Rhyming books, when done well, are an absolute magical concoction of wordplay, sound, and delight in children’s books. However, children’s rhyming books also require readers to use specific pronunciations. When you’re outside that pronunciation, it’s much less magical. Most of my experience has been between American and English books and accents, but I’d love to hear about other accent/rhymes struggles.
The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp
This was the first book that I remember reading regularly and fumbling through the rhyme that wouldn’t work. Kemp is a British author and I’m American. Pronunciations obviously vary and But I just could not make “fear” and “idea” work as a rhyme, even a little bit. Short of putting on my best imitation of the Queen’s English for that couplet, i.e., changing everything about the way I speak, this rhyme just wouldn’t fit my accent. I mean, I see how it can work for certain accents, but I just ended up flattening the whole momentum of the cadence.
Llama Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
This book is everywhere. A young llama struggles with his emotions about worrying for his mother while he’s alone in bed. The rhythm is great and bouncy, perfect for read-alouds. However, I do not enjoy reading it, because as someone with a West Coast accent, “llama” and “pajama” aren’t really a good rhyme. I end up stuck between feeling like a fraud saying “puh-JAW-muh” to make the poem work, or ruining the rhyme by using my natural “puh-JAM-uh.” I’ll just let Ludacris take it away—he’s got the right accent. (My guess is that he also says, “pee-can” rather than “puh-cahn.” I’ll keep an eye out for Ludacris talking about hickory fruit and report back.)
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss
Counter to The Worst Princess is Dr. Seuss. No accent is better than another, but some are better suited to certain poetries. Seuss undoubtedly was playing to a nice flat, rhotic American accent. The tongue-twisting Fox in Socks is designed to twist up around Americans’ soft t’s and clear r’s. Those Brits hitting hard t’s slow right down at the “tweedle-beetle battle with a paddle in a bottle.”
What about you? Have you found any children’s rhyming books that clearly have someone else’s accent in mind? Can anyone other than the English make “fear” and “idea” rhyme? How does Ludacris pronounce “pecan?”