In honor of our favorite conferences—the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention followed by the ALAN (Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of NCTE) Workshop, we are doing a countdown over the next two weeks. Each day, we will feature a list that reflects the number of days left until the conference! We can’t wait to see many of you there! If you can’t be there, make sure to follow #ncte18 and #alan18 on Twitter and other social media to participate in this amazing PD from your home.
1. Gayle Forman
2. Ibi Zoboi
3. Don Brown
4. Sharon Flake
5. Guadalupe Garcia McCall
6. Deborah Hopkinson
7. Renee Watson
I’m so excited to see these authors speak and to hopefully be able to tell them how much I love their writing. There are also so many new to me authors I look forward to seeing also–I can’t wait to share all of the amazingness that is ALAN afterwards.
“Introducing the World’s Rainbow of Cultures to Kids”
I’ll never forget the first time two foreign students attended our school. The brothers, one who was in my grade, were refugees from Poland and shared stories about their experiences as they had moved through five different countries before finally being granted residency […]
“Introducing the World’s Rainbow of Cultures to Kids”
I’ll never forget the first time two foreign students attended our school. The brothers, one who was in my grade, were refugees from Poland and shared stories about their experiences as they had moved through five different countries before finally being granted residency in the US. They spoke five languages fluently—something I still envy—celebrated holidays we’d never heard of and taught us games we didn’t know existed. In return, we introduced them to the basics of baseball, how to eat Oreo cookies the correct way and tried to explain why Thanksgiving was almost as important as Christmas when it came to American holidays. Thanks to these boys and other foreign students, who attended our school over the years, my interest in the world was sparked.
There are around 6,500 languages presently spoken in the world and more than 5,000 ethnic races. If each represented a different color in a rainbow swirl, it’d be an amazing mix!
Living in Europe, there wasn’t anywhere I could go without meeting people from various countries and cultures or hearing them converse in foreign languages as they went about their daily lives. Especially in the cities, the huge diversity was simply a part of life.
I was constantly amazed how the kids not only accepted this but thrived on it.
In the children’s choir I directed in Germany, there was a child from Italy and one from Spain. The first time we sang Happy Birthday (in German, and then in English), they each insisted on singing the song in their own languages too. Not wanting to feel left out, some of the other children went home and learned how to say ‘Happy Birthday’ in other languages. From then on, every birthday was celebrated through our growing list of wishes and songs. It grew to be quite the lengthy event, but the kids enjoyed every second.
Languages form an intimidating barrier, and the ‘strange habits’ of other cultures make the differences seem even larger, but especially kids look past such things and are open to other types and ways of life. How strange and fun it can be to let odd sounds roll across the tongue and know they have meaning! Or discovering an odd food or dressing in a completely different way. Cultures live and breathe and discovering this is exciting.
In the fifth grade, my son was assigned to do a report on Iceland. Of course, writing the report wasn’t exactly a joyful experience as he collected statistics surrounding the people, economy, history and political aspects of the country. Simply said, he hated doing it. Then, he had the chance to speak with someone from Iceland, learn a few words and phrases, discover some of their stranger foods and hear about other aspects of life. The next weeks, he’d throw out random words in Icelandic, wanted to try Sheep’s Head Jelly (I was secretly happy we didn’t find it in any of the local stores), and—this I didn’t enjoy—spoke during meals while his mouth was full because ‘that’s what they do in Iceland’.
Thanks to the increased awareness of diversity, especially in children’s literature, it’s not difficult to find stories about other cultures or learn about the countries themselves. And the internet…well, that’s a realm of information all on its own. A word or phrase can be translated into almost any language instantly and spoken examples aren’t usually hard to find. My youngest loves to check her pronunciation for Chinese words on Youtube. She’ll pet the dog and say ‘gǒu’.
Games, toys, food, clothing, school life—most information is readily available and doesn’t dip into the looming hole of boredom. It’s these fun and seemingly strange morsels of information which also point toward larger explanations behind culture and history. There is a reason why people in Iceland don’t shy away from Sheep’s Head Jelly, and now, my son will never forget the importance of sheep in Iceland’s agriculture.
With an ‘international week’, kids can pick a culture and present a few words, games or other bits of information they discover and keep it fun. Even diving in with more depth into a few well known and less known cultures introduces the vast varieties of the world. But it’s not only about the differences. Everyone around the world eats, sleeps, can be afraid of the dark, loves their parents and enjoys jokes or playing around.
Introducing kids to the variety of the world isn’t only fun but broadens their way of thinking. There are several organizations and groups, which offer ideas and opportunities to help teach kids learn more. Some of these simply offer maps and virtual country tours, while others help organize Skype sessions with other classrooms or assist in connecting teachers and students with penpals from around the globe.
https://www.kidlink.org/ – promotes a global dialogue for youth. It caters to teachers and students.
http://usa.ipfpenfriends.com/ – caters to classrooms and teachers
http://www.studentsoftheworld.info – started in 1995 and offers not only the chance to connect with youth around the world but has other information including games, maps and ‘virtual tours’ of other countries.
About the Author: Tonja Drecker is a writer, blogger, children’s book reviewer and freelance translator. After spending years in Germany exploring forgotten castles, she currently resides in the Ozarks with her family of six. When she’s not tending her chickens and cows, she’s discovering new adventures, nibbling chocolate and sipping a cup of tea.
About the Book: “I only desire your talent…”
Twelve-year-old Lindsey McKay’s biggest dream is to be a famous ballerina. But after moving to New York, she ends up at the Community Center with a teacher who’s a burly bear in tights.
When she meets Madame Destinée, the teacher of a top dance school who offers her classes for free, Lindsey can’t believe her luck. In exchange, she must perform in the school’s exclusive midnight shows, ones sure to make her a star. But something’s not right…
One by one, the other dancers disappear. Each time they do, a music box with a figurine just like the missing ballerina joins Madame Destinée’s growing collection. If Lindsey doesn’t discover the truth about the dance school, she might end up a tiny figurine herself. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41452109
Thank you, Tonja, for your post!
We are starting In-Class Book Clubs in my Advanced Reading class this week, so students were able to browse 50 or so books that I have class sets of and choose the one that they are interested in being in a book clubs about. Here are the titles they chose this year:
6th Grade Class
8th Grade Class
7th Grade Class
I’m excited for the discussions these books will bring!
I’ll share after how I changed In-Class Book Clubs since last year and how it went!
“And They Lived Happily Ever After”
In the author talk I give to middle grade students, I like to ask why most books have happy endings. The typical answer I get is, “The good guy always wins, everyone knows that!” But then I challenge them to ask themselves why that is. Why is it that when Harry Potter faces off against Voldemort in the epic final wand battle, Voldemort is the one who gets blasted away and not Harry? Voldemort is, after all, the most powerful dark lord in all of Potterdom history and Harry is just a wizard boy. The answer I believe lies in the deeper reasoning behind why authors write books and the close relationship that develops between the reader and the hero/heroine in the story.
To simplify the general structure of a story involves a Main Character who encounters some kind of Problem (conflict) early on and the remainder of the book is about the Main Character taking steps, forward and backward, to solve the Problem. So, a book can be labelled as Character-Problem-Solution. There are of course many other elements but for simplicity, let’s focus on those three elements to see how they lead to happy-ever-after’s.
Beginning with the Main Character, it is important to keep in mind that when an author creates the central character, he or she is typically designed to appeal to the ideal reader. The character must be someone the reader can easily identify with and connect to, otherwise they are unlikely to turn the pages and continue reading. Harry Potter was written for kids so JK Rowling introduces him starting at age eight. Readers of Harry Potter reported feeling sorry for the mistreated boy who lived under the stairs and wanting to learn more about his fate. Suzanne Collins created an instant connection to her ideal teenaged reader by having Katniss Everdeen share on the very first page of the novel The Hunger Games that she not only disliked the family cat, Buttercup, but wished she had drowned it as a kitten. That kind of ugly internal thought can immediately reassure an angsty teen that this character is like them, filled with flaws, and not some hero sitting high on a perch. This allows an important connection to take place between the reader and the character. In my book The Red Sun, 12-year-old Sam Baron has a problem with his temper, and every time he loses it, things get worse, which is instantly relatable for those pre-teens struggling with emotions.
Next, the main character encounters a Problem. The bigger the problem, the bigger the character must rise up to be in order to defeat or solve the problem. Harry had a singular problem throughout the entire series—Voldemort wanted Harry dead. Had Voldemort been a clerk at the local wand store, it would have been a minor bump in the road, but Voldemort was the most powerful wizard lord in all of Potterdom, and as he grows in power, so too must Harry in order to survive. Katniss Everdeen has a huge problem—it’s not a fight to the draw, it’s a fight to the death in the Hunger Games, and the odds of her surviving are extremely low. Sam Baron also has a big problem-his temper has triggered an ancient curse that affects the sun, arguably one of the most powerful objects in our universe, and every time Sam loses his temper, another red vein appears across the face of the sun, poisoning the land, until.…everyone….is….going…..to…..die… because face it, if everyone was going to get a bad sunburn, the stakes wouldn’t be as high and the reader’s emotions wouldn’t be as charged.
As the pages fly by, the Main Character attempts to solve the Problem—sometimes stumbling, sometimes making progress, but along the way, a magical thing takes place. If someone were to ask you to read their mind, you could guess at what they were thinking, but they could always lie and say you were wrong. We don’t always tell the truth about what we’re thinking. But all that changes when we read a book. We are invited into the point of view of the character and so we know exactly what they are thinking—if they are scared, cold, angry, in pain, lying, or filled with remorse. Every single emotion or thought they have, ugly or not, is shared with the reader so that they know this character inside and out. If the author has done their job right and created a character the reader connects with, and then takes them on an intimate journey of sharing the adventures together, it makes sense that upon arriving at the grand finale, the reader is going to be rooting for that Main Character to win the day. And while there is no law that states the author must deliver on this promise, I believe that authors don’t write books to rip out the hearts of their readers, but rather, they write books to deliver hope, that if Harry can defeat Voldemort, I can win my battles. If Katniss can survive the Hunger Games, maybe I can survive high school. If Sam can defeat the curse hanging over his head, maybe I can defeat the cloud of doubt hanging over mine. If in the end, the Main Character fails to solve their Problem, we leave our reader with a depressingly familiar message—life isn’t fair—and things don’t always work out. We read books to escape, to have an adventure, to feel something powerful, but in the end, we want to cling to our beliefs that there is good to be found, and hope abounds.
About the Author: Alane Adams is an author, former professor, literacy advocate and founder of Rise Up Foundation. She is the author of the Legends of Orkney fantasy mythology series for tweens and The Coal Thief, The Egg Thief, and The Santa Thief picture books for early-grade readers. Her newest books, The Blue Witch, first in The Witches of Orkney series (a prequel trilogy for middle grade readers) and The Circus Thief, a picture book for young readers, will be published by SparkPress in Fall 2018. Alane travels the country each year, visiting hundreds of students, bringing a fun and inspirational program to motivate readers. She welcomes the chance to come to your school. Learn more about Alane Adams and request a free school visit at www.alaneadams.com.
The Blue Witch
Published October 23rd, 2018 by SparkPress
About the Book: Before Sam Baron broke Odin’s curse on the witches to become the first son born to a witch and the hero of the Legends of Orkney series, his mother was a young witchling growing up in the Tarkana Witch Academy. In this first book of the prequel series, the Witches of Orkney, nine-year-old Abigail Tarkana is determined to grow up to be the greatest witch of all, even greater than her evil ancestor Catriona. Unfortunately, she is about to fail Spectacular Spells class because her witch magic hasn’t come in yet. Even worse, her nemesis, Endera, is making life miserable by trying to get her kicked out.
When her new friend Hugo’s life is put in danger by a stampeding sneevil, a desperate Abigail manages to call up her magic―only to find out it’s unlike any other witchling’s at the Tarkana Witch Academy! As mysteries deepen around her magic and just who her true parents are, Abigail becomes trapped in a race against time to undo one of her spells before she is kicked out of the coven forever!
Rich in Norse mythology, The Blue Witch is the first of a fast-paced young reader series filled with magical spells, mysterious beasts, and witch-hungry spiders!
The Circus Thief
Illustrator: Lauren Gallegos
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018 by Spark Press
About the Book: The circus is in town, and Georgie has his heart set on going. When Papa agrees to take him and his friend Harley, the boys marvel at the amazing elephants and clowns. But the best act of all is the amazing Roxie, a trained horse who can do all sorts of tricks. When Georgie is invited to ride on her back, he discovers it’s her last show―Roxie is going to be sent to the work farm! When Roxie bolts with Georgie on her back, Papa must come to his rescue.
The Circus Thief is a heartwarming tale of boyhood set in 1920s Pennsylvania.
Thank you, Alane, for this hopeful and insightful post!
Death and Douglas
Author: J.W. Ocker
Published October 31st, 2017 by Sky Pony Press
Summary: Douglas has grown up around the business of death.
Generations of his family have run the Mortimer Family Funeral Home. The mortician and gravediggers are all his buddies. And the display room of caskets is an awesome place for hide and seek. It’s business as usual in Douglas’s small New England town.
Until one day an incredibly out of the ordinary murder victim is brought to the funeral home. And more startling: others follow. On the cusp of Halloween, a serial killer has arrived. And unsatisfied with the small-town investigation, Douglas enlists his friends to help him solve the mystery.
With sumptuous descriptions of a bucolic town and its quirky people, fascinating yet middle grade–appropriate insider information about the funeral process, and a crackling mystery with a heart-pounding conclusion—Death and Douglas has something for readers young and old.
About the Author: J. W. Ocker is the Edgar Award–winning author of Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe. His work has appeared in Rue Morgue magazine, the Boston Globe, CNN, the Atlantic, and other places people stick writing. He’s from Maryland but has lived in New Hampshire since 2008. This is his first book for children.
“Ocker populates his eerie New England town with a memorable cast, and gives us a compelling hero in Douglas Mortimer. Kids and coffee-drinkers beware!” —Patrick Moody, author of The Gravedigger’s Son
“With the perfect balance of macabre and mystery, the ideal combination of horror and humor, the Ghastlies are bringing plenty of goosebumps and giggles for everyone!” —Brooks Benjamin, author of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights
Review: To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started this book because it is way creepier than I thought it was going to be, but a serial killer on the loose in a town definitely will add that creep factor to any book.
Douglas is definitely well-rounded and mature when it comes to death, it has been around him his entire life, but all death he’s encountered has been natural or an accident until now. This is an interesting point of view for a character as I’ve never read a middle grade book with a character like Douglas. All of a sudden, a young boy who never feared death realizes that there is evil in some deaths and that scares him more than it may scare most because it is a new realization. This definitely adds to the suspense because Douglas is not only questioning everything around him but also on the look out for a serial killer, so all bumps in the night are a reason to jump.
I will also say that the conclusion was not what I saw coming!
Side note: Douglas and his friends did some DANGEROUS things, and I know that we have to suspend our belief when reading, but the whole time as an adult I wanted to yell at them for being so ridiculously careless in their safety by searching for a serial killer! Kids: Do not do that at home!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students are always asking me for mystery books or horror books, and they are so hard to come by in middle school; however, this one will be perfect for them! Death and Douglas belongs in libraries of any kind!
- Why are Douglas’s friends jealous of how his parents treat him?
- How did Douglas become so well rounded when it comes to death?
- What is a mortician vs a medical examiner?
- The different terms for mortician are discussed: What are the different connotations of the different terms (mortician, undertaker, funeral director)?
- How did Douglas and his friends put themselves in danger? What should they have done instead?
- Who do you think is the serial killer? Were you right?
- How are Lowell and Douglas different? Why does their friendship work so well?
Flagged Passages: “Maybe Lowell’s crazy plan was worth going along with, for a little while at least. Despite the terrors of teh night, both old and new, Douglas found himself comfortably lost in his own thoughts.
Until the dogwoods spoke to him.
Somewhere behind the ordered row of trunks, a short hiss of words seemed to connect the space behind him and them. They sounded hollow, inhuman, almost breaths.
Ran like he’d never run in gym class, like no game of tag he’d ever played in the cemetery. Cold terror is the best fuel for the body.
Douglas didn’t dare look back. Didn’t even dare try to use the cane, which suddenly seemed silly in his hands. His breath came out ragged, and his feed slapped the ground even harder as he raced across the street to the front lawn of the funeral home. As he ran, he thought he could hear echoes of those sounds behind him. So close behind.
He ran even faster.
The night silhouette of the funeral home loomed above him–a scary place for some, a safe harbor for him.” (Chapter 11)
Read This If You Love: Murder mysteries or any mysteries!
**Thank you to Sky Horse for providing a copy for review!**
“Behold the Power of Books!”
Talking to kids about hard topics is tough. When your little one, or a little one you know, is going through a tough time, it can be challenging to talk to them about what is going on in their life. Many kids are embarrassed about it, and are afraid of speaking up. What can we do as parents, educators, and creators to help kids with difficult things in their life, whether they are issues with a turbulent household, bullying, or the loss of a loved one?
Behold the power of books!
The folks at www.stopbullying.gov say that the best way for educators and staff to help kids impacted by bullying is through creative writing and artistic works. By introducing students to books that cover difficult topics, it can be easier to talk to them about what is going on in their life, and easier for them to speak up. Having characters in works of fiction that are relatable is important to a lot of readers, and seeing someone who is going through a tough time, just like them, can help kids come up with creative solutions to their troubles. We are Teachers has a great list of books that have anti-bullying messages, Parents showcases books about divorce, and What’s Your Grief has a whopping 64 books for kids on death and grief. The resources are out there, and by putting these books in classrooms and libraries, we can open the conversation with kids about the tough things.
My favorite approach to these kinds of topics is in the books that do not directly say in the title that they are about the topic. Diverse experiences should be written into every character, and these kinds of struggles make young protagonists much more interesting. By having characters experience the everyday struggle and deal with things that almost all kids deal with, this allows us as educators, adults, and parents to more freely talk about the issues with little ones. By continuing to stay involved in our kids’ lives, we can help put a stop to the problems that they deal with, or, at the very least, lessen the blow that the difficult times often bring.
What are your favorite books about tough topics for kids? Have you ever utilized fiction to talk to your students about emotional topics?
About the Author: Elaborate storytelling is something that has entertained humankind since its start, and Cassidy’s goal is to take the words on the page and forge them to life, like a star being born. Using a variety of media, Cassidy uses her hands to weave magic on the canvas and visualize elements extant before only in dreams. By utilizing an expressive and traditionally-inspired quality in her work, Cassidy brings worlds and characters of all sorts into existence.
Cassidy Dwelis currently resides in Colorado, and has earned a BFA in both Illustration and Game Art. Cassidy writes Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult fiction, and is currently acquiring her MA in Publishing. Cassidy’s dream is to help others bring their imagination to life, through the art of storytelling.
Braidy von Althuis and the Dastardly Djinn
Publishes October 30th, 2018
About the Book: “He should have known this would happen. Wishes in movies and books seemed to go bad, so why would this one be any different?”
Ten-year-old Braidy von Althuis misses his family dearly. Ever since his father, his aunt, and his uncle went to look for Gran in Europe, the house has been quiet and lonely. Even worse, Braidy’s cousin Blockhead is miserable after a breakup. Braidy wishes more than anything that he could do something to make his cousin happy.
His wish is granted by a mysterious djinni, but the wish does not solve all his problems. Something is wrong with Blockhead, and Braidy learns a dark secret about his family that changes everything he knew. Will Braidy and Blockhead be able to undo the djinni wish, or will Braidy spark a war that may change the world as he knows it?
Braidy von Althuis and the Dastardly Djinn is a story about identity, self-worth, consent, and responsibility.
Thank you, Cassidy, for this post reiterating what we truly believe!
Author and Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published October 9th, 2018 by Boyds Mills Press
Summary: Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had.
About the Author: Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night. He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida.
Visit the Garbage Island Boyds Mills Press page to view an interview about his inspirations and what’s coming next!
“In this series opener, a mouse and a shrew find themselves unlikely allies as they unite to save Garbage Island. The clever pairing of opposites adds humor, making the gradual emergence of friendship…all the sweeter. Dramatic black-and-white illustrations highlight key action. Exciting, fast-paced adventure and unexpected friendship in a “trashy” venue.” –Kirkus Reviews
“This adventurous tale is packed with action, examples of creative thinking, and ingenuity. Use this as an introduction to STEM thinking, a science fair project, a lesson on ecology, or simply read it for the enjoyment the story provides. This book will appeal to the adventure seeker, animal lover, explorer, and just about everyone else. A must-read for readers ready to strap in for a great ride!” – School Library Connection, starred review
“(With) fast-paced action and danger… this entertaining animal adventure stands out… because of its strong characters and an underlying message of environmental awareness.”–School Library Journal
Review: I love Archibald Shrew. He actually reminds me of Tinkerbell, specifically from the movie Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. Archie is a genius; he just is a genius that sometimes makes a mess when he is creating or may forget something essential if he’s brainstorming or might put him or someone else in danger if trying something new. But he is just so gosh darn lovable! From the very first page when we meet him, and he’s trying out his bicycle invention. Archie is obviously just ahead of his time. And while Mr. Popli starts off as a bit of a stern, uptight character, he is forced to see what is most important through this journey. Lastly, Merri. She is a special character who I connect with so much. She tries so hard to take care of everyone. She is never not helping or doing something; everyone can rely on her. But she also feels a lot of pressure to be a caregiver in so many different ways; so much that she pushes herself way too hard sometimes. It is because of these three characters plus the plot arc of Mr. Popli and Archie’s nearly always perilous adventure that this book is hard to put down. I know this is going to be one that Trent and I will read when he is a bit older: so much to unpack and just so entertaining!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There is an Educator Guide available:
- How did Mr. Popli change over the course of the book?
- What did the egg teach Archie and Mr. Popli?
- What are the differing character traits between Archie, Mr. Popli, Merri, and Edward? Similarities?
- How does Archie effect the other characters at the beginning of the book? The end?
- What part of the book surprised you?
- How does the book promote environmental awareness?
- Which of the opponents was the biggest foe for Archie and Mr. Popli? Explain why you think that foe was the toughest?
Flagged Passages: Chapter 3
“A week into his punishment for the sea-cycle incident, Archie had taken to his new routine with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed starfish. During the day, he did everything that was asked of him, but the work made him hungry, and the hunger made him grumpy. And still, his yearning for his workshop rose in his throat each evening like the moon in the sky.
Merrie had come to visit Archie each night at the Watchtower. She was the only bird left on Garage Island. He was the only shrew. In many ways, they were kindred. But Merri was an outsider because of her species. And she was sure that Archie was treated as an outsider because of his actions. If she could get him to see that, perhaps his life could improve. Her attempts to convince him turned into another argument.” (p. 30)
Read This If You Love: Anthropomorphic stories like Redwall by Brian Jacques, Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel, Seekers series by Erin Hunter, Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, An Army of Frogs by Trevor Pryce;Fiction that promotes environmental awareness; Plastics Ahoy! by Patricia Newman
Don’t Miss Out on the Other Blog Tour Stops!:
Mon 10/1 Always in the Middle
Tue 10/2 Miss Marple’s Musings
Wed 10/3 Inkygirl
Thu 10/4 Storymamas
Fri 10/5 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Mon 10/8 Librarian in Cute Shoes
Tue 10/9 KidLit Frenzy
Wed 10/10 Middle Grade Book Village
Thu 10/11 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Fri 10/12 Middle Grade Minded
Fri 10/12 Unleashing Readers
**Thank you to Boyds Mills for providing copies for review and giveaway and for hosting the blog tour!**
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