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Friday, November 22, 2013

Picture Book Review and Guest Post-- Max's Little Brother by Eric James

I'm very excited to be reviewing Eric James' picture book, Max's Little Brother, today! Eric is also stopping by for a guest post...

Max's Little Brother
by Eric James
illustrated by minkee

Max was a very happy little boy .... until his baby brother came along!
A rhyming story about a little boy called Max who is initially jealous at the arrival of his new baby brother. Yet when his brother goes to “stay with his monster friend” and doesn’t come back, Max feels the need to rescue him. He embarks on an adventure, and in the process Max not only overcomes his jealousy, but learns that his little brother isn’t so bad after all.

I was very lucky to get the chance to read an early copy of Eric James’ utterly adorable and charming picture book, Max’s Little Brother. Max was a good, special boy, but when his baby brother arrives, Max becomes quite jealous and wants nothing more than to send his brother far away. Max gets meaner and meaner until his baby brother has had enough and runs away to an unlikely place, and Max must see the error of his ways.

I’m very much in love with this funny and highly entertaining story. Each time I read it (and I’ve read it a bunch), it never fails to make me giggle and smile. There’s something so very refreshing and special about this little story; it’s laugh-out-loud funny and heart-warming in ways that you don’t often find in picture books.

Eric James is a superb storyteller and rhyming master! His rhymes flow lyrically and just sound pleasing to the ear when said aloud (and this is a book that demands to be read aloud!). Since picture books are usually short and have sparse text, every single word matters and must be chosen with great care, and Eric James does a fantastic job of choosing the perfect words and rhymes. Here's some of my favorite lines:

"You're mean and so I'm leaving now." His little brother said. "I'm staying with my monster friend Who lives beneath my bed. Tell Mummy and tell Daddy That I love them very much, And when I've learned my ABCs I'll write to keep in touch."

The story in Max’s Little Brother is one that many little readers can relate to. Eric James depicts the highs and lows of having a sibling with amusing honesty. Little readers will find both Max and his little brother to be fun, relatable characters, and will delight in the surprising and sweet ending.

One of the things I love best about Max’s Little Brother are all the incredible illustrations by Minkee. As you can tell by the cover, the illustrations are bright, eye-catching, and ever so cute! Minkee brings Eric James’ words to life spectacularly.

Max’s Little Brother really is an awesome, witty picture book and both Eric James and Minkee have gained a fan in me! The little readers in your life will wanna hear it again and again, but don’t worry, the story is so fun that you won’t mind reading it again and again.

I would LOVE to see this book published and YOU can help that happen by supporting the Kickstarter Campaign for it!

Four & a Half Important Lessons I Learned From Writing a Rhyming Story
by Eric James

Have the likes of Julia Donaldson, Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess inspired you to create a rhyming masterpiece of your own? Before you put pen to paper read through this little list containing four and a half lessons I’ve learned through the process of writing Max’s Little Brother my little story about sibling rivalry. I’m not suggesting you abandon your dream altogether, but it never hurts to know just what you’re getting yourself in to!

LESSON #1: Avoid writing in rhyme if you dream of international stardom.

Write a great novel and you have the potential to enjoy great success in a global market, but it’s not so with rhymes. Due to the intricacies of wordplay and the need for certain words to rhyme you’ll discover that with very few exceptions too much will get lost in translation. Yes, there is a large English speaking market in the world, but by writing in rhyme you will still be limiting your reach, so if you’re determined to write in rhyme then you’d better forget about having a global best seller.

LESSON #2: Watch your language!

So you’ve dropped your hopes of international stardom, and you’re content with simply being a huge star in your own country? Great! But beware; You can inadvertently limit your audience further through your choice of words. Although it’s short and sweet, I still managed to refer to several things in Max’s Little Brother that may distance me from American readers: I talk about  “Mummy”, not “Mommy”, and I use the word ‘bum’, which is actually intended to refer to a posterior (and to be a little bit naughty), but I guess it could be interpreted as some kind of slur on the homeless by my cousins across the pond!

In most forms of fiction substitution is less of a problem, but when your words need to rhyme, there will often be no decent alternative. Thankfully most misunderstandings are harmless (‘pants’, ‘jam’ and ‘crisps’ for example) but others could be downright offensive so be careful.

Not only can meanings be affected, but so can the metre of the rhyme. Unless you have the funds to be able to employ multiple editors and create localised copies of your book just be aware of these differences within the English language and approach with caution.

LESSON #3: Get plenty of people to read your rhyme back to you, out loud, and listen closely to how they do it because there will be important differences to pick up on.

Until I wrote a rhyming story I never considered the implications of people placing stresses on words where I had not intended them to be, but they do, and it can make the difference between someone thinking your rhyme is ‘tight’ or ‘sloppy’. Consider the following:

“There was just Max”

Most people seem to read  this as I would expect them to: “There was just Max” which can be expressed as “De-do-de-do”. However, a number of people run the first two words in to each other, putting slightly more emphasis on “there”: “Therewas just Max”, and this results in a slightly different rhythm that can be expressed as “Doodle-de-do”.

So we have “De-do-de-do” vs “Doodle-de-do”, which may seem like a very trivial distinction, but when someone’s interpretation of the metre in one line is at odds with the metre in the next line, (or in your next verse) they can end up stumbling, and that can be enough for them to dislike the entire thing.

Now look at this line:

“A boy called Max”

It’s very similar to the first example and contains the same number of syllables, but you’ll see that the same issue is unlikely to occur. That line’s metre will predominantly be heard as “De-do-de-do” and so given the choice it may make more sense to go with this option.

You can drive yourself nuts trying to accommodate everyone’s style of reading (I know I did) and so rather than sacrifice otherwise good verses for lesser versions in an attempt to avoid all possible problems,  just focus on resolving the most common issues.

LESSON #4: If something is causing you problems early on, consider whether it will continue to do so, and change tack if necessary.

I really loved the idea of Max being the only person in the book who is referred to by name. It saved me from having to introduce any other characters by name, which I felt was a waste of precious space. This seemingly small decision caused me a big headache down the line, even after I gave in and named the monster as well.

In my case, with the monster excluded I ended up with is a story containing 3 male characters: Max, his brother, and his father. Now think what happens when I use words like ‘he’, ‘him‘ or ‘brother’ in a verse. Who does “he” refer to? Do I mean the father or the brother? If it’s a brother, which brother do I mean?

Clarification became a nightmare, and in striving for it I had to ditch verses which I otherwise loved. Going back on this decision later on in the process meant a huge rewrite and a change to too many earlier verses so I didn't do it. It would have been easier to do at an earlier stage.

LESSON #4.5:

This applies to all books (and so it only counts as half a point!) but it’s definitely worth mentioning that no matter how good your rhyme is, you will find it absolutely impossible to please everyone.

Every change I put forward to my ‘panel’ of reviewers (i.e. friends who I harangued into listening to every permutation of every verse) would cause some kind of division.

The only thing you can do is to ask for honest opinions, consider them carefully without letting your pride get in the way, and then adapt where necessary, but otherwise stand by your convictions!


Would I write another rhyming story? Absolutely! In fact I already have, and I applied most of the above rules to the process. “Most?” you say. Yes, rules are fine unless they get in the way.  Never let rules spoil your fun!

If you enjoyed this article please check out the Kickstarter campaign for Max’s Little Brother which started on 20th November and only runs for 30 days. There are some exclusive rewards on offer, and the biggest help you can give me is to tell your friends about it too!

Happy writing!
Eric James

You can read a sample of this book here.
Check out the Kickstarter Campaign here.

Eric James lives in the wonderful Georgian city of Bath, England. One sunny afternoon he wrote a silly little rhyme about a boy called Max. "Writing silly rhymes is much more fun than my real job" he thought.

That evening he read the rhyme to his girlfriend who liked it so much she said "You should turn it in to a book", so he did!

One day Eric saw Minkee wandering around the internet and said "Hello, 
would you draw some pictures for me?" Minkee said "Yes" and it turns out she was  very good at drawing indeed. Eric bought Minkee some crayons and she drew all the pictures that were in Eric's head. Minkee lives on the internet and you can find her here.


Unknown said...

I absolutely love your review and am all ready a follower of Eric.

Having read the book, shared the link on facebook and the BBC I am keeping my fingers crossed for more backers so the book can be published.

This is a truly marvellous chance to help a budding young author at the start of what I believe is going to be an incredible career, leaving us all gasping for the next installment/book.

Good luck Eric!

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