Spotted in SCBWI. When I flipped through the latest issue of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators magazine, my attention was snagged by an article called “Where’s My Editor?” by Kim Childress. Why? Because she’s one of my editors for the Byways books!
A or An. To give you an idea of the kinds of conversations Kim and I enjoy, I’ll share an anecdote from last fall. As you may have noticed, the Byways books release in batches of three, one for each of the Johns brothers. That’s the main reason why each story has a subtitle to let readers know which of the boys is featured in the adventure:
Book #1 • On Your Marks: The Adventure Begins
Book #2 • Aboard the Train: A Ewan Johns Adventure
Book #3 • Over the Bridge: A Zane Johns Adventure
Book #4 • Up the Mountain: A Ganix Johns Adventure
When edits came back for Book 2: Aboard the Train, Kim asked me to change the subtitle from “A Ewan Johns Adventure” to “An Ewan Johns Adventure.” Because Ewan’s name starts with a vowel. And we all know that “an” is used before words that start with vowels. But I balked because it sounded wrong!
Ewan Johns, eldest of the Byways brothers
In a series of emails I affectionately refer to as “When Word Nerds Collide,” we debated my stubborn decision to break a grammar rule smack dab in the middle of my book cover. What kind of example was I setting? Think of the children!
So I decided to rally support from grammar sites. Here’s what I discovered. “A” is used before words that begin with a consonant sound, and “AN” is used before words beginning with a vowel sound. The most common a/an exceptions in English center around words beginning with a Y sound or an O sound (silent H). Examples:
• a universal truth
• an honest mistake
• a onetime occurrence
• a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
• a European country
• a university
• an hour
• an FBI agent
Pronunciation Is Key. And then the true root of the problem finally came out. Being unfamiliar with the Anglo-Saxon variation on John, Kim was pronouncing “Ewan” (YOO-uhn) as “Ian” (EE-uhn). Go figure! : D
Congratulations on having your article published by SCBWI, Kim!