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The picture 'Book That Almost Rhymed' is an adventure in siblinghood


All right. Question now for all of the older siblings out there, a little bit of a riddle for you - what is smaller than you, allegedly, according to some people, cuter than you, follows you around and has a knack for either getting in the way or getting their way? If you guessed a younger sibling, and maybe you did it immediately, rest assured you are right. You are seen. You are heard. And younger siblings, take no offense. You know you make our lives' adventures more colorful. And all of those feelings are colorfully front and center in a new picture book called "The Book That Almost Rhymed." The book's author, Omar Abed, and illustrator, Hatem Aly, join us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

OMAR ABED: Awesome. Thank you for having us.

HATEM ALY: Thank you for having us.

DETROW: I have to guess at least one of you is an older sibling. What's the sibling situation for both of you?

ABED: So I am an older sibling. I have four younger siblings. Yeah. And I believe Hatem is also an older sibling.

ALY: I am an older sibling, and I have a younger sister. So it's exactly like the book.

DETROW: And I am an older sibling as well, and I currently live with an older sibling struggling with the existence of that younger sibling (laughter), so this book hit close to home. The story told in this book, I think is really engaging and really draws you in, and it's short enough that I think I'd love to just hear both of you read part of it for us, if you don't mind. I'm wondering, Omar, can you play the older sibling and, Hatem, can you play the younger sibling? And can you read us just, like, the first, maybe three pages of the story?

ABED: Sure. I'm up for that. Let's do it.

ALY: Sure.

ABED: All right, so here we have "The Book That Almost Rhymed."

(Reading) The other day I wrote this book. You won't believe how long it took. It rhymed, and I was super proud. It sounded great when read out loud. But then my sister came along, and now the story sounds all wrong.

ALY: (Reading) Better.

ABED: (Reading) As I was saying, my sister took a crayon in hand and did something I cannot stand. She ruined every rhyming verse. So now my story sounds much...

ALY: (Reading) More magnificent.

ABED: (Reading) As I was saying, I wrote a smooth and seamless story about a brave knight's quest for glory. He yearned for treasure all his own, and so he journeyed all along...

ALY: (Reading) Alongside a fierce and friendly detective.

DETROW: Omar, how did you first think up this story? How much of it is lived experience of being an older sibling?

ABED: Yeah, I think the older sibling part was actually, I think, maybe subconscious. The story came about when I was actually trying to write a completely different story. I was pitching a different manuscript to publishers, and I was getting a lot of feedback that my other manuscript rhymed too much. And my agent came back to me, and he was like, maybe we can try to write the story without rhyming. And I really struggled to write without rhyme. The closest I could get was, you know, things that almost rhymed. And so the most I tried to write a new story, I really couldn't get there. But what came out of that was "The Book That Almost Rhymed." So it was really a...

DETROW: Oh, that's interesting.

ABED: Yeah, it was a really roundabout way to writing this book.

DETROW: And Hatem, can you tell me about the workflow here of how did you start to think about how this story would be illustrated and visualized?

ALY: Yeah, it was interesting to read it. And then I was an older sibling, like I told you, but I think I'm kind of in between the characters of the two siblings. Like, I used to play with my sister. Like, we used to mute movies and make up, like, our own dialogue or something like that. And I used to be, like, the one who's just going off the chart. Like, I'm just going off script, you know? I'm the one that was, like, getting off the hook.

So I was having - embodying both kind of older brother and, at the same time, the imaginative part, too, in my illustration. And I kind of struggle to know, like, how am I going to make it, like, more, you know, reality and imagination together. Like, they're kind of just going to another world all the time.

DETROW: And Hatem, I love the illustrations throughout the book, but early on, you see this moment where the older sibling has all of these pieces of paper that clearly this story was thought out, and this is my individual idea. And then they're scattered to the wind. And he looks startled as the little sister, just, like, bursts in yelling, better. I've got my own rhyme.

ALY: Yeah. And I wanted it to be from a structured, like, boy that wants to do something very orderly and total chaos all of a sudden.


ALY: Like, it's not gradual. So that's why I made, like, this burst of, like, papers going over all over the space.

DETROW: And Omar, what I liked about the story is in its pages, it kind of travels the journey that I think a lot of people go with their younger siblings especially of - you are so annoying, but wait a second, maybe you're annoying because you want to be with me, and you want to be part of what I'm doing. And wait a second, actually, I like you. You add a lot to the mix.

ABED: Yeah. Yeah. It's - I think, you know, as you get older, your relationship with your siblings changes, of course. And you start to appreciate that nobody really understands you like your siblings will. You know, so when you're young, you grow up, and everything annoys you, I think, because you're so similar. But then as you get older and you're trying to, I don't know, find, like, companionship in the world, it becomes harder as you get older. But I think you rediscover those connections to your siblings.

So yeah, now that, you know, we are older, me and my siblings, it's a good way for us to bond, like, over the story. But I look at how my - now my son interacts with, like, his cousins, for example. And I'm like, oh, wow, this is how we used to be, you know? So it's interesting to see how those relationships change over time.

DETROW: Have either of you - did either of you share this book with your siblings, and what was their response?

ABED: I did. My sister at first was like, who is this about? But they loved it. Yeah, they really loved it. For us, it was just, like, the magic of the illustrations, I think, was what really brought it to life because we had - you know, they had experienced, like, the manuscript with me. I shared it with all of them as I was creating the story. So to see what Hatem did with it afterwards was something we all bonded over.

DETROW: That's Omar Abed and Hatem Aly, the author and illustrator of a new picture book, "The Book That Almost Rhymed." Thank you so much to both of you.

ALY: Thank you for having us.

ABED: Awesome. We really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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