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“The Case for Graphic Novels and Chapter Books”

I have always been a huge reader. At some point during third grade, I discovered my love of stories and have never looked back. Third grade through sixth grade was such a formative time for me as I developed this lifelong love of reading, and some of the books I enjoyed the most were comic books or shorter stories with illustrations. I gobbled up as many Archie comics as I could, read all of The Far Side by Gary Larson, and shuddered in fear at the creepy illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I’d be the reader and writer I am today without books like these, and now that my own children are of reading ages, I’ve actively encouraged them to read anything and everything they enjoy. Yes, that has meant a lot of graphic novels and illustrated books. It has also meant them reading the same books over and over and over again, just as I did when I was a kid.

The first thing my ten year old fell in love with was Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She was five when she picked up the first book, and I still remember her coming to me every minute or so to ask me to explain a word. Then she’d read the story again and come to me maybe every couple of minutes. Then she’d read it again. And again. After she’d read that first book probably about a dozen times, she no longer had to ask me to explain any of the words. It was through this rereading of the same book that she developed great reading fluency, confidence, and comprehension skills, and I’m very grateful to Jeff Kinney for teaching her how to read. Would she have naturally gone through this same process on her own with a book without pictures? Without the silly jokes and goofy humor that kept her so engaged? I doubt it.

Being homeschoolers, we’ve spent a lot of time at the library, and my ten year old has always gravitated toward the graphic novel section. We would frequently come home with stacks of graphic novels nearly as tall as she was, and she would read every single one of them. I would make a lot of recommendations, try to introduce her to other styles of books, play longer audiobooks for her, and suggest we try reading new books together, but all she wanted were graphic novels all the time, so I didn’t push it. She loved to read, and I never wanted to interfere with that in any way. After all, her love of reading has always been the end goal.

Then something interesting began happening after a few years of nonstop graphic novels—she decided on her own to try a great big book without illustrations called Wings of Fire, which she found in a little free library at a park. Did she get through it and enjoy it? Let’s just say she’s eagerly anticipating book fifteen right now. Would she have gotten to the point in her love of reading that she’d be willing to read fourteen lengthy books if I hadn’t always allowed her to read and reread the graphic novels she adores so much? Again, I doubt it.

Now that my six year old is reading, she loves my Aven Green chapter books. She brings the books to me over and over for help with the words and to show me the illustrations so we can laugh together (she seems to think I’ve never seen them before). She also loves Junie B. Jones, Puppy Place, Wedgie and Gizmo, and many other chapter books with illustrations. I know one day soon, she’ll probably also fall in love with graphic novels. She’ll probably want to read the same books over and over again (actually she already does that). And then, eventually, she’ll probably also be ready to pick up longer books. When that happens, I’ll be ready for it every step of the way.

Expected publication: August 17th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

About the Book: Aven Green Baking Machine is the sequel to Aven Green Sleuthing Machine which Kellee reviewed in April.

Aven is an expert baker of cakes and cookies. She’s been baking with her mom for a really long time. Since she was born without arms, Aven cracks eggs and measures sugar and flour with her feet. Now, she has her eye on the prize: a beautiful blue ribbon for baking at the county fair. So she teams up with her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata. But It turns out they all have very different tastes and a lot of opinions about baking. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

About the Author: Dusti Bowling grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, where, as her family will tell you, she always had her nose in a book. She released her first middle grade novel in 2017 and hasn’t stopped writing since.

Dusti’s books have won the Reading the West Award, the Sakura Medal, a Golden Kite Honor, the William Allen White Children’s Book Award, and have been nominated for a Cybil and over thirty state awards. Her books are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections and have been named best books of the year by the Chicago Public Library, Kirkus, Bank Street College of Education, A Mighty Girl, Shelf Awareness, and many more. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Thank you, Dusti, for this post that we definitely agree with! Like you said, “ove of reading has always been the end goal!”

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“I Write About the Real World and Real Feelings… by Using Magic”

I like to say that I write about myself without writing about myself, that I try to understand my feelings by writing about someone else’s very similar feelings.

And I use magic to do it.

I have never owned a second hand shop filled with cuckoo clocks and birdcages and patchwork purses and chandelier earrings. I have never participated in an end of the school year parade, and, regrettably, I didn’t have a cousin who lived in the apartment downstairs from me when I was growing up. And most of all, as much as I wish I could, I have never witnessed magic. At least not the kind that shows up in my books. Not the magic passed down through generations, not the kind of magic that the best friend cousins of my HAND-ME-DOWN MAGIC series encounter in book after book.

But. I did have a best friend growing up, and we did it get into fights. I did have family that I sometimes felt part of and sometimes felt confused about my place in. I did feel jealous when a friend had something I wanted, and I did feel scared when things didn’t feel entirely in my control. Some of those things—fighting with a friend, feeling jealous or scared or left out or uncertain about who you are—are a little bit scary. Uncomfortable. Hard to talk about, and harder still to write a whole book or series of books about. When I am feeling those hard and scary and uncomfortable feelings, for myself or for my characters, I know it’s time for magic.

When something feels hard to look at straight on, I introduce a bit of magic to help make it easier to understand. Because there’s a lot about the world I don’t understand! There’s a lot about my characters’ worlds that I don’t understand right away. I don’t know when I first start writing why a particular bag in a particular shop window could make someone feel like they would become the best version of themselves if only they had it over their shoulder. And I don’t know why someone else’s happiness can sometimes feel like a personal slight. Or why it is hard to share in that happiness sometimes. I don’t even really know how to solve those problems, or any of the strange and awkward and tricky and uncomfortable problems that arise simply from being a person in the world interacting with other people. But I do know that many of us think we aren’t supposed to talk about those messier parts of our hearts and friendships and lives. And I do know that if I add magic, the conversation becomes easier.

I don’t try to hide the truth in my books—that doesn’t feel fair to anyone—me or my readers or the characters I spend so much time writing and falling in love with. But I try to make the truth easier to understand, easier to look at straight on, easier to manage. Magic helps manage hard truths—big ones, sure, but small ones too, little moments where your heart hurts or you are blushing and wish you weren’t, or your best friend is making you mad or sad or uncomfortable and you don’t know why. Look! Look at me! Magic says in those hard moments in my books,  I’m here too! Maybe I can help? Maybe I can explain it? Or maybe I just make things a little lighter, a little prettier, a little more interesting than regular old life is.

Sometimes, I use magic to make a feeling bigger: what if Alma feels a little left out of her family life, not just because she hasn’t lived in the same home as them ever before, but also because the rest of them have a belief in magic that she just can’t seem to muster?

It’s an added layer to bulk up the feelings I want to discuss. A way to turn up the volume on the circumstances, so make sure they come through loud and clear.

Sometimes, I use magic to make the feeling easier: Someone I loved did something mean to me: maybe it was because of magic?

Mostly I use magic to make things easier to talk about: Life is confusing and big and hard to understand and not in our control and that is scary. But Del doesn’t want to say all of that. Or even think it. Del is scared of a crystal ball telling fortunes that come true in tricky ways. Let’s talk about that, and maybe it will show us some other things along the way.

Magic is sneaky. Maybe when we talk about Del’s fear of her crystal ball, we can start talking about other things that happen unexpectedly or other times we think something bad might be our fault. Magic lets a conversation evolve naturally, instead of going right to the center of things. Magic is a beautiful and fun and silly and shiny way in to the scary things.

It is easier to talk about the world—a world which is sometimes very challenging and uncomfortable and sometimes even a bit sad and lonely, especially lately—when there is a mix of the familiar and the mysterious. A mix of real life and magic. A combination of the things we understand and the things we never fully will. Magic, when done well, is the bridge between those two things.

Using a bit of magic to talk about the real world reminds me of an old fashioned radio dial. Magic can turn things up or down, it can cut through the static, it can help you search for the story you want to hear, it is a tool in the toolbox of a writer, and a reader, and a person in the world, when you are a bit lost and bit frightened and a bit unsure. I am those things pretty often. That’s why I use magic so much!

The truth is—I’m a writer and a reader and a parent and a person in the world, and I’m just as flummoxed as everyone else, about why things are the way they are or feel the way they feel. Magic helps me make sense of it all too, it gives me a little space and perspective, a new angle at which to look at my character’s circumstances. Which in turn helps me make sense of my own. I believe it can help make sense of things for young readers, too. Magic can bring order to the mess and can put a magnifying glass to the tiny tricky details. It can amplify what we need to look at more closely, a quiet what feels too scary to approach head on.

We all want to reach young people, we all want a way in. For me, magic is the way.

Maybe it can be for you too.

Hand-Me-Down Magic: Perfect Patchwork Purse
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Illustrator: Luisa Uribe
Published May 4, 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books

About the Book: Family magic saves the day for best-friend-cousins Del and Alma in the third Hand-Me-Down Magic book! With adorable illustrations and short, easy-to-read chapters, this series is perfect for fans of Ivy & Bean and Dory Fantasmagory.

Almaknew it the first time she saw it: The patchwork purse in the window of the Curious Cousins Secondhand Shoppe was magical. Special. Perfect. But when her friend Cassie spots the purse and buys it, what could Alma do but agree that the purse really did look just right on Cassie?

Del decides it’s up to her to bring some homespun magic back into Alma’s life, and she’s got just the plan to do it. After all, she is the EXPERT on magic!

All she needs is some glitter and lots and lots of glue . . . because she knows magic can always come from the most unexpected places, but most importantly, that best-friend-cousins never let each other down.

About the Author: Corey Ann Haydu is the author of EventownThe Someday Suitcase, and Rules for Stealing Stars and four acclaimed books for teens. She grew up in the Boston area, earned her MFA at the New School, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog Oscar. Find out more at www.coreyannhaydu.com.

Thank you, Corey, for sharing how you use magic to tackle what is real!

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Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine
Author: Dusti Bowling
Illustrator: Gina Perry
Published April 13th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month—cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.

About the Creators:

DUSTI BOWLING is the award-winning, bestselling author of Insignificant Events in the Life of a CactusMomentous Events in the Life of a Cactus24 Hours in NowhereThe Canyon’s Edge, and the forthcoming Across the Desert and Aven Green chapter book series. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Gina Perry graduated from Syracuse University, worked as a compositor in animation, then an art director for a stationery manufacturer, before discovering her true passion—writing and illustrating children’s books. She lives with her family in NH.

Praise:

“[Bowling] infuses her writing with humor and empathy.” —School Library Journal (starred) 

“A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Unapologetically smart and refreshingly confident in her abilities, this super-sleuth extraordinaire is a joy to tag along with.” —Booklist

“Aven’s candid voice ensures that this chapter book series starter will draw a young audience.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: I am so happy that Aven is now starring in chapter books. Her voice is one of my favorites in middle grade literature because it is full of truth and humor. Her voice is just as strong in this chapter book as it was in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, just a bit younger.

In addition to Aven’s voice, the story is a compelling one! I’m a fan of mysteries, and this is a fun kid lit mystery. Also, the cast of characters are wonderful! I am a huge fan of Aven’s friends.

And I cannot wait until August when Aven Green, Baking Machine comes out!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see Aven Green read in classrooms! It would be such a fun book to read together as a class! The class could even keep track of all of the clues and see if they can figure out the mystery!

There are also opportunities in the book to talk about acronyms and word play!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Aven keep track of her clues?
  • What type of materials does Aven need to be a good detective?
  • How did Aven help Sujata with acclimating with the new school?
  • What are your slumber party traditions?
  • What is a time you have heard a word incorrectly like Emily heard hen droids?
  • Have you ever lost something? How did you work to find it?
  • If you were going to do a report on a country

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Magnificent Makers series by Theanne Griffith; King and Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler; The Misadventures of Toni Macaroni in The Mad Scientists by Cetonia Weston-Roy; The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Meena series by Karla Manternach; Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty; Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi; A Boy Called Bat series by Elana K. Arnold

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**Thank you to Sterling for providing a copy for review!**

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A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon
Author: Karen Romano Young
Illustrator: Jessixa Bagley
Published: January 7th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: In a slightly fantastical New York City, one very special library branch has been designated for possible closure. Bookish, socially awkward Pearl, the daughter of the librarian, can’t imagine a world without the library—its books, its community of oddballs, its hominess. When the head of their Edna St. Vincent Millay statue goes missing, closure is closer than ever. But Pearl is determined to save the library. And with a ragtag neighborhood library crew—including a constantly tap-dancing girl who might just be her first friend, an older boy she has a crush on, and a pack of raccoons who can read and write—she just might be able to.

With an eclectic cast of richly drawn characters, a hint of just-around-the-corner magic, footnotes, sidebars, and Jessixa Bagley’s classic illustrations throughout, this warm-hearted, visually magnificent tale of reading and believing from beloved author Karen Romano Young tells of a world where what you want to believe can come true.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for A Girl, a Racoon, and the Midnight Moon (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon here.

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AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: August 25th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet is the second book in the laugh-out-loud series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a new mission, where AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

After they splash-land on the Water Planet, they find power-hungry clams, a rebellious underwater force, and a world full of too-good-to-be-true. Can this aquatic world really be humans’ new home? And why are these clams so eager to swap planets?

• Features full-color illustrations and an out-of-this-world book jacket
• A can’t-put-it-down page-turner for reluctant readers
• Complete with how-to-draw pages in the back

AstroNuts Mission Two is full of laugh-out loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story.

Eager and reluctant readers alike ages 8 to 12 years old will be over the moon about this visually groundbreaking read.

• Creatively illustrated, full-color action-packed space saga
• Perfect for fans of Dog Man, Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants
• Great gift for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and educators who are looking to introduce STEM and environmental topics to children
• Add it the the shelf with books like The Bad Guys in Superbad by Aaron Blabey, The 104-Story Treehouse: Dental Dramas & Jokes Galore! by Andy Griffiths, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for AstroNuts Mission Two (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about AstroNuts Mission Two here.

You can see information about AstroNuts Mission One and its Educators’ Guide here.

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Bad Hair Day
Author and Illustrator: Jim Benton
Published July 23rd, 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Franny K. Stein isn’t a fan of glamour. She doesn’t style her hair, the thought of wearing makeup makes her want to gag, and she couldn’t care less about wearing dressy dresses when she’d much prefer her lab coat.

But sometimes Franny wonders if her mom wishes she were different. Which gives Franny an idea…for an experiment! What if she can turn the beauty products her mom loves into something more exciting?

Every experiment has its experimental error, and when Franny’s hair takes on a life of its own, Franny must save the day (and her hair).

About the Author: Jim Benton is the New York Times bestselling writer of the Dear Dumb Diary series and a cartoonist whose unique brand of humor has been seen on toys, television, T-shirts, greeting cards, and even underwear. Franny K. Stein is the first character he’s created especially for young children. A husband and father of two, he lives in Michigan, where he works in a studio that really and truly does have creepy stuff in it.

Review: Franny K. Stein is not worried about all those other things other people worry about–she just wants to do experiments and other mad scientists things. And you know what, I love that!!! And I definitely saw what Benton was trying to do with this book when it comes to glamour and such, but I, as a parent, just didn’t like to see Franny’s mom put a bit of passive aggressive pressure on Franny to be anything other than her amazing self. I mean, she makes creatures and fights them–what does a little messy hair matter?! But in the end, Franny’s mom and the reader are reminded of this, so once again Franny can go on being herself.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Simon and Schuster have a wonderful curriculum guide to use with this series: CLICK HERE.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Franny’s mom is supportive of Franny, but she also questions her. How did you feel about how Franny’s mom in this book?
  • I like to describe Franny as awesome, as in I am awe-struck by her. What traits does Franny have that would lead me to describe her this way?
  • Why did Franny’s pig tails act differently than her ponytails?
  • How was Franny’s mom wrong about Igor?
  • Would Franny be successful in her monster fighting without Igor? Why or why not?

Flagged Passages: CHAPTER ONE: FRANNY’S HOUSE

The Stein family lived in the pretty pink house with the lovely purple shutters down at the end of Daffodil Street. Everything about the house was bright and cheery.

But, of course, the outside of a house is never as interesting as what’s going on inside it.

And inside this house, behind the little round upstairs window, something interesting was always going on, because this was the bedroom and laboratory of Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist.

Last week, for example, Franny developed a giant sea horse, and the day before that she worked on a way to fly based on how bats flap their wings.

Those projects became pretty expensive, so Franny needed to get a piggy bank to save her money in.

Of course, being a mad scientist, she created her piggy bank from a real live pig, which meant that she had to learn all she could about pigs.

This got pretty messy, but she didn’t mind getting messy, because that’s just what happens when you’re doing mad science.

Read This If You Love: Dear Dumb Diary series, Frank Einstein series, Zita the Spacegirl series

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Weird Little Robots
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Corinna Luyken
Published October 1st, 2019 by Candlewick

Summary: When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

Nine-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price.

Praise: [A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.—Kirkus Reviews

**BEA Middle Grade Book Buzz Book

About the Author: Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website. and Twitter @crims10.

Review: Thank goodness books like this exist out in the world. I cannot wait to see what this new generation of kids are like as adults now that they all have these amazing stories of smart girls to read. Even the characters who fit a certain stereotype for Penny Rose ended up proving her wrong. This book shows that there is more to everything than anyone can imagine: more to science, more to friendship, more to imagination… What a fantastic world that Penny and Lark’s story can be told!

And the story itself is one that is fun to read. Not only do you get to read about robots, engineering, ornithology, and even decorating, but the book includes a story that many kids will connect with: do you abandon one to join the others even if the one is your best friend and the others is giving an opportunity that is hard to refuse. That is something that everyone faces more than once in their life. And told in a lyrical and a bit quirky narrative, the story is just fun to read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A Classroom Guide for Weird Little Robots can be found on Carolyn Crimi’s website!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do Penny Rose and Lark have in common?
  • Why do you think Penny Rose made the decision she did about the secret society? Did she regret it in the end? How could she have dealt with it differently?
  • If you were going to build a little robot RIGHT NOW, what items are in your backpack that you could use? Use these items and sketch out a plan.
  • How could Penny Rose have helped her other robots communicate with her?
  • Why do you think the robots waited to communicate?
  • What did the different members of the secret society show Penny Rose, and the reader, about judging others?
  • Create your own conversation starters. Then, in class, group with 2 other people and use the conversation starters to chat. Rotate.
  • What did Penny Rose’s one decision the turned her back on Lark cause?
  • Penny Rose finds her way through the woods just by listening. As a class create an obstacle course that has different sounds throughout it and see if students can navigate through using only their hearing.

Flagged Passages: “First though, Penny Rose would need a detailed plan. She went up to her bedroom, sat on her bed, and turned on the lamp she had made last year from an olive oil can. A stack of notebooks sat on her nightstand: her New Inventions notebook, her Robot Drawings and Descriptions notebook, and her To-Do List notebook. Her most secret notebook, Conversation Starters, was at the bottom of the pile.

She picked it up, found a clean page, and wrote a quick list of Possible Conversation Starters:

  1. “I think binoculars are fun.” (Lark seems to like binoculars.)
  2. “The sun seems strong today.” (Lark often wears sun goop. First determine if the sun does, indeed, seem strong.)
  3. “Sunglasses are very wise.” (Lark wears sunglasses.)
  4. “Do you like robots?” (It is unknown whether or not Lark likes robots, but it is probable that she does since most people do.)
  5. “Yesterday was my birthday. Would you like some leftover cake?” (This seems like a good bet, unless she has allergies or is gluten-free or vegan or something.)
  6. “What is in that metal box?” (This might be too nosy, although if you’re going to carry something so mysterious, you should be prepared for questions.)

Penny Rose looked over her list. She considered what her father said about Lark not hearing before. She decided she would speak loudly.

Penny Rose tore out the page and tucked it into the tool belt she wore in case she happened upon interesting items for her robots.” (Chapter One)

Read This If You Love: Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce, Ada Twist by Andrea Beaty, Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell, Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka

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

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