Locomotive by Brian Floca (Ricki’s Review)

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Locomotive
Author and Illustrator: Brian Floca
Published September 3rd, 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: The Caldecott Medal Winner, Sibert Honor Book, and New York Timesbestseller Locomotive is a rich and detailed sensory exploration of America’s early railroads, from the creator of the “stunning” (BooklistMoonshot.

It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean.

Come hear the hiss of the steam, feel the heat of the engine, watch the landscape race by. Come ride the rails, come cross the young country!

My Review: Filled with a beautiful array images (watercolor, ink, acrylic, etc.), this incredibly well-researched book takes readers on a journey through the summer of 1869. It took my husband and me three nights to read this title to our son because we needed to pause and take in its magic. After I closed the last page of the book, a library copy, my husband looked at me and mouthed (because our son was asleep), “Let’s buy this one.” There is a wonderful balance of factual information about the train and lyrical language that brims with gorgeous figurative language. This book is a standout and well-deserving of the accolades it has received.

**A special thanks to Kellee, who texted me that I had to read this one. You can read her review here.**

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would use this text in any grade level. I envision the eager eyes of elementary school students as their curiosity is piqued… middle schoolers, suddenly interested in trains and this time in our history…or high schoolers, researching the different parts of the train and learning how effective figurative language can be in writing. This book would be a great mentor text to teach creativity. The layout of the pages is so very purposeful, which pave the way for great classroom discussions.

Discussion Questions: How does Brian Floca grab the readers’ attention? How is his writing purposeful?; In what ways does Floca manipulate language?; How does the second person point-of-view add to the story?; What does this book teach us? Go beyond the obvious.; How do the pages differ in their visual appeal? Why do you think this is?

We Flagged:

Rather than including a quote here, I wanted to show you a few of the gorgeous spreads with this book. These pages are pulled from images posted on Amazon.

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Read This If You Loved: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

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Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

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Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of our Solar System and Beyond
Author: David A. Aguilar
Published August 17th, 2013 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Goodreads Summary: Presenting the latest exciting findings on space exploration and research and cutting-edge, spectacular views of the universe that technology is bringing back to Earth, all in one ultimate reference book. Authored by David A. Aguilar of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the National Geographic Space Encyclopedia is ideal for the family bookshelf, providing both accessible information for school reports and compelling reading on the mysteries beyond our world.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is so full of information! It is almost more of a browsing or researching book because it is just so much. I will say the information is easy to understand (Aguilar constructed the book almost like a journey which makes it easier to follow) the the photographs and scientifically accurate illustrations are some of the best I’ve ever seen. In my time of reading this book, I learned so much and can definitely see how it would be a huge asset to a classroom (science or language arts).

Discussion Questions: After reading about _____, what did you learn?

We Flagged: “Neptune: We’re nearing the pale blue icy world of Neptune. It has the wildest weather of any planet in the solar system, with winds that blow at speeds over 1,200 miles per hour. Like the other Jovian planets, Neptune doesn’t have a surface to walk on. Although the clouds surrounding it are very cold, -350 degrees Fahrenheit, its rocky iron core is about the same temperature as the sun’s surface.” (p. 62)

Read This If You Loved: Any nonfiction book about space, for background knowledge when reading science fiction that takes place in space

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**Thank you to Tracey Daniels at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review**

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Published: August 13th, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Summary: In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

Review: I have read every one of Matthew Quick’s books. He is a teacher, and I feel as if he understands teenagers in ways that many people don’t. Quick’s characters feel like real people, and while I read this one, I kept forgetting that I was even reading a book. To be cliché, I was lost in the story.

Leonard Peacock is a complex character. Even with his evil intention to murder a fellow classmate, the reader comes to understand that he is deeply troubled and not at all evil on the inside. His plan is to give three gifts to three individuals who have positively impacted his life, then kill his classmate, and then kill himself. I read this book with an uncomfortable stomach. I couldn’t put it down because I needed to know how the plot unraveled. Kids will be hooked. It teaches incredible messages of bullying and loneliness. Leonard’s mother is such a terrible parent that I think it will make many teens appreciate their own parents. I had the urge to scream at her at several points in the book. I have read many books that are somewhat similar to the themes of this text, yet it felt very different. I would urge teachers to read it because it sheds light on issues that are often difficult (or maybe even taboo) to discuss.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: My initial thought was that this would make an incredible read-aloud. I think all types of kids would appreciate it. My only hesitance are there are several references to awkward scenes (like masturbation), and even the most liberal teachers might feel a bit uncomfortable reading these aloud. That said, I think this would make an excellent whole-class text or literature circle book. Teachers would also find value in close readings of portions of this text to jumpstart difficult (but important) conversations with students about bullying, depression, and suicide. The book has over sixty footnotes, and it would be interesting to discuss this text feature and/or the experiments that Quick takes with the text structure. The book ends a bit abruptly, and I think students would love to write and discuss extended endings to the text. I would love to see this book bridged with classic texts like The Awakening by Kate Chopin or Hamlet by William Shakespeare. There are a plethora of Shakespeare references that will make teachers drool!

Discussion Questions: What leads a person to make rash, violent decisions? Can s/he be stopped?; How does our past influence our psyche?; Is revenge sweet? Can it ever be justified?; How do our parents shape our mental behavior?; What happens after the conclusion of this text?

We Flagged:

“I admire [Humphrey] Bogart because he does what’s right regardless of consequences—even when the consequences are stacked high against him—unlike just about everyone else in my life” (p. 23).

“How do you measure suffering?

I mean, the fact that I live in a democratic country doesn’t guarantee my life will be problem-free.

Far from it.

I understand that I am relatively privileged from a socio-economical viewpoint, but so was Hamlet—so are a lot of miserable people” (p. 94).

Read This If You Loved: Endgame by Nancy Garden, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Burn by Suzanne Phillips, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

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Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

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Title: Rose under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Expected Publication: September 10th, 2013 by Miramax (Disney)

Summary: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Review: Out of the thousands of books I’ve read, this one is going to sit among my all-time favorites. There is a phenomenal balance of history and narrative that will engage readers while offering harrowing lessons in history. I am not an air and space girl. My husband loves planes, and he was giddy when we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. As much as I want to love planes, I don’t find them to be interesting. This book changed my outlook.

Rose under Fire has many similarities with Wein’s Code Name Verity. They are both written in an epistolary format, involve pilots/airplanes, and are set during World War II. Both offer wonderfully complex themes about friendship, loyalty, and the strength of women. However, Rose under Fire focuses more on concentration camps, while Code Name Verity dealt more with the interrogation techniques used during World War II. Neither of these two elements drove the novels, but they are two plot features that make the texts quite different from one other. I found CNV to be a bit slow in the beginning (which isn’t the case with all readers), but I was hooked to Rose under Fire from the very first page. Wein writes characters so vividly that I still feel their presence in my life, long after I finish the books. I recommend this book to everyone. It will appeal to readers of all ages, backgrounds, genders, and interest levels.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers, this is a MUST-HAVE book. It is phenomenally written and shows the truly complexity of young adult literature. It can be used to teach elements like setting, character, dialogue, the epistolary format, imagery, voice, and theme. Students might write letters back to Rose, or they could analyze one of the many well-developed characters in this story. It would also make for a great research unit of topics like the Nuremberg Trials, female WWII pilots, flying bombs, or the experimentation on Holocaust prisoners. History teachers will also find this text to be invaluable.

Discussion Questions: What loyalties did the Holocaust prisoners have for each other? What are some examples of incidents that showed this loyalty?; Why were the Rabbits so important to the concentration camp? What did they add to the story as a whole?; How does Maddie’s friendship with Rose differ from her friendship with Julie?; Why was Nick’s character important throughout the story? How does his level of importance change, and why?; Rose has very different friendships with many of the characters. Describe how three of these friendships differ from one another.; Does the novel end in a hopeful way? Why or why not?

We Flagged: I marked so many passages that it is hard to choose just a few, so I selected two longer quotes that show the quality of Wein’s writing.

Incredible Imagery:

“…and the reason everyone in there was trying to get out in the rain was because they were dying of thirst.

Really dying of it, I think.

Hands and arms and heads stuck out anywhere there was a gap—cupped hands collecting rainwater, some holding bowls or even just a piece of cloth to collect moisture—I saw one woman lying on her back with her hair in the black cinder mud at the tent’s edge, her mouth open, letting a rivulet of water stream down the canvas and into her mouth.”

And Beautiful Figurative Language:

“Hope—you think of hope as a bright thing, a strong thing, sustaining. But it’s not. It’s the opposite. It’s simply this: lumps of stale bread stuck down your shirt. Stale gray bread eked out with ground fish bones, which you won’t eat because you’re going to give it away, and maybe you’ll get a message through to your friend. That’s all you need.

God, I was hungry.”

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, Night by Elie Wiesel

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Thank you to NetGalley and Disney for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!

The Truth About You & Me by Amanda Grace

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The Truth About You & Me
Author: Amanda Grace
Expected Publication: September 8th, 2013 by Flux

Summary: “I think that’s why my parents trusted me so much back then. It’s easy to trust a smart girl. Smart girls aren’t supposed to do stupid things.” Madelyn is a smart girl—so smart that she doesn’t take normal high school classes at age sixteen, and instead, she is enrolled in college courses with the Running Start program at a local community college. When she meets Bennett Cartwright, her biology professor, she falls head over heels for him. He is very professional, and it isn’t until she runs into him on a local hiking trail that they get to know each other better. Written as an apology letter to Bennett, this novel will keep readers glued to the pages. Because while we, the readers, know that Bennett and Madelyn have a ten-year age gap, Madelyn keeps Bennett in the dark.

Review: This is a very controversial, uncomfortable topic that is often perceived to be “hands off” by authors and publishers. Teachers and students should not have intimate relationships, and the idea that a person may justify a relationship of this kind is considered taboo by most. The way this story differs from the usual story about the topic is in the deceit that exists between Madelyn and Bennett. He has no idea that Madelyn is a minor.

From the very first few pages, I felt like I was tumbling downhill to an inevitable plunge. In her early letters, Madelyn is very clear that this story does not have a happy ending, yet I couldn’t help but wonder exactly how the story would play out. Many readers will be extremely frustrated with Madelyn because she is incredibly deceitful, and Bennett is very well-intentioned. The great part about this book was that, by the end, the reader can’t help but ponder the situation. My favorite books are those that make me think deeply about a subject I hadn’t considered, and this one is sure to promote critical, emotional discussion from students.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Madelyn’s voice is very strong throughout her letters to Bennett. I can’t help but wonder what Bennett would write back to her. It would be wonderful to hear his side of the story. Students would also enjoy rewriting the ending to the this book. There are a few key, decisive moments, particularly at the end, that could have gone much differently, which would completely alter the direction of the story. After reading this text, students might research more about statutory rape, and I envision this book leading to a great classroom debate. Also, students might examine Madelyn’s life to try to determine if this played a role in her deceit.

Discussion Questions: Can a relationship be successful if it is built on a lie?; Who is to blame in this story?; Can there be any justification for statutory rape?; Does Madelyn seem truly remorseful?; Are there flaws in Madelyn’s character (or life) that lead to her deceit?

We Flagged: “That’s how it was with us. One day we were two separate people and the next we collided, and neither of us stood a chance.”

“That’s the moment I decided, Bennett, that I wanted to be with you, and even though there was one very good reason we couldn’t be something, I could come up with one million reasons we could.”

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page or chapter numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: The Infinite Moment of Us  by Lauren Myracle, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

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**Thank you to NetGalley and Flux books for sending me the Advanced Reader Copy!**

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Published May 21st, 2013 by Riverhead Books

Summary: Told from various points of view, this novel is a collection of powerful stories, woven with the rich history of Afghanistan. All of the characters are linked in some way, showing the profound impact that seemingly small decisions can have on others in the world. After finishing this story, the character’s voices still speak in my head: Three-year-old Pari and ten-year-old Abdullah, villagers in rural Afghanistan…Nabi, an elderly Afghan who is devoted to the care of the wealthy Mr. Wahdati…Nila, a tortured soul, who is lost in her poetry and past…Idris, a man visiting his homeland of Afghanistan, who recognizes and is embarrassed by his privileged life in America…Markos, a plastic surgeon living in Afghanistan, who works to fix the deformities caused by the war…Adel, a young Afghan boy living in a mansion with bodyguards…these characters and a few others are richly realized and will tug the heartstrings of readers.

Review: Spanning five decades and multiple generations, the stories cross paths in unbelievable ways. Readers might, at the beginning of each section, feel a bit uncomfortable with the shifts in narration, locations, and time periods, but Hosseini makes the connections clear, and the story’s structure is essential to the central messages of loyalty, family, and the devastating effects of war.  I experienced many similar emotions as when I read Hosseini’s other books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sons, such as grief and anger, and when this book ended, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of catharsis. Emotions aside, this book is quite different. The writing felt more lyrical and complex (if that is even possible) than Hosseini’s other works. I couldn’t help but put the book down at several times because I was in awe of the craftsmanship of the text’s structure and connectedness.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Kite Runner has always been a literature circle choice in my classroom. This novel is much more complex and would need a lot of teacher support, but it would be a fantastic literature circle choice for advanced, high school readers. If used as a whole-class text, teachers might have students diagram the relationships between characters, write journal entries from the perspectives of different characters, or write letters from one character to another. Many of the characters don’t interact at any point, but it would be enlightening to consider what messages they might have for each other. It would be helpful if teachers gave background knowledge of the political situation in Afghanistan to support the reading of this text. This is a great text to teach structure and narration, but additionally, it is a great model of voice. Ranging in age, race, and personality, these characters all have varying insights of the world, and these are reflected in their words and actions. Students would have to think critically to analyze their voices.

Discussion Questions: How might our decisions affect others indirectly connected to us?; What responsibility does a child have to his/her parent?; Am I privileged? How are my life experiences different from those around me?; What will we remember most as we age?

We Flagged: “They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind” (p. 127).

“‘J’aurais dû être plus gentille–I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that'” (p. 382-283).

Read This If You Loved: Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

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What do you think about using contemporary adult bestsellers in the classroom? I try to mix classics, YAL, and other bestsellers, while still allowing students the choice to select the texts they read. Do you agree with this philosophy?

Oh, and have you read this one? I would love to hear your thoughts because the characters are still interrupting my daily thoughts. 🙂

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Eleanor and Park (Eleanor & Park)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Published February 26th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

Summary: Eleanor and Park have read Romeo and Juliet. They know that young love fades and is unachievable, but yet they still can’t resist each other. Park is a quiet Asian boy who is trying to disappear to avoid the drama of high school. When Eleanor, a large, red-headed girl, steps onto his schoolbus, he is embarrassed for her and wonders why she wouldn’t just dress “normally.” Eleanor has nowhere to sit and as the kids make fun of her and she looks beaten down and broken, Park, disgustedly, angrily tells her to just sit down in his seat. What he doesn’t realize then is that Eleanor will change his life.

Kellee’s Review: I love how slowly this book happens. It is like a pot of boiling water. It started out cold and then got warmer before it began boiling. This book is not a Twilight romance of love at first site; it is a true romance about getting to know each other and realizing that first impressions aren’t always correct.

Told in Eleanor and Park’s point of views, you get a 360 degree picture of the intensity of feelings that are happening. It is also through both of these point of views that you get to know both characters quite well and not just one side of the romance. The only negative is that I felt that both sides were only partially explored because of the two points of view. I wanted to know more about Eleanor’s past and I wanted to understand more why Park’s dad was disappointed in him. However, I know that if the story was only told by one of them, the whole story would not have been told.

My only issue is the end. It is what kept me from gushing about the book like others. I cannot talk about it here as it is spoiler, but I wish it had slowed down and matched the pace and tone of the rest of the book. I know there are many that disagree with me. After finishing I had a couple discussions on Twitter with tweeps who had finished the book and they all disagreed with me. But, as @katsok pointed out to me, “Books belong to the reader”, so I am sticking with how I feel. I would, though, LOVE to talk to Rainbow about the ending because I am so intrigued to learn about her decision making.

Ricki’s Review: I loved the subtle nuances of this book. While some readers might find this book to be a bit cheesy, Rowell intentionally uses languages to show the minute details of life. The imagery is stunning–readers are easily able to imagine themselves in each of the scenes. Eleanor and Park are realistic teenagers. Eleanor doesn’t have long, flowy blond hair, and Park isn’t clad with giant biceps and shaggy hair that sweeps across his brow. Teens will see themselves in the insecurities and feelings of these two beautiful people.

I know some readers have discussed they are dissatisfied with the end of the book (like Kellee), but I found it to be perfect. It makes the reader think, and I love books that make me think critically. I loved how the story didn’t just focus on the romance between Eleanor and Park. Their families were powerful influences on all of their emotions and actions. Both Eleanor and Park have qualities that make them unlikeable, and the English teacher in me kept screaming, “YES! These are truly round characters! I have to show my students sample passages to prove that characters can be just like people.”

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The language and sentence structure would make this a a fantastic choice for close analysis. The stylistic choices would make for rich class discussions. Teachers might consider assigning different pages for groups of students to analyze and then jigsawing to discuss Rowell’s language and style. Teachers might consider asking students to compare and contrast this book with other romances. They might discover that this is a more realistic love story, while other romances are a bit more idealistic. A good discussion could be had by looking at how Eleanor and Park dealt/felt about a situation since you have both points of view. It would also be a lot of fun to take a scene from the book and have the students rewrite it as if it took place in the 21st century.

Discussion Questions: How does this text differ from other contemporary romances?; Will a romantic teen relationship inevitably fail? Are Eleanor and Park doomed?; How do the characters’ home lives affect who they are as people?; How does Rowell effectively use language to convey the story?; How might the story be different if it was set twenty years later, in the current time period?; What do you think the 3 words are?

We Flagged: “Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive. As soon as he touched her, he wondered how he’d gone this long without doing it.” (p. 71)

“‘I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,’ she whispered. ‘Which means, when I see you on Monday morning, it’s been like sixty hours since I’ve taken a breath.'” (p. 111)

“Eleanor was right: She never looked nice. She looked like art and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel like something. Eleanor sitting next to him on the couch made Park feel like someone had opened a window in the middle of the room. Like someone had replaced all the air in the room with brand-new, improved air (now with twice the freshness). Eleanor made him feel like something was happening. Even when they were just sitting on the couch.” (p. 165)

Read This If You Loved: The Fault in our Stars  by John Green, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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We both loved this one. What did you think?

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