(A new, and possibly never-to-be-seen-again, feature in the Horn Book where writers respond instantly to requests from readers)
Dear Horn Book,
As a teacher-librarian I read to children and talk with them about books, authors, and illustrators. Sometimes I am not sure I am pronouncing writers’ names correctly. Tomie dePaola is an example. I say “Tommy d’ Paula,” but am I right? . . . Shel Silverstein is another example. Is it “Silver Steen” or “Silver Stine”? . . . Is Avi, A’Vee or Ah’ Vee or A’Vi or Ah’ Vi or Ah Vee’ or . . . ?
North Battleford, Saskatchewan
Ms. McLean (MAC leen? mic LANE?):
Your troubles are over.
As a writer with extensive personal experience in your field of difficulty (skeez ka? sky ess ka?), I am only too happy to help. With the assistance of the crack Horn Book staff and publishing cognoscenti from across the country, I have assembled some of the peskiest, most difficult to pronounce author/illustrator names on the children’s book circuit today.
These much maligned monikers have been scientifically placed in handy “real life” sentences, arranged in EZ-Reference categories, and nailed down once and for all with a unique phonetic transcription lifted almost entirely from the Berlitz™ Urdu for Travellers Guide.
This once-in-a-blue-moon Semi Official Horn Book Author Name Pronunciation Handbook promises to make you a better teacher-librarian and a happier person . . . or my name’s not Jon Scieszka (yon chuh ZE ka?).
Each sentence is followed by its phonetic transcription. Many of the consonants (b, c, d, f, k, l . . .) retain their Standard American English pronunciation. Single vowels usually represent short vowel sounds. A long e sound is often indicated by ee. Long o and long i are either shown followed by a silent e (i.e. stone, fine) or not. Long a might be written ay. And there’s a darn good chance that the stressed syllable will be capitalized. In addition to these rules, there are a bunch of other rules and exceptions to the rules just made up by me as I went along. I was going to use all of those official diacritical marks and schwas and stuff, but then I thought, “Hey — what am I? A dictionary?”
|Hello, Shel Silverstein.||helo, shel SIL ver steen|
|Goodbye, Tomie dePaola.||good bie, tommy de POW luh|
|Yes, Avi.||yes, AH vee|
|No, Avi.||no, AH vee|
At the Library
|This book is by Brian Jacques.||this book is bie BRY en jakes|
|No, we don’t have any more R. L. Stine books.||NO, we dont hav eny mor ar el stine books|
|Your mom found a dirty word in which Robert Cormier book?||your mom fownd a dertee werd in wich RAH bert COR m’yay book?|
In the Classroom
|Jennifer, don’t bend that Jon Agee book.||jenifer, dont bend that jon AY jee book|
|Michael, stop chewing that Susan Meddaugh book.||mykul, stop choo ing that SOO zan MEH daw book|
|Jason, get that Roald Dahl book out of your nose.||jay son, get that rolled doll book out uv yer nose|
Conferences and Conventions
|No thanks. I don’t go to breakfast speeches — even for Mere d’Oye.||no thanx. I dont go to brekfest spee chez – even for MUH ther Goos|
|Is this the line for the bathroom or the Louis Sachar signing?||is this thuh line for thuh bath room or the LEW is SACK er sine ing?|
|Gosh, Charles Perrault. You look (shorter, older, funnier, different) in person.||gosh, charls per ROE. u look (shorder, older, fun ee er, difrent) in persun|
|Can I try on something else by David Wiesner?||ken I tri on sumthing els by DAY vid WEEZ ner?|
|Do you have that Russell Hoban in large?||dew yu hav that RUS sel HOE ban in larj?|
|I’d like that Aliki in blue.||ied like that ah LEE kee in blew|
|Eeek! There’s a mouse on my Kevin Henkes.||EEK! therz uh mows on mie KEH vin HENG kiss|
I Thought I Knew How to Pronounce That
|Margaret Mahy, would you like some mashed potatoes?||MAR gret MAH hee, wood u like sum mahsht poe TAH toez?|
|Twas brillig in the slithy toves, Dav Pilkey.||twas BRILL ig in thuh SLY thee toevz, dave PILL kee|
|Sorry, Demi. I thought you were the movie star, Demi.||sahree, DEH mee. eye thawt u wer thuh moovee star, deh MEE|
Fellow Eastern Europeans
|Pass the pierogies, Chris Raschka.||pas thuh pyeh RO geez, kris RAH shka|
|Hey, David Wisniewski, who stole the kishke?||hay DAY vid wiss NESS kee, who stole thuh KEESH kuh?|
|Czy pan mowi po angielsku, Paul Janeczko?||du u speek ING glish, paul jan ESS koe?|
|Lloyd Alexander, those Welsh names like Pwyll and Pryderi drive me crazy.||loyd a lex ZAN der, those welsh nayms like PU il and pru DAY ree dryv mee cray z|
|Richard Egielski, do you say tomato or tomato?||RIH cherd ee GEHL skee, du yu say toe MAE toe or toe MAH toe?|
|How do you pronounce the capital of South Dakota, Lane Smith?||PEER|
|I really love your books, Peter Sis.||I reely luv yer books, PEE ter SEEES|
|Vladimir Radunsky! What’s a nice author like you doing in a place like this?||Vla DEE mir rah DUN ski! whuts uh nies awthur like yu du ing in uh plase like THIS?|
|Can I buy you a drink, Esphyr Slobodkina?||ken I bie u uh drink, es FEAR sloe BOD kin uh?|
|Yes, I’d love to see your etchings, Wanda Gág.||yes, ied luv tu see yer eh chings, WAHN duh GAHG|
|Do you mind if I smoke, Theodore Geisel?||du yu mynd if I smoke, DAHK ter SOOS?|
The End of This Article
|Thanks for helping me, Mr. Scieszka.||thanx for hell ping mee, MIS ter SHEH ska|
|Mr. Scieszka, did your mother ever drop you on your head?||MIS ter SHEH ska, did yer mu ther ever drop u on yer hed?|
|I have to go now, Mr. Scieszka.||I hav tu go now, MIS ter SHEH ska|
|I really have to leave, Mr. Scieszka.||I reely hav to leev, MIS ter SHEH ska|
|Stop it, Mr. Scieszka.
You’re scaring me.
|stop it, MIS ter SHEH ska.
YER SKARE ING ME
Thanks again, Ms. McLean (MIZ mi clane? lor na?) for taking the time to write your letter and get us thinking. If you have any questions about names not included here, you may want to take a look at the guide in Zena Sutherland’s [ZEE na SUH ther landz] Children and Books (though you won’t find any handy phrases there). And if we can ever be of service in solving any more of those nagging problems of everyday life, don’t hesitate to call us. Just ask for the Horn Book [SKULE LIE brare ee JUR nal] and Jon Scieszka [lane smith].
From the November/December 1996 issue of The Horn Book Magazine