Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and forty-three

For the last week, my daughter and her friends have been working very hard on enjoying their last free week of summer before school starts. We have gone to the lake, bought ice cream cones, she has had sleepovers, and she had gone bike riding. For today's picture book review I have my last summer title of the year to share with you.

Jung-Hee Spetter
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Front Street/Lemniscaat, 1998, 1-886910-37-5
It is summer, and Lily and Trooper have to decide what they are going to do with their day. They look out of their window and soon after they are on their way to the beach. The sun is wonderfully warm, but the water is rather cold. Of course, this doesn’t stop Lily and her canine friend from going for a swim.
   When it is time to head home, Lily and Trooper take a souvenir with them, a little fish, which they put in a fish bowl. The little girl and the dog want to make their new friend feel welcome, so they go outside to pick some flowers for him. The fish seems to like his gift, but then so do some bees!
   In this charming Lily and Trooper title, we get to share a delightful summer day with the little redheaded girl and her best friend. The author captures the essence of summer in her story, and her illustrations are vibrant with bright summery colors. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and forty-two

I used to live in a part of the world where they have two seasons: summer and not summer. Now I get to enjoy four seasons, and I love all of them. I also love books that explore the seasons in interesting ways. Today's book is just such a title.

Anna Crausaz
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Kane/Miller, 2010, 978-1-61067-006-7
   Everything is green outside, and the little girl knows that it must be springtime. She can smell blossoms and the green grass, and she can hear the blackbirds “singing about their favorite season.”
   When she sees fireflies sitting on the plants and sending their little messages of light into the night, the little girl knows that summer has arrived. There are tomatoes to gather and she can smell the basil, verbena, and mint plants. At the beach she plays in the sand and she thinks that “Sometimes summer is the taste of sand in your mouth!”
   Autumn has come, and little ants are getting lifts on dandelion seed parachutes that are carried on the breeze. The forest “smells of moss, mushrooms and wet ground,” and the little girl plays in the fallen leaves.
   In winter the little girl loves to smell the wood fire smoke. She listens to the “silence of the snow” and tastes snowflakes on her tongue.
   In this book, Anna Crausaz pairs her truly lovely illustrations with a simple lyrical text that captures the sounds, smells, sights, and tastes of spring, summer, fall, and winter. The simplicity of the art and text combine to give the reader a reading experience that is beautiful and sensory.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and forty-one

Earlier in the year I reviewed a book called The Big Wicked Toddlah. I am delighted to be able to tell you that Kevin Hawkes has created another title about the overly large toddler that is just as amusing as the first one was. This time the ginormous toddler goes to New York City for a vacation where he has some rather dramatic adventures. 

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes To New YorkKevin Hawkes
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2011, 978-0-375-86188-8
   Toddie the enormous (and I do mean ENORMOUS) toddler is going New York City to get “a little culture.” Toddie’s mother warns her enormous child not to touch anything, and his father explains that “the trick to bein’ a tourist is to blend in with the locals.” This is a very noble sentiment to be sure but one cannot help wondering how they are going to blend in when they have a huge toddler with them.
   The family begins their big city adventure by going to a baseball game, and Toddie has a grand time watching the game, cheering, and doing the wave. After the game is over, Toddie’s parents travel on the train, and Toddie follows the vehicle across the city because he is too big to fit inside. At one of the train stops Toddie gets distracted, and before he realizes what is going on he finds himself all alone.
   For a while Toddie is upset, but then he meets a dog who leads the big child to a park where there are lots of other children. He has a grand time playing all kinds of “toddlah” games, and then some of Toddie’s new friends invite him to go to the Museum of Natural History with them. Toddie’s big city adventure is turning out to be a great deal of fun.
   Readers who have a little brother or sister of their own will have a grand time reading about Toddie and his adventures. They are sure to love the funny ending, and to see how Toddie, despite his enormous size, manages to keep some things secret from his family.
   This is the second book about the Wicked Big Toddlah that Kevin Hawkes has created.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and forty

Many dog owners love to take their dogs with them when they go on trips to the beach or to a park, and they often get quite irate when they arrive at their destination only to see a large NO DOGS ALLOWED sign posted next to the parking lot. What are they supposed to do now?

In this delightful picture book you will see how one very large family solves this problem in a unique and very loving way.

Sonia Manzano
Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Picture Book
Ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2004, 0-689-83088-2
   Iris is a seven year old and she lives in the Bronx in New York City with her Mami, her Papi, her big sister Shorty, and her dog El Exigente. One day the family decides to go to the “Enchanted State Park,” and so they get up very early, pack up enough food for a small army, and meet up with all the friends and relatives who are going with them. Everyone is taking something, except El Exigente, who is just taking himself.
   Soon a convoy of cars is heading for the state park. Papi’s car breaks down and then they get lost, but eventually they get to their destination. Iris is super excited to go “jumping in the Enchanted Lake and getting some enchanted sun and eating some enchanted lunch and taking an enchanted nap…” and so on. Then Shorty sees a big sign that says: NO DOGS ALLOWED! What are they going to do? Are they going to have to go home after that long drive just because someone decided that poor El Exigente and his fellow dogs are not allowed in the park?
   This deliciously funny picture book beautifully captures the warmth of a Hispanic family during a day trip to a lake. The names Ivy gives her relatives, her exaggerations, and the way in which they all deal with the NO DOGS ALLOWED sign is priceless. Readers will find themselves envying Ivy for her colorful and loving family.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-nine

Learning how to live with other people can be challenging. They have strange idiosyncrasies, annoying habits, and faults that try our patience. Why is he is so messy? What does she eat with her mouth open? Why won't they ever help with the chores? These are surely complaints that many of your will be familiar with. 

Today's picture book tells the story of a little girl who is incredibly messy. Children will laugh at loud as they follow her adventures, and they will sympathize with her family members who do their best to cope having someone in their lives who is "totally the messiest!"

Judith Viorst
Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2001, 978-1-4169-4200-9
   Olivia is a very neat child, and her room reflects her determination to make sure that everything is in its proper place. Her big brother Jake is “sort of” neat, and he certainly is not a “HUGE slob.” Olivia’s little sister Sophie is the messiest person Olivia has ever met. Sophie’s room is quite simply a disgusting mess, and you would have to be crazy to go in there.
   The thing of it is that Sophie does not confine her messiness to her room. Everything she touches or goes near ends up messed up in some way. When the family went to the beach, Sophie singlehandedly managed to destroy seven contest quality sandcastles with her pail and a towel. At the farm, Sophie tripped on her shoelaces and managed to wreck the vegetable garden and upset all the animals. Except the pigs. The pigs thought Sophie was one of them.
   Sophie’s family members ask her to be “neat” and “careful.” They beg her to “watch where you’re going and watch what you are doing.” If only she would “pay attention.” The thing is that Sophie really does try. For a little while. Until she forgets.
   In this charming picture book, we meet a little girl who is delightful, funny, smart, loving, and well meaning. Watching Sophie create chaos wherever she goes reminds us that we all have out faults, and we are all, like Sophie, loveable in spite of these faults.
   With wonderful illustrations and an irrepressible main character, this is a picture book that children and their grownups are sure to enjoy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-eight

I think it is rather funny how children so often wish they were grownups, and grownups look back on their childhood with nostalgia. We always want what we cannot have. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who is in a big hurry to grow up. Thankfully there is someone around to remind her that being who she is right now is perfect.

Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrated by Mike Blanc
Picture book
For ages 6 to 8
VanitaBooks, 2008, 978-0-9800162-4-6
   Francesca is forever dreaming of what she is going to do when she is grown up. There are so many “possibilities,” so many career paths to choose from. One day Francesca talks to Mrs. Pinkler, who is weeding her flowerbed in the garden next door. Mrs. Pinkler tells Francesca that it fine to have dreams, they make life interesting. At the same time, “striving” for those dreams all the time “is not as marvelous as it seems.”
    How can Francesca be a dancer if she doesn’t first practice the craft? How can she be a teacher if you doesn’t first learn to “read, to spell and do math?” In short, how can Francesca achieve great things in the future if she does not live her childhood and teen hood to the fullest first.
   All too often children are in an enormous hurry to grow up. They want to do the things they see grownups doing so much that they fail to realize that there is a time and place for everything. Now it is their time to be a kid, and in the future it will be their time to be adults.
   In this clever picture book, Vanita Oelschlager’s text is paired with Mike Blanc’s lovely illustrations to convey a message that all children need to hear. 

Poetry Friday - A review of Weird? (Me, too!) Let’s be Friends

Today's Poetry Friday title is different because it is not just a collection of poems (excellent ones), but it is also full of notes to help young readers think about their world in new ways, and to explore their experiences by writing their own poetry. This is a great title for young people who are learning the 'rules' of friendship, and who are going through the early stages of adolescence. 

Sara Holbrook
Illustrated by Karen Sandstrom
For ages 9 to 11
Boyds Mills Press, 2011, 978-1-59078-821-9
   Friendships are often full of ups and downs. People who seem very unalike discover that they actually have a lot in common, and they come to the conclusion that they would like to be friends. They would like to share the good times and the bad, “hang in / through trips and tears.”
   In this thought provoking book, poet Sara Holbrook explores friendship and several fundamental life experiences in a creative way. Her poems explore the fact that people need someone to support them when “storm clouds start to grumble” and when they are trying to deal with uncertainty and change.
   Of course, there are also those times when friends are unkind to one another, when they fight, and when they let each other down. When harsh and painful words are said, we are reminded not to “stay mad forever.” We are cautioned that secrets are precious, they are confidences that we have been given in trust.
   In this unique collection of poems, Sara Holbrook addresses issues that affect young people all over the world every day, and she does so with humor and sensitivity. In addition, she includes prompts and thoughts on most of the pages in the book to encourage her readers to discuss the ideas and to explore the concepts using poetry. Several of the poems are for two or more voices, which makes this book a perfect title to look through with friends. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-seven

Tacky the penguin is one of those picture book characters who very quickly endears himself to you. He is hopeless when it comes to being an upright dignified penguin, and we love him for it. Today I have another Tacky adventure that is funny and that conveys an important message at the same time. 

Helen Lester
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Houghton Mifflin, 1994, 978-0-395-66841-2
   Far away in a “nice icy land” there are six young penguins who go to school so that they can learn how to read, how to write, and how to do math. Five of the penguins are neat, tidy, well behaved, and properly proper. The sixth penguin is called Tacky, and he is the most bumbling, clumsy, messy, and ridiculous penguin you have ever seen.
   One day the six penguins see a sign that invites all penguins to enter the Penguin Cheering Contest. The winning team will win “shiny blue bow ties!” There and then the six penguins decide that they have to try to win the contest.
   When the five neat, tidy, and proper penguins try their routine after school, they execute their cheer perfectly the very first time. Then Tacky joins them and when he tries the routine, he flubs it. The other penguins tell him that if he wants to be on the team he has to “be exactly like the rest of us.” This sounds easy enough, but for Tacky moving with a “stiff upper beak” is challenging. To say the least.
   By working extra hard, Tacky finally manages to execute the cheer, but there is a very real concern that Tacky is going to mess up their performance at the Penguin Cheering Contest.
   Tacky is one of those book characters whom you cannot help liking. With his scruffy appearance, his goofy antics, and his laugh-out-loud funny mistakes, Tacky is the kind of underdog…er…underpenguin who will win you over every time.
   In this Tacky the penguin title, Helen Lester’s clever text is perfectly paired with Lynn Munsinger’s delightfully funny illustrations. By the end of the story, readers who have not yet met Tacky will be his fans.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-six

Most children will, at some point, develop a fear of monsters. They imagine that terrifying creatures are living in their closet or under their bed. Today's picture book tells the story about a monster who finally meets his match. Take that you fearsome beastie!

Giles Paley-Phillips
Illustrated by Gabriele Antonini
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Maverick Arts Publishing, 2011, 978-1-84886-066-7
   One dark snowy winter’s night, the growling of a fearsome beastie wakes up four children. The children are terrified of the beastie, as well they should be for the beastie is very partial to snacking on children.
   The beastie is also very sly, and when it enters the streets, it pretends that all it wants to do is to play with the children. Feeling bad that they have suspected him, the children go out into the snow to play with their visitor, which is when he pounces on them and eats Suzie, Clyde, and Paul. Little Pete manages to get away, but what can one little boy do in such a situation?
   Children who have nightmares about creatures who like to eat children will find this book reassuring and very satisfying, and they are sure to be pleased when they see who comes to the rescue. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-five

There aren't many picture book characters who can make me laugh out loud, but Clarice Bean and her colorful family and friends can. In today's picture book, Clarice and her siblings find themselves getting into one pickle after another, and their story is sure to bring a smile to even the glummest of faces.

Lauren Child
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2000, 0-7636-1373-8
   One morning, at five-fifteen, the phone rings in Clarice Bean’s house. A nurse in a hospital in New York City explains that Clarice’s Uncle Eric has slipped on a doughnut and he is injured. Clarice’s mother is going to have to go to the hospital “on the double.” Dad is going away on “Important Business” so someone is going to have to babysit Clarice and her siblings.  Mom tries to find someone to babysit, but everyone is busy. There is only one person left to ask: Uncle Ted.
   Mom is not keen on having her younger brother watch the children, but she has run out of options. She gives Uncle Ted strict instructions on what he should and should not do, and for two days all goes well. Then Clarice’s little brother lets Albert the class guinea pig out of his hutch and the peace and harmony in the Bean house evaporates.
   There is something delightfully reassuring about stories that feature Clarice Bean and her family. The Beans and their relatives have what are (really) quite everyday sort of adventures. Anyone could lose a pet, get their head stuck in a fence, or lose their grandpa, but not everyone manages to do so in such a deliciously odd and peculiar way. Clarice’s first person narrative is laugh-out-loud funny, and Lauren Child’s multimedia illustrations perfectly capture the nuttiness of this loveable family. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-four

These days more and more people are realizing that overzealous teasing, hazing, and bullying can be very dangerous for the child who is on the receiving end of this treatment. More and more people are talking openly about the problem, and schools are making more of an effort to put a stop to it.

In today's picture book you are going to meet a little rat who is picked on so much that he tries to make himself as small and inconspicuous as he can. His story is touching, and it also empowering. 

Helen Lester
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin, 1999, 978-0-395-92392-4
   Rodney Rat is a very unfortunate little fellow because he cannot for the life of him pronounce his r’s. This means that when he is asked what he name is, Rodney says that his name is Wodney Wat, and this answer makes all the other wodents…er…rodents in his class laugh at him.
   Picked on mercilessly by Hairy Hamster, Mimifeet Mouse and the other children in his class, Wodney tries to stay as inconspicuous as possible. He speaks so softly that no one can hear him, he eats alone at lunchtime, and he hides inside his jacket during recess.
  Then one day a new rodent comes into the classroom. Her name is Camilla Capybara and she is enormous. She is also meaner and smarter than all the other rodents, and she takes great pleasure in demonstrating what a clever bully she is. Soon everyone in the class is thoroughly cowed by Camilla, and it seems likely that she is going to be top rodent for the foreseeable future. Or perhaps not.
   In this deliciously funny and sweet picture book we meet a truly pitiful little rodent child who is the underdog in his peer group. Thankfully, Helen Lester decides to give Wodney Wat a break, and his inspirational story will give readers hope that sometimes the underdog really can change his story.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-three

Sometimes strong friendships develop between two individuals who are very different. Technically speaking they have nothing in common, and yet they get along famously all the same. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who becomes great friends with a sea serpent. Their friendship not only enriches the little girl's life, but it also helps her to learn an important lesson about friendship and sacrifice..

Dashka Slater
Illustrated by Catia Chien
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin, 2008, 978-0618-723942
   One day a little girl is just about to have a bath in the bathtub when a very small sea serpent drops out of the faucet and into the tub. Soon the girl and the little sea serpent are having the time of their life playing together in the water. After their bath is over, the little girl puts the sea serpent into an aquarium and he tells her how he came to end up in her bath. He also tells her that he misses the sea and she promises to take him back.
   For the next few days it rains, and the little girl puts off taking the sea serpent to the beach. She enjoys his company so much, though she does notice that he is growing at a remarkable rate. In fact, in no time at all he is too big for the aquarium and has to be kept in the bathtub. It soon becomes clear that the little girl can no longer keep her friend in her house. He has to go back to the sea where he belongs.
   This charming picture book tells the story of a friendship that crosses great boundaries and that becomes very strong in just a short period of time. Readers will be touched when they see how the two young ones struggle to let go, and how the little girl finally finds the courage to do what needs to be done.
   With delightfully playful illustrations and two delightful main characters, this is a picture book that is a celebration of true friendship.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-two

One of the downsides of going on vacation is having to adjust to being back at home after the vacation is over. The gloriously free days are gone, and once again there is work to be done, errands to run, and chores to do. Imagine what it would be like if you were gone on a vacation that lasted millions of years. Coming home would be rather a shock to the system!

Joe Kulka
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lerner, 2010, 978-0-7613-5212-9
   I imagine that you are one of those people who think the dinosaurs are extinct, right? Well, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. Long ago they left Earth to go on a “cruise” on an alien spaceship, and ever since they have been having a great time visiting distant planets and seeing the sights.
   Now they are back, and it is time for them to “settle back in” to everyday life. How will they manage on a planet that has changed so much since they were last here? Will they be able to adjust to being in everyday mode after being on vacation for so long?
   Children who have a fondness for dinosaurs are sure to enjoy this clever picture book with its amusing rhyming text and its colorful and expressive illustrations. What would you do if a brachiosaurus moved in next door?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Poetry Friday - A review of The Carnival of the Animals

When I was young, one of my favorite pieces of music was The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. I learned how to play the swan piece on my flute, and was thrilled when my school orchestra (with me in it) performed the entire piece for a concert. Admittedly the orchestra wasn't that good, but I felt fantastic playing a piece of music I had loved for so long.

For today's poetry title I have reviewed a book written by Jack Prelutsky. He has written fifteen poems to reflect the musical pictures that Saint-Saens created.for The Carnival of Animals. 

Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Poetry Picture book and Audio CD
For ages 6 to 9
Random House, 2010, 978-0-375-86458-2
In 1866, Camille Saint-Saens composed a piece of music called The Carnival of the Animals. For the piece, Saint-Saens created fourteen musical profiles of animals, using instruments to capture the essence of their natures. Some of the pieces poke fun, while others are clearly an ode to the beauty of the animals in question.
   For this book, Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky has created fifteen poems that explore the animals that Saint-Saens portrayed in his famous piece of music. He begins with an introduction, setting the scene if you will for what is to follow. Then we meet the king of beasts, the lion, who “manages to labor less / Than every lovely lioness.”
   Then there are the roosters and hens who “peck peck peck and cluck cluck cluck” as they “scurry scurry scurry.” Other birds appear later in the book. In The Cuckoo we hear about how this wily bird lays its eggs in “Some smaller bird’s abode.” The swan is altogether a different creature. Elegant and “stately” the swan glides upon the water, a graceful creature that is “grand and glorious.”
   With beautifully crafted poems that a rich with imagery, this is a picture book that children will greatly enjoy. To future the reader’s enjoyment of this title, the publishers have included a recording of Jack Prelutsky reading his poems. Saint-Saens’ musical animal portraits follow Jack Prelutsky’s dramatic readings.
   At the back of the book readers will find more information about Saint-Saens and his Carnival of the Animals.

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty-one

Every so often I find a book that will appeal to children and adults alike. Today's book is just such a title, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and looking at the art. I imagine this book would make a great gift fore readers who will soon be embarking on a new adventure. 

Serge Bloch
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Sterling, 2010, 978-1-4027-7129-3
   Here you are, “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” and there are all kinds of adventures lying in your future. Sometimes things will go well, “it’ll be smooth sailing,” but then there will also be those times when things do not go well. Perhaps you will feel small and unimportant, “a small fish in a big pond.” Perhaps you will not succeed in your endeavors at first and you might make some rather big mistakes.
   The important thing to do is not to give up. No matter how many times you “sink like a stone,” don’t be discouraged. If you persevere and “shoot for the stars” you will more likely than not be able to make your dreams come true.
   Using delightfully funny multimedia illustrations, Serge Bloch has created a picture book that will ‘speak’ to readers of all ages. His words of support and encouragement are simple yet powerful.
   This book would be a great gift for anyone who is about to start a new chapter in their lives. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The TTLG 2011 Picture Book Celebration: Book two hundred and thirty

Many children love to have a soothing story read to them at bedtime. I must have read Goodnight Moon to my daughter a thousand times when she was little. Today's book is a perfect last-thing-at-night story to read to a sleepy child. With its musically lyrical text and its dreamlike story, it is perfect for sending a child off into dreamland. 

James Mayhew
Illustrated by Jackie Morris
Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Barefoot Books, 2009, 978-1-84686-185-7
   It is bedtime and a little boy and his mother are reading together in bed. The little boy sees the first star of the evening shining in the sky and he makes a wish. In dreamland, he wishes he had a little paper boat that he could use to travel to faraway places where “great blue whales leap.” In his little boat he goes to a land where there are children waiting for him, and who invite him to come and play with them.
   Together the children build a castle complete with flags and a moat. They pretend to be knights and kings, and then they go into a cave where they meet a gorgeous dragon who tells them “magic tales of old.” Later they travel “across the starlit sky” on the dragon’s back.
   This magical picture book will take readers on a delightful dreamlike journey where all adventures are grand, and where everyone is kind and welcoming. Gorgeous paintings provide the perfect backdrop for the rhyming text. In the back of the book, readers will find directions for making a little paper boat of their own, just in case they need a dreamland vessel to travel in.
   This title would be a perfect book to read at bedtime, just as the first star is showing itself in the night sky.
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