Reader’s Request, or, YOU ASKED FOR IT

(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 . . . ?

Lorna McLean
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?).


Pronunciation Key


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?”



Basic Expressions


Hello, Shel Silverstein.helo, shel SIL ver steen
Goodbye, Tomie dePaola.good bie, tommy de POW luh
Yes, Avi.yes, AH vee
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’ 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?



Special Challenges


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



Making Friends


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.


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
Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieszka
When Jon Scieszka was in kindergarten, he used to sign all of his papers Jon S. If people don’t read this article and tell their friends how to pronounce Scieszka, he’s thinking of doing that again.
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Self promotion Friday - The Horn Book

[…] oldie but goodie is Jon Scieszka’s primer for pronouncing difficult names. Silly, but accurate! (For a really complete list of author name pronunciation, visit TeachingBooks […]

Posted : May 16, 2014 12:59

Cindy Davis

I taught kindergarten and lower elementary school for so long that I could read and spell this way all the time - started to forget how things were supposed to be spelled! Thanks for all the help - MIS ter Sheh kah.

Posted : May 10, 2012 10:25



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