Kids love animal sounds in stories.
When spelling out animal sounds, we aim to approximate. After all, MEH is not exactly what the sheep says. WOOF is not exactly what the dog says, and MEOW is definitely not what a cat says. Just talk to any of mine, and you’ll know what I mean.
When I first drafted my picture book, (THERE’S A TURKEY AT THE DOOR) I was determined this turkey was not going to speak English. While she was relatable, this was not the sort of story where an animal says, “How are you today” and “Where's my kibble.” I had had my fill of anthropomorphic animal stories after reading hundreds of them to my kids. This turkey was going to remain, well, a turkey.
I posted a question on a kid-lit writers board asking for suggestions as to how to spell the sound of a wild turkey. I got the ever-helpful links to actual wild turkey sounds. Before posting the question, I had already listened to such and couldn’t figure how to make the sounds in English spelling, so it was not very helpful. One writer only said, “This is the oddest question ever posted on this board.” That didn’t help, either.
I was stuck. I had the story, and I had the character. But my character needed to speak Turkey. (Not Turkish 😊)
A few months later, I visited the zoo with my kids. In the petting zoo section, a large turkey hen kept following me around. She talked the whole time and wouldn’t leave my side. I saw it as a sign to get back to my story. But I still couldn't spell words out of her calls.
A tall woman in zoo worker uniform smiled at me. “Ya-ya-hoo has taken to you,” she said.
“Ya-ya-what?” I said.
“That’s her name,” the petting-zoo keeper said. “Kind of the sound she makes.”
If you stretched and twisted your ear, it was an almost-sort-of-not-quite the sound my new turkey pal was making.
I mean, not really. But when we returned home, (without her) my fictional turkey had her sound.