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2014 September



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

#weneeddiversebooks: Problem Books

On 30, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

When I was at the ALSC Institute about a week and half ago I attended a breakout session about diversity in children’s publishing. It was a really great discussion and I’m hoping to talk more about the issues when I attend the Kidliosphere blogging conference in a couple weeks.

While we were talking at this breakout session, though, I had a question that I’m not sure how to answer. Our discussion never really steered in that direction so I didn’t bring it up, not wanting to derail the whole session, but it definitely pertains to diversity in children’s literature. I’m wondering what you should/could/would do with problematic books that are already in a collection? Books that have stereotypes or racist over/undertones.

Specifically the Little House on the Prairie come to mind, but so do the TinTin comic books and I’m sure there are many more out there (especially some of the classics). I like to think that there books make for good discussion starters with kids, but I think the reality is that kids check them out, their parents don’t know that they have these issues, the kids read them, and bring them back. No discussion. The Little House books are pretty ubiquitous, at least at my school. They’re in several classrooms, they are in the library and a lot of kids read them. The teachers and librarian also hand them out/recommend them without making note of or even knowing about the racism in them. In fact I know many of them have fond memories of reading the books when they were young. I think it’s a problem if kids read this stuff and internalize the stereotypes and rhetoric and I really think it’s a problem if we don’t talk about it with kids. I don’t think the answer is to not let kids read the books, though. They have value, but how do you balance that with their issues?

So, what do you do with these books? Do you leave them in the collection? Do you weed them? Do you ask that kids present their parents with a note when they check the books out that details concerns with the book? Do you educate the teachers? Do you remove them and find better alternatives? Do you start the conversation with the kids? Does this cross boundaries that the parents may not want crossed?

I’m sure there is no one perfect answer or solution, but I think it’s really important that we don’t let the label of “classic” or our own nostalgia get in the way of being sensitive to the very dark issues that these books have.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Telephone by Mac Barnett

On 29, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

TelephoneFrom GoodReads: It’s time to fly home for dinner! In this witty picture book from award-winning and bestselling author Mac Barnett, a mother bird gives the bird next to her a message for little Peter. But passing messages on a telephone line isn’t as simple as it sounds. Each subsequent bird understands Mama’s message according to its own very particular hobbies. Will Peter ever get home for dinner? 

A hilarious take on the classic game of telephone, Telephone is one of those stories that is sure to appeal to parents as well as kids. As the message is passed down the line and it gets further and further from the original, kids will pick up on the sheer absurdity of the changes. Each picture, featuring the wacky looking bird and some sort of visual of their message, gets crazier and crazier. Kids will eat up the silliness of the story.

By the time the message makes it to the owl, clearly put out by having to stop reading, the message for Peter has reached epic proportions. The owl, as many a parent and teacher has, sighs, takes it in and susses out the real message. Older kids more cued in to their parents may catch what makes adults laugh.

The muted hues of the illustrations only seem to make the antics of the birds funnier by downplaying how ridiculous it all is. The close up and backed-out shots of all the birds on the wire let the reader in on the secret of what might be going on right over their heads as they slip home for dinner too.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

On 26, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Tiny CreaturesFrom GoodReads: All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms.

Tiny Creatures has so much going for it. Gross factor, interest factor, and charming illustrations. Charming isn’t exactly what I would have expected, actually but while the text is wonderful, it’s the combination of the illustrations and the text that make this book.

The illustrations have this vintage quality to them that actually makes them feel very modern. It might be the colors and technique that feel vintage, but the sparse background and detailed foregrounds are distinctly modern. Each picture really gets to the heart of what the text is saying and gives kids a visual cue to help with understanding what is being said. Sutton very cleverly illustrates the microbes, showing them in little circles as if you were looking at them through a microscope. My only wish would be that one of the children shown in the book was a different color.

In terms of subject matter, I think microbes certainly hold a lot of interest for kids. They love learning about the world around them and this part is a bit mysterious because it’s difficult to see without special equipment. Despite (most likely) not having seen microbes up close, they are familiar with them. All kids have been sick a few times and many have seen a compost heap or eaten yogurt. All these processes occur because of microbes. And don’t be surprised if your kids want to start washing their hands more regularly, the visual of a microbe dividing is pretty powerful.

Tiny Creatures is a wonderful book for curious kids. The text is fairly simple to understand so the book may appeal to young audiences as well as older ones. A lovely glimpse into an otherwise hidden world and another addition to the burgeoning collection of appealing new nonfiction.


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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Getting Started

On 25, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Things are going really well so far in the MakerSpace. The kids have really surprised me with their ability to just walk in, pick something up and see its potential. This is especially true for the younger kids. In some ways I’m sure this kind of place attracts those types of kids, but I expected to need to do a little more prompting. I also just want to note that one of the middle school students wants to build a soapbox derby car! That is so awesome!

So today I wanted to talk a little bit about getting the space set up just to give anyone who might be thinking about doing this some thoughts on how I went about it. Of course your funding and space will be a big determining factor in what you can have, but we did this fairly inexpensively. I highly recommend hitting up school supply sales and the Dollar Store when you actually need to buy materials.

One of the first things I did when I was initially planning was to determine what kinds of general activities I wanted to have available (art station, recycled materials, etc.). I decided until we had our own space I wanted large plastic bins to corral everything and that the supplies really shouldn’t exceed what could fit in those bins. Then I made a list of the supplies I wanted in each of those bins (I will share those below).

Next I determined what I should buy and what we could ask the school community to donate. I bought mostly office supplies, a couple tool kits, the bins, and a couple sewing kits. The rest was donated (with the exception of the electronics, although we got a few of those for taking apart). I will warn you, you will probably get a fair amount of junk that people just want to get out of their house. I cleaned through it and tossed a number of things that were just not going to entice a child to use them (a rusty pick axe, for example). We got TONS of fabric and not a single kid has gone near any of it. We even got a couple sewing machines donated. I really highly recommend hitting up your community, be it the library community or the school community, for donations. People are often willing to give this stuff away and it will save you a boatload of money and time. They may also become a good resource for guest speakers and guest experts.

One last thought about supplies. Don’t go overboard initially. Get some of the stuff and then step back and see what the kids are drawn to. In our case it’s been the recycled materials. They haven’t touched the fabric or even the craft supplies much (except for the glitter, oh my, the glitter). You can always add more supplies as you go along and expect to not have something a kid is looking for. Those are teachable moments where you can help them find a sufficient substitute or tell them you will get it and have it the next time they come. I’m still filling requests for pie tins and wire and Q-tips. That’s pretty much how we supplied the MakerSpace. A combination of purchased materials and donated materials. It was relatively simple once we had a space so don’t let the idea of needing a 3-D printer or CNC machine daunt you, you don’t need a complicated set up.

In one of my upcoming posts I will talk about the structure of the hour the kids are there (there isn’t much of one) and how I’m working on getting the kid to explore some new materials.

  • Deconstruction Box


    • screwdrivers of various sizes
    • small hammers
    • pliers
    • trays
    • toys, electronics to deconstruct


  • Sewing Box


    • sewing machine
    • fabric remnants
    • thread
    • needles
    • pins
    • sewing scissors
    • ipad for tutorials


  • Art Box


    • blank paper
    • construction paper
    • graph paper
    • markers
    • pencils (drawing and colored)
    • crayons
    • Sharpies
    • stamp pads
    • doodle books (Ed Emberly)
    • scissors (several sizes)
    • tape (several types)
    • glues (various types)


  • Recycled Materials Box


    • paper towel and toilet paper tubes
    • boxes
    • pie tins
    • bottles
    • cans
    • bottle caps
    • milk jugs
    • berry baskets
    • cardboard
    • jars


  • Studio Box


    • digital camera
    • disposable camera?
    • video camera (Flip?)
    • microphone
    • digital voice recorder
    • headphones
    • iMovie

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp DNF

On 24, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

True Blue ScoutsFrom GoodReads: Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man, the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp, is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four.

I am sad to say I put this one down around fifty pages in. But it wasn’t the book, it was me. I really wanted to like this one. I have a friend who highly recommended it and of course it got tons of good press, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Certainly I can see what’s likable about the book. J’miah and Bingo are sweet and funny and so determined. Chap is a deep kid who had a wonderful relationship with his grandfather. Times are tough for him and I suspect finds his inner strength and principles. The plot of the sugar man is really unique and magical.

The writing is really exquisite, but it was also what got me. The chapters were really short which, to me, broke up the narrative too much. Some of the plot felt very surreal and I would just be getting into it, getting a feel for it, and the chapter would be over. Of course the short chapters will also make this book appeal to a lot of readers. It makes it great for reading aloud and for kids who want to catch a chapter or two between things on their busy schedules.

In the end I put it down because I could identify both what I didn’t like about it and what others would like. There are so many books in my TBR pile that I just didn’t feel like working my way all the way through this one.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

ALSC Institute Reflections

On 23, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Last week I was lucky to be able to attend the ALSC Institute. I absolutely love going to conferences. I am such a introvert and am happy living in my own little land here on the blog and in my MakerSpace, but conferences really force me to get outside that shell. Despite being introverted I also love to collaborate and even though conferences don’t exactly facilitate collaboration, they do give me the opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts and perspectives. Even if they aren’t solving a problem I have or aren’t working on a project exactly like mine, I can often find tidbits that I can apply to my projects and problems.

I was especially excited during this conference to see so much information and enthusiasm for STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Beyond creative, flexible thinking, makerspaces are often a lot about STEAM. I found a lot of ideas to take back to my MakerSpace. I also found a personal connection. I always enjoyed science and math (okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but that was an anomalous year) and now that I’m home with my daughter I’m really making a concerted effort to expose her to STEM concepts.

Seeing the authors speak was also a treat. I love when they share their personal experience with libraries, librarians, and reading. But they always offer insight into a lot of other subjects. Steve Sheinkin spoke directly to my distaste for the traditional model of teaching seen in schools. He worked as a text book contributor and was always having to cut what he found to the most interesting tidbits of information from the historical stories. This ultimately led to his career as an interesting history book author. The first panel examined how hard it is being a tween and how awkward they were at that age. I think most people feel that way and it’s always reassuring to hear that these people who we admire felt just as ridiculous as we did at that age. I was especially taken with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s talk on Saturday. She gave me an entirely new appreciation for how the art in a picture book works with the text. I kind of knew they were supposed to work together, but that was a whole new level. And it dovetailed nicely with a comment Mac Barnett made at the talk the previous evening about how he wished more reviewers paid attention to the interplay between art and text in picture books. Duly noted.

As a mostly stay-at-home mom, it’s also nice to have an opportunity to really think about and be involved with my career. Going to these conferences isn’t cheap and it means being away from my daughter- something I don’t necessarily want to do. But every time I go I am glad I have done so.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Banned Books Week: The Virtue of Comics

On 22, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I just read a post about banned comics over on The Hub and was inspired to write my own little post about how comics really helped me. I know as librarians we are all about letting kids read, but I don’t think you can emphasize enough how important it is to let them read what they are drawn to.

I’ve talked about it before, but when I was younger I struggled with reading. There were books I would get into and I would read through them quickly, but that didn’t happen all that often. I didn’t have a special librarian I connected with and I didn’t really use books as escapism. Then in late elementary school I had a really good friend that got me into the Archie comics. Sure they weren’t any great piece of literature, but I would be lost for the evening reading through the new issue I picked up at the grocery store check out. I can’t say that comics got me into reading. I did already read and there were other books that I enjoyed. I also didn’t run out and start checking out stacks of books from the library. It took many more years for that habit to develop. I think that what comics did for me, really, was to keep me engaged with reading. They kept me looking for more material and encouraged me every time I picked one up. I only wish that there had been the profusion of comics and graphic novels that there is today. I think then I would have become a voracious reader.

I was so struck by a comment from Amy Koester at the ALSC Institute last week where she said she doesn’t really like the term “reluctant reader” because she feels that they are simply readers that haven’t found their niche yet. I wanted to get up and shout when she said that. I cannot agree more! Especially because I am one of those readers. Comics helped keep me reading through a time when I thought I didn’t really like reading, through a time I struggled with reading, through a time when assigned reading was way above my head and could have turned me off to it completely.

I’m really grateful that despite their eye rolling my parents did buy me those Archie comics and kept buying them. I went on from there to read the TinTin comics which are both beloved by many and really problematic (I have another post coming up about that topic). I read those a million times each and they kept me reading too, through middle school when I thought I wasn’t a reader. So, keep graphic novels in library collections. Put them in the hands of readers. They are real reading and maybe they will keep another kid reading.

For more about Banned Books Week see the website here. The official week runs from September 21-27, but I think we can always celebrate reading banned books.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee

On 22, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Seaglass SummerFrom GoodReads: Eleven-year-old Poppy Ray longs to be a veterinarian, but she’s never had a pet. This summer, she’s going to spend a month with her uncle Sanjay, veterinarian and owner of the Furry Friends Animal Clinic on an island off the Washington coast. 
Poppy is in for big surprises. She loves tending to the dogs, cats, and even a bird, and she discovers the fun of newborn puppies and the satisfaction of doing a good job. But she learns that there’s more to caring for animals than the stethoscope and cotton swabs in her Deluxe Veterinarian First-Aid Kit. She’s not prepared for quirky pet owners, gross stuff, or scary emergencies. With help from a boy named Hawk, a chunk of seaglass, and a touch of intuition, Poppy gains a deeper understanding of the pain and joy of working with animals. 

Seaglass Summer was such a sweet book. Poppy must be the most naive and sheltered kid ever, but she was so likable. Her tender heartedness and determination made her very endearing. While Poppy’s parents have gone to India for the summer, Poppy has been invited to stay with her maternal uncle in Witless Cove. The summer becomes one of eye-opening, heart wrenching, and heart warming experiences.

Through learning about her uncle’s struggle to become a vet and through her experiences at the clinic, Poppy comes to realize that becoming a vet means more than buying a Deluxe First-Aid kit. She sees first hand the ups, downs, and zaniness that working with animals entails. She also finds it’s not always about the animals. Sometimes you are treating the pet owner.

After reading some dark YA (and even some darker MG) it was refreshing to see Poppy’s uncle. He’s just an all around great guy. Dedicated to his practice, the animals, and their owners. He dotes on Poppy and has generously asked her to stay with him for a month so that she can spend time in his animal clinic. Sometimes he’s a little clueless, like when Poppy gets faint over blood and other nasty aspects of veterinary science, but for the most part he is attentive and easy going.

Being a small community, Witless Cove is home to a couple quirky people. One is a dog owner and psychic. She invites Poppy over for a reading and her uncle good-naturedly takes Poppy over. She gives Poppy some advice that proves to be useful. Poppy should find some sea glass and use it meditate everyday. The meditation is only mildly successful, but Poppy does take the opportunity to do a little inner reflection. She finds strength that she never knew she had.

Poppy also has the good fortune to make a friend while in town. Hawk is the son of the receptionist at the clinic and a couple years older than Poppy. Hawk shows Poppy the ropes and even takes her around town a bit.

I would like to point out that Poppy is Indian-American, but this really is never brought up. Even her uncle’s ethnicity in a small town is a non-issue. Late in the book Poppy finds out that it was difficult for him to find somewhere to work because he is Indian, but he stuck to his dream to be a vet and found solutions. It’s a minor mention of his struggle, and while I think it’s an important issue, the brevity is probably best for the intended audience.

Seaglass Summer would be a great book for kids who like animals and especially for kids who want to be vets. I think any kid who feels called to a profession or passion could relate to Poppy, though. The diversity may also be a draw for readers who like a more mixed cast of characters.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Shug by Jenny Han

On 17, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

ShugFrom GoodReads: Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug as her family calls her, is beginning to think there’s nothing worse than being twelve. She’s too tall, too freckled, and way too flat-chested. Shug is sure that there’s not one good or amazing thing about her. And now she has to start junior high, where the friends she counts most dear aren’t acting so dear anymore — especially Mark, the boy she’s known her whole life through. Life is growing up all around her, and all Shug wants is for things to be like they used to be. How is a person supposed to prepare for what happens tomorrow when there’s just no figuring out today?

This is the perfect middle school book. It captures the confusion and sweetness of the transition from childhood to adolescence so well. Annemarie, Shug to her family, is about to start seventh grade and on the last night before school begins she realizes she likes her best friend Mark. Like likes. And she’s not quite sure what to do or how she even feels about these new feelings.

Once the school year is underway it’s clear that all the boys and girls in her class, kids she’s know forever, are dealing with the same kind of emerging feelings. They begin to flirt and pair off. Annemarie is still unsure what to do about her feelings for Mark and also worries she is losing him as a friend. They no longer walk to the bus or play after school and she isn’t sure if that hurts more than her unrequited feelings.

Shug also tackles the awareness of parents as people that comes with adolescence. Annemarie begins to see the cracks in her parents marriage and their social facade. She realizes that her mother drinks. A lot. And that isn’t normal or healthy and it impacts their family life. As a child she saw it and knew not to talk about it, but it was more a fact of life than something she was concerned about. She realizes her mother wishes she had gotten out of their small town for more than college and that her mother is miserable. Her father is gone a lot on business and she begins to question why that might be. She begins to really worry about the fighting her parents do when her father is home and, while she tiptoed around it a child and knew to expect it, she finally sees divorce as a potential outcome.

Annemarie also begins to notice her sister Celia’s dissatisfaction with their small town and their family. She constantly compares herself to her sister and finds herself lacking. But Celia isn’t as perfect as Annemarie has made her out to be. She’s rebellious and unhappy and sometimes uncaring. Annemarie misses some of the closeness they used to share. It’s slipping away as Celia begins to separate herself from her family and becomes an adult. Annemarie’s own transformation helps her understand some of what her sister is feeling and thinking.

At some points I felt a few of the secondary characters were flat, which normally I would chalk up to poor writing, but the writing here is perfect. Annemarie suffers from adolescent self centeredness. When things don’t go her way with her family or her friends it can take her awhile (or a fight) to realize that they have their own side to the story and their own feelings. Seeing the characters as flat is to see them through Annemarie’s eyes. They take on more dimension as Annemarie sees them as their own people and not as actors in her saga.

Shug is a book about romance. Not a romance, but about romance. This might make it best suited to middle school students, but it may have appeal for kids approaching that age. Be aware that it tackles alcoholism and fighting parents. It so perfectly captures first love and the confusion of the middle school years. It’s really one of those books I want to say everyone should read, but it does such a good job that it might be a painful read for some kids in the thick of making the transition to being a young adult.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

On 16, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I just want to talk briefly about how much I dislike the term digital native. Especially when it refers to teens and tweens, which in my experience it almost always does. While kids are often more computer savvy than, say, their grandparents, I think the term is very misleading and problematic.

For starters many kids are now children of people who grew up with computers. Meaning their parents watched as computers became more widely available and then more prevalent. They watched as the Internet became more widely available and more prevalent. They logged on with their dial-up modem and continually upgraded their Internet connection. These people used computers in school, they used them in college, and they now use them everyday in the workplace. They tend to be computer savvy. Even the older generation (young Boomers) use(d) computers in the workplace with regularity. These people may not have been playing with iPads at two, but I often find them to have a much better understanding of how computers and computer-related things work. They remember having to hook up the dial-up modem so they have a little better grasp on how the Internet gets to their computer than the kid who just opens the laptop and automatically has Wi-Fi.

The problem with calling someone a digital native is that is lulls us into thinking they know what they’re doing on the computer (or tablet or phone). However, in my experience, it looks like they know what their doing when in reality, they are just very good at making it look like they know what they’re doing. I’ll use two examples to illustrate this. When the sophomores I worked with wrote their research papers they were asked to have a hanging indent at the beginning of each paragraph. A lot of them just hit “tab” at the beginning of the paragraph which worked well enough. Others would hit the space bar until the first word was in approximately the right place. The problem with both of these was that when the formatting changed above the paragraph or they added something, the paragraph could/would not be aligned correctly anymore and sometimes the tab was not placed in the correct place. Without actually looking at how they had done the formatting you would never know that they had done it incorrectly. And they assumed they knew how to do the hanging indent even though most of them had never heard of it and didn’t bother to look up or ask how to create one. Another time a student was asked to double space an essay. Instead of using the line spacing she hit “enter” at the end of every line. It looked correct, looked like she knew what she was doing, but of course any time she added more text, the formatting went wonky.

This ties into the debate about the abysmal research skills of students. There are issues with taking the first result, thinking research should be as fast and easy as a simple Google search, and not knowing where to look for good information. I think it’s a problem to assume they know what their doing in research, but I think that by calling them digital natives we partially make the assumption that they know what they’re doing because it sure looks like they do and they’re a digital native. (I’m not accusing librarians here, although I’m sure we’re all guilty of it at some point. I know I have been.)

I think the term also ignores a good slice of the population that doesn’t have access to a computer or an Internet connection. I know it is sometimes hard to believe that we all don’t have 24/7 access to Google, but there are plenty of people who don’t. I think librarians are often very aware of this fact because these people come into our libraries to use the computers and the Internet. So by grouping all teens and tweens into that mix we lump in those kids who really are not using computers and technology very often. It’s a problem to assume they will know what to do and they may be afraid to ask for help knowing we think they are digital natives.

Just a short rant. I just dislike the term and I actually think I’m seeing it less, although I could be wrong about that.


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