of folktales are copyrighted and writers and storytellers are not free to use the exact text of those versions without permission. To avoid using copyrighted text, Aaron Shepard recommends researching the copyright before using any version of a folktale. For a list of references, read his article Researching the Folktale.

Publishers of activity books usually have their own specific guidelines for submission. Visit your local bookstore and library. Look for books that are similar to the ones you are working on. Jot down the name of the publishers of those books, then get a copy of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market , look up the publishers and follow their guidelines for submission. Be sure to check the publishers’ web sites for updated submission guidelines, or requests for specific projects. For more information about marketing your project to publishers, you will find several helpful suggestions in my article The Elephant in the Room: Marketing Your Children’s Manuscript.

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