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Things That Surprise You
Author: Jennifer Maschari
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?

Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.

About the Author: Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE and THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, visit http://jenmaschari.com/.

Review: Things that Surprise You is a perfect starting middle school book because it really shows the truth of how that transition is a turning point in kids’ lives. As a middle school teacher, I see students all start coming into their own or getting pushed by peer pressure to be something they’re not. It is such a tough time in a kids’ life; a book like this will surely make them feel less alone during the turbulent time.

There are other two minor plot lines/characters that I felt were really well done. First, I think the inclusion of Emily’s sister’s eating disorder was done tastefully and was not added in just to make the book an issues book. Although this story didn’t take center stage, it was dealt with in a way that was respectful yet also brought light to anorexia. The struggles that Emily’s sister, family, and Emily face during this time is realistic because so many middle schoolers are facing adversity at home and when starting middle school.  I also really enjoyed Emily’s teacher. I think her ability to make students feel like her classroom is a home for them and that she is there for them was honorable, and I hope that I can be just a tiny bit like her.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: curriculum guide has been created by the publisher that includes discussion questions and activities that meet Common Core standards.

Discussion Questions: What do you think surprised Emily the most about middle school and was the most impactful?; What is the theme of this book? What is the author trying to tell us about middle school?; Do you have a book series that you love as much as Emily loves her unicorn books? What series is it? Why do you love it?; What do you think was the hardest for Emily in middle school?; Hazel changed a lot throughout the book. How would you compare/contrast Hazel from the beginning to the end of the book?; Mina’s eating disorder is one of the main conflicts of the book. Do you feel hopeful about Mina going forward?

Flagged Passages: “While Hazel and I wait, we bench dance to the music from the jukebox. It’s a lot like car dancing but a little more restrained since you’re in public and everything. She does the squid, a move she made up where you wiggle your arms on either side of your body. I do the turtle, where you bob your head forward and backward. Hazel’s snort-laughing and I practically have tears coming out of my eyes, when I hear a noise behind me. Hazel stops dancing. I turn my head to look, but not so fast that I miss Hazel taking the purple horn off her head and hiding it below the table. I blink once and then again Confused.

‘Hazel!’ the voice cried but it sound like ‘Heyyyyzel’ the way she draws it out.

Three girls wearing the same field hockey shirt Hazel was before crowd around the booth.” (p. 18-19)

Read This If You Love: The Real Us by Tommy GreenwaldHundred Percent by Karen Romano YoungTruth or Dare by Barbara DeeStill a Work in Progress by Jo KnowlesThe Secret Hum of Daisy by Tracy HolczerGeorgia Rules by Nanci Turner Stevenson, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

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One lucky winner will receive a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU (U.S. addresses).

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**Thank you Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**

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Giant Pumpkin Suite
Author: Melanie Heuiser Hill
Published September 12th, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Who are you, if you can’t be what you always expected? A moving coming-of-age tale of prodigy and community, unlikely friendship and growing things.

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

Review: I must be honest as I start this review. I love the cello. I started playing at 11, went to a music school of choice in high school, and minored in music in college. And I believe that the Bach Cello Suites are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in existence. All of these facts may have made me a bit biased when it came to Giant Pumpkin Suite.

Rose is one special young lady. She is a prodigy of the cello and academics. She is taking college courses and has skipped grades and is in high school at age 12. And at the beginning of the book because of all of these things, she has lost what it is like to be a child. The only child-like thing she does in the first 50 pages or so is read Charlotte’s Web, which is her favorite book. Everything else in her life is structured and serious. But then something happens and everything changes. This is where the pumpkin comes in.

Rose truly transforms in this novel in a way that is believable yet amazing. The girl at the end of the novel seems so far away from the young lady you meet at the beginning, but as a reader, I loved the transformation. Rose is one amazing character who really finds who she is because of all the people in her world who truly do care for her.

Speaking of the other people, I loved the supporting cast in the novel. Hill did a great job making sure every character in the novel had their own personality and story and each played such an important part. I felt like I was part of the neighborhood by the time I was done with the book. And it isn’t only Rose that grows throughout the book. I loved seeing how Thomas, Jane, and other characters really found themselves throughout the book.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am interested to hear what students think of this book! I had it in my book speed dating in my classroom, and students seemed to love the cover and synopsis. I personally think that fans of the books listed below are going to love Rose’s story, so please put this book in your libraries 🙂

Discussion Questions: How did Rose change from the beginning to the end of the book?; Who do you think made the biggest impact on Rose?; How did the pumpkin affect the whole neighborhood?; Why did the bowl from Japan mean so much to Rose?; How do you think the story would have been different if the accident didn’t happen?

Flagged Passages: From Chapter 1:

“It was all so clever. Bach was a musical genius, but he didn’t even stop with beautiful music. He had all these jokes and numerical riddles running in the notes — forward, backward, and upside down, sometimes. Two of her favorite things in one package: math and music! Oh, how she loved Bach.”

“At age twelve (and two weeks and three days), Rose was almost a foot and a half taller and four grades ahead of her twin. Thomas had been sick a lot in first grade and had been held back, while she’d skipped a grade a couple of times and had started high school this past fall. She was left-handed; Thomas was right-handed. She loved to read; Thomas hated it. She went to university for math, but Thomas had never passed his multiplication tables. Nearly everyone had forgotten they were twins. Except Mr. Pickering, who seldom mentioned it. And Calamity Jane. Who mentioned it all the time.”

Read This If You Love: Vanished by James Ponti, The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood, Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Audition and Subtraction by Amy Fellner Dominy, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

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Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw
Author: Todd Calgi Gallicano
Published August 29th, 2017 by Delacorte Press

Summary: A new action adventure series set in our famous national parks! Enter the world of the Department of Mythical Wildlife, where our protagonist, Sam London, is tasked with protecting legendary animals that secretly live amongst our treasured wildlife.

Haunted by a dream of a mythical gryphon, Sam London uncovers an ancient secret that will change the way he sees the world forever. Recruited by Dr. Vance Vantana, an eccentric zoologist and park ranger sent by the government, Sam is whisked away on an adventure that takes him to the farthest reaches of the globe. Along this journey, Sam learns an incredible truth: mythical creatures are real and living among us in our national parks. A special department in the U.S. government ensures that their existence remains hidden. 

But Sam’s dream is an omen that the secret may now be in danger. Someone seeks the power to expose these creatures and overthrow humankind–and that power can only be found in a magical talisman known as the gryphon’s claw.

“A fun-filled start to a series that is sure to keep lovers of Rick Riordan running to the shelves.”-SLJ

“A death-defying, globe-spanning adventure, packed with creatures out of folklore and myth….[Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw is] a solid series opener and debut for Gallicano, who stocks his story with engaging characters, human, and otherwise.”-Publishers Weekly

Review: I could not stop raving about this book as I read it! I tweeted about it, talked to everyone I saw about it, and even mentioned in a couple of IMWAYR posts. You know why? Because it is so much fun, the plot is so well-crafted, and finally my fans of Riordan’s mythological adventures are going to finally have a book that they’re going to love has much as his books. However, I don’t want you to think this is a Riordan copy-cat. It is a totally unique adventure with mythical creatures. I loved the combination of mythologies from different cultures, humor!, the new explanation of mythical creatures living with us yet hidden among us, and the inclusion of national parks in Sam’s story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Guardians of the Gryphon’s Claw will be a perfect new addition to mythology units in middle school to share along side Percy Jackson and other Riordan words. Gallicano even included a glossary of the mythical creatures that will be a wonderful asset to classrooms. However, I feel that primarily the book will be found in students’ hands.

Discussion Questions: What do you think the cliffhanger means?; What character traits does Sam posess that helped him in his adventures?; Which mythical creature would scare you the most? Which mythical creature would you want to have in your house? Which mythical creature would you want to hang out with?; Do you think Phylassos did the right thing in hiding his identity? About getting Sam London involved in the adventure?; Discuss Chriscanis and his journey in the book.; How did Sam’s story fit the Hero’s Journey?

Flagged Passages: “The flapping of the creature’s massive wings sent up a swirling column of dust that blanketed the plateau and rose hundreds of feet into the air. In Death Valley, these whirlwinds of dirt were often called sand augers — twisting, dust-filled tornados that fed off the desert floor as they moved across the landscape. Sam had forgotten about this part of the dream and closed his eyes and covered his mouth a moment too late. When he heard the wings slow and felt the haze begin to settle, he cautiously opened his eyes. They instantly stung from the dissipating cloud of dust, and he coughed as particles of desert sand forced their way into his throat. But it was all suddenly worth it–the stinging, the coughing, the lying, the possible grounding for eternity–for what he saw standing before him was truly extraordinary. Phylassos had returned.”

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Mythical Creatures, Adventure

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**Thank you to Random House Children’s Books for providing a copy for review!**

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Who doesn’t love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie? The book is incredible, thought-provoking, and complex. This year, my college students are reading it, and we plan to explore identity as it pertains to the novel. I wanted to generate critical, innovative teaching ideas for the book. It was my goal that students would have fun exploring the text while also thinking deeply about it. I would love for others to share what they’ve done with this book!

A few ideas/strategies:

1. Ask students to draw themselves as split between identities. 

This idea feels a bit obvious, but it really allows students to connect the concepts of the text with their own lives.

2. As a class, discuss racial melancholia. 

Racial melancholia is a mourning or a psychological haunting that might result from a feeling of estrangement from American mainstream “whiteness.” Scholars show that individuals describe (or are unconscious of) their realization that fully assimilating is impossible, given aspects like physical appearance. Essentially, these individuals experience a profound sense of dejection as they realize they may always be perceived as the Other. There is a lot of scholarship that analyzes racial melancholia in Asian Americans, and students might read some of these articles and consider how Junior and Rowdy may be experiencing racial melancholia.

3. Discuss reservations today.

Show articles about reservations today. Consider whether they may not be sacred places for some—as they are essentially sites of cultural genocide.

4. Research reservation schools today.

Ask students to research reservation schools today. This article is particularly relevant to the text.

5. Consider the hero’s journey.

A quick Google Images search generates some great diagrams. Have students study and critique the diagrams and consider whether this journey is present or absent in Alexie’s text. They might consider how the journey is relevant to both Junior and Rowdy.

6. Watch videos that feature Sherman Alexie. 

There are many videos on youtube that feature Sherman Alexie. His words are very powerful, and he discusses the realities that face Native Americans today. Here’s one of my favorites:

 

7. Some discussion questions and considerations about tribal identity

  • What bothered you in the book?
  • Where did you struggle to understand the perspectives within the text?
  • Can discomfort or anger increase our understanding or meaning?
  • Does Junior’s tribal identity help or hurt him?
  • What must Junior do to further his education and imagine possibilities for the adulthood that he doesn’t see on the reservation? Join the historical oppressors.
  • Is it possible to leave the sadness of your home and not betray who you are?

 

I’d love to hear from you! What have you done to enrich your understanding of this text?

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Gamer Squad #1: Attack of the Not-So-Virtual Monsters
Author: Kim Harrington
Published August 1st, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: What happens when your cool virtual-reality game . . . becomes REAL? Pokemon GO meets The Goonies in this action-packed middle-grade series.

Monsters Unleashed–where you catch virtual-reality monsters on your cellphone–is one of the hottest mobile games around, and Bex and Charlie just can’t stop playing. They even check out an old map in Charlie’s grandfather’s attic in hopes of discovering some forgotten places in town where the rarest monsters might hide. But they find a strange machine up there too, and after Charlie switches it on, the WiFi goes down . . . and Bex’s entire catalog of monsters vanishes! And that’s not the worst of it: all the creatures she’s collected on her phone escape into the real world. Can the friends nab the beasts before they become monster lunch?

Author Bio: Kim Harrington is the author of ClarityPerceptionThe Dead and Buried, and Forget Me for teens and the Sleuth or Dare and Gamer Squad series for kids. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. When not writing, she’s most likely reading, watching one of her favorite TV shows, or fantasizing about her next vacation. She can be found on Twitter (@Kim_Harrington), Instagram (@KimHarringtonAuthor) and on her website: www.kimharringtonbooks.com.

Don’t miss out on our Interview with the Author, Kim Harrington!!

Review: Kim Harrington’s new series combining video games, science fiction, and adventure is going to be a huge hit with middle grade readers! The first book is a quick, fun read which you cannot put down. Monsters Unleashed, I believe purposefully, is like Pokemon Go! in that the players walk around town looking for monsters to catch, but what would happen if one person’s caught monsters escaped?!?! That was happens with Bex and Charlie, and now it is up to them to figure out how to save their town. This is when it gets unique and crazy! How are they going to get all of the monsters? They are clever 🙂

I cannot wait to read the rest of the series! I cannot wait to see what Bex and Charlie do next!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I can promise that this is a must buy for middle grade classroom and school libraries. Students are going to love these!

Discussion Questions: How does Bex and Charlie overcome their monster obstacles? What different strategies do they use?; What type of people are Bex and Charlie? Do you think that plays a part in them being able to be successful?; Do you think Charlie did the right thing when it came to his brother?; How is Monsters Unleashed and Pokemon Go alike? Different?; What characters surprised you with their interest in Monsters Unleashed? What does that teach you?

Flagged Passages: “The monster emerged from behind a tree. It was covered in fur, like a wolf, but also had two long, sharp fangs poking out of its mouth, and glowing red eyes. The VampWolf was the perfect combination of horrifying and terrifying. It was torrifying. I didn’t even care that wasn’t a word. I was so scared, I needed a new word.

‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing?’ I asked Charlie.

‘If you’re seeing an actual VampWolf walking toward us, then yes.’

‘How can this be happening?’ I looked down at my phone. The Monsters Unleashed app wasn’t even open. I wasn’t looking through the screen. The monster was really there, in the middle of the street.

This wasn’t a game. The VampWolf was right there in front of us on the street.” p. 26-27

Read This If You Love: Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman, Frenzy by Robert Lettrick, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang, Frank Einstein by Jon Sciezska, Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

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**Thank you to Ardi at Sterling Publishing for providing a copy for review!!**

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How Kids Can Help Homeless Children

While writing my latest novel, The Boy Who Painted the World, I did research on homeless people – specifically, homeless children. The main character of the book, Indigo, is a ten-year-old homeless boy and I wanted to understand a little bit about what his world is like. I came upon some pretty scary statistics:

There are 100 million homeless children around the world.

There are 2.5 million homeless children in the United States. That means there is likely to be one homeless child in every classroom.

That’s a lot of kids without a permanent roof over their head. These children might be sleeping in a shelter, a motel, or even in a car. They’re under a lot of stress, which causes them to do poorly socially and in school. Their circumstances can affect them great later in life with both physical and psychological issues.

What Can I Do?

Every person, no matter how old, can help, and it doesn’t have to be anything mind-blowing or difficult. Even a simple smile to someone on the street can cheer someone up.

Here are some easy ways that you can make a difference:

  1. Give money: Carry some small change with you and give it to people who are asking for money on the street. That money may just buy them their next meal.
  2. Donate clothing: Save old clothing and shoes that you no longer wear and donate it.
  3. Donate toys and books: Donate gently used toys and books that you are no longer using.
  4. Volunteer: Volunteer some of your time and help out at a shelter or soup kitchen. You can also tutor kids and help them out with their homework.

If everyone person does a little something, it can go a long way to alleviating the hardships of the homeless.

Links to websites that can help you take action

Stand Up for Kids: http://www.standupforkids.org/

School on Wheels: https://www.schoolonwheels.org/

Volunteers of America: https://www.voa.org/


The Boy Who Painted the World
Author: Melody J. Bremen
Published 2017

About the Book: Indigo is a boy with a dream. He spends his mornings in a refrigerator box, his afternoons shoveling snow, and his nights in the basement of a homeless shelter. But during every free moment, he draws and dreams of becoming a famous artist. His best friend Jade looks after him, but she is arrested for shoplifting and he’s left all alone. With his box of pencils under his arm, he sets out on a quest to search for Jade and discovers a whole new world… full of the art he loves.

His journey brings him friendship, family, and the courage to hold onto his dreams.

About the Author: Melody J. Bremen writes books for middle grade and young adult readers. She lives on a distant planet where all they do is write and read books. (Sometimes they eat jelly beans.) She has a faithful computer named Oswald.

Visit Melody’s blog: http://melodybremen.com/blog/
Sign up for Melody’s newsletter: http://www.subscribepage.com/newsletter-sign-up

Thank you, Melody, for this important guest post!

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Vanished!: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Florian Bates—the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists—must uncover the truth behind a series of middle school pranks that may or may not involve the daughter of the President of the United States in this hilarious second novel in the T.O.A.S.T. Mystery series.

Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time— well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!

After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…

Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story.

However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!

Can Florian and Margaret save the day? Or are they about to get toasted?

Here is my review for FRAMED the first of the T.O.A.S.T. Mysteries 🙂 

Review: Like Framed!, Vanished! is a crazy adventure of a mystery with twists and turns that make the reader struggle to solve the mystery before Florian does! Once again Ponti’s mystery is easy to follow yet complicated enough to make it so that the reader doesn’t figure everything out before the end (which I think is the best kind of mysteries!).

What I love about this mystery, is that it teaches us more about the characters while also putting them in a whole new setting and mystery. I really enjoyed how different the two mysteries were and how Florian and Margaret’s character development really grew. Anyone who loves Framed! is going to be so happy with the sequel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like Framed!, I think it would be so much fun to play some mystery games with TOAST. And just liked Framed! dealt with art, this mystery includes classical music which can be explored along with it being introduced in the story.

Discussion Questions: Who did you think the prankster was?; Did the solution to the mystery surprise you?; What foreshadowing clues were there to show who the villain was?; What part of Florian and Margaret’s time in school is most realistic to the real experience?; How does Margaret help Florian face his bullies?

Flagged Passages: (When the headmaster doubts that Florian and Margaret can help, they put TOAST on display.)

“‘You have nothing to worry about, Dr. Putney,’ I assured him. ‘W’re discreet. We’ll approach it the same way you approached your church mission. Just like when you went to Brazil and adapted to their customs, we’re guests and will respect the customs and traditions unique to Chatham while we do our work.’

Marcus shot me a wink.

‘Y-y-yes,’ he stammered, trying to make sesne of what I’d just said. ‘But how did you know that?’

‘How did I know what?’ I asked. That you went on a mission? Or that it was to Brazil?’

‘Both,’ he replied.

‘TOAST,’ I said.

‘Toast?’

‘The Theory of All Small Things.’ answered Margaret. ‘The idea is that little details often give away much bigger pieces of information than you think. When you add them up, you have an indisputable truth. That’s how we’re going to find who’s responsible for the pranks. Florian and I are going to use TOAST.’

He looked back and forth at us like we were speaking a foreign language. ‘What little details could possibly tell you that I took a mission to Brazil?’

‘On the wall beside your desk are your college diplomas,’ I explained. ‘They’re from Bringham Young University. Over ninety-eight percent of the students at BYU are Mormon. And roughly a third of all Mormon men go on a mission.’

‘Okay, but that means two-thirds don’t,’ he said as a challenge. ‘What makes you think I did?’

‘You’re featured in the welcome video not only as a headmaster but also as a graduate of Chatham Day,’ I replied. ‘But there’s a six-year gap from your high school graduation until the date you received your bachelor’s. That’s four years of college with two years left over for your mission.’

‘As to Brazil,’ Margaret said, picking up without missing a beat, ‘that was easy. There’s a picture of you on the far bookcase when you were about twenty years old. You’re standing in front of the giant Christ the Redeemer statue, which is in Rio. There’s also a picture of your family on your desk. It looks like a vacation shot and it in you’re wearing a yellow-and-green jersey. Anyone who plays soccer knows it’s the jersey of the Brazilian national team. I’m guessing you became a fan while you lived there and you’ve continued ever since.’

He sat for a moment flabbergasted, unsure what to say.” (p. 32-34)

Read This If You Love: Mysteries like FRAMED! by James PontiWig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

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