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Home > GreenSense Directory > Books > Kid's Books > Growing Up

GreenSense Directory

Growing Up

We applaud our kids gains in reading and math, but there are deeper life lessons we want them to learn as well; lessons about courage and resilience, love and community. The following stories are among my favorite kids books ever. They are sure to generate lots of interesting discussions.

New

A Bear for Miguel - - by Elaine Marie Alphin; illustrated by Joan Sandin HarperCollins Publishers, 1996. A young girl in war torn El Salvador gives up her special bear to help her family. This is such a beautiful story; it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. Maria is a young girl growing up in war torn El Salvador. Her father cannot get work and they must sell their possessions at the market in order to buy food. Maria accompanies her father on market day, bringing along Paco, her special stuffed bear. They trade hard at the market, but they still have no milk for Maria's baby brother. At one point Maria's father leaves her in charge of their stand. A young couple comes by with milk and cheese to trade. They spot Paco, the stuffed bear in Maria's arms. They explain that their little boy, Miguel was wounded by soldiers. He can't run and play anymore and he has been begging for a stuffed bear. They plead with her to trade Paco to them. Maria bravely gives up Paco, for Miguel's sake as well as for the milk and cheese her family receives. In this setting the love and gentle humour with which Maria's father holds his family together shines through. Maria is a courageous and dignified role model. This is a real girl-power book for those who are looking for stories of strong and wise girls for their daughters (boys will like it too.) The easy reader format makes it accessible to the early grade-school ages, when some of the issues this book addresses are very relevant. Younger children also will respond to the simple story and bright watercolor illustrations (my four-year-old loves it.) Almost any age child can relate to the sacrifice Maria has to make. The text is also sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases, a nice touch especially if you are interested in early foreign language exposure for your child. Bring this book into your home. You will find yourself discussing many important topics, from the importance of family members helping each other, to issues of war and peace, privelege and need. Highly recomended.

Aaron's Shirt - - by Deborah Gould; illustrated by Cheryl Harness; Bradbury Press, 1989. Aaron gets bigger but his favorite shirt does not in this sensitive and realistic story. It can be hard for a small child to conceptualize the passing of time and what growing older and bigger means. As parents we can't believe how fast our kids grow, but to a child a year is forever. This book helps kids put the passage of time into perspective. When Aaron chooses his red and white striped shirt off the rack at the end of a long day of shopping it is almost too big for him. Nevertheless, it soon becomes his favorite shirt and he wears it all summer long. He wears it as he makes new friends, wins a big stuffed bear, on the first day of school. He misses it all winter when it is packed away with the summer clothes, and the following summer he again wears it whenever he can. By the next summer of course, this well loved garment is worn and frayed and just too small to wear another summer. Aaron can't believe he has to give up his favorite shirt, but in the end, he finds the perfect home for it (I won't tell you where). The warm, vivid illustrations make it clear that Aaron's mom is a single parent, which will make this book especially meaningful to many families. For older picture book listeners, this sensitive story will help kids understand some of the conflicts they feel as they outgrow the things they have loved.

Annie's Potty - - by Judith Caseley Greenwillow Books, 1990. Annie learns to use the potty and her parents learn a little bit of patience in this sweet and straightforward book. With the right attitude, potty training is a fun and exciting time. Going to the bathroom is a real marker for being a big boy or girl and it is great to share your little one's excitement. Annie's Potty is a good companion to this special time. This bright and cheery book really covers a lot of ground in a gentle, non-judgemental way that will be reassuring to parents and kids alike. In the beginning Annie does not feel ready to use the potty, and she resists her mother's suggestions. Her father encourages a wait and see approach. As Annie overcomes her reluctance the book addresses such issues as privacy, using public bathrooms, and accidents. All is handled with a gentle, accepting, child-led approach. The language is just right for the two to four year olds who will be using this book, the illustrations are clear and bright with lots of kid appeal. A great book for anyone you know who is about to take the big step.

Fiona's Bee - - by Beverly Keller; illustrated by Diane Patterson Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975. A shy girl rescues a bee from drowning and becomes a celebrity in her neighborhood. This is a good book for kids who are afraid of bees. It really helped my son to see these sometimes frightening insects in a different light. Fiona is a lonely little girl. She buys a dog dish and fills it with water every day. She is hoping to make friends with a thirsty dog and its owner. Thus, she will get two friends from filling one dog dish. Unfortunately it isn't working very well, and Fiona is still lonely. One day however, she finds a bee drowning in the dog dish. Fiona is afraid of the bee but she also feels sorry for it, so very carefully she lifts the bee out of the water with a stick. The half-drowned bee climbs onto her hand, then onto her wrist, then onto her shoulder. Fiona hardly dares to breathe. Finally, she decides to walk the bee to the park, hoping that he can find some flowers which he will prefer to her shoulder. While walking to the park the kids in the neighborhood see the bee on her shoulder and by the time Fiona arrives at the park she is being followed by a whole group of wide-eyed children. Fiona announces that she is going to let the bee go free and then leave quickly so he doesn't get too attached to her. The kids in the neighborhood are even more impressed. By the end of the story the bee flies away to a patch of clover and Fiona has a new group of friends. I found this quiet story very satisfying. Fiona's loneliness at the beginning of the story, her seriousness and courage as she tries to help the bee, the amazed reactions of the neighborhood children, all give the story realism and depth. I like the way life takes Fiona by surprise, and she manages to make friends in a way she never could have imagined. Fiona's kindness to animals and respect for nature make her an admirable heroine for young kids. This book is in easy reader format, so beginning readers may want to read it to themselves, but it also makes a nice read-aloud for older picture book listeners.

Owen - - by Kevin Henkes Greenwillow Books, 1993. Owen's parents find a wonderful solution to the security blanket problem in this wise and loving tale. Owen's favorite posession is his security blanket, Fuzzy. His parents don't seem too perturbed by this, but society, in the form of nosy Mrs. Tweezers, disaproves. No matter what trick Mrs. Tweezers comes up with to try to get Owen to give up Fuzzy, Owen outwits her. No matter how much Owen's parents plead and reason, Owen is staunch in his attachment to Fuzzy. Finally Owen's parents see the light, and find a brilliant solution to their problem. I won't give too much away, but they are able to find a socially acceptable way to meet their child's very clearly stated need. What are parents for if not this? Kevin Henkes is, as usual, brilliant in his deep and subtle understanding of how children see the world, what is truly important to them, and how families really work. This is a loving and gentle book, with brilliant and lively pastel toned illustrations by the author (all the charecters are mice, by the way, but they seem so human that you hardly notice). Not too wordy, with quiet humour throughout, it's a good book for young picture book listeners and their parents. This is a special book, because it is about validating children's feelings, not bulldozing them, in spite of considerable social pressure. And if you have a child who doesn't want to give up his blankie, you may find yourself using Owen's parents solution too!

Soup For Supper - - by Phyllis Root; illustrated by Sue Truesdell Harper & Row, 1986. A story of a wee small woman and a giant which celebrates gardening, sharing, friendship and vegetable soup. A wee small woman lives alone, with only her garden for company. Oh, how lovingly she tends her plants! But when Giant Rumbleton comes ka-rumbling along and smells her vegetables, her peaceful existence is turned upside down. After a riotous melee where veggies and insults both fly freely, the two reach an understanding, and a friendship blooms over bowls of vegetable soup (well, actually, Giant Rumpleton eats his out of a stewpot). This lively book shows the joys of gardening and a very nice example of conflict resolution as the two characters stop throwing things at each other and start talking. The illustrations are fresh and humorous with a lighthanded quality that children love. There's even a song that winds its way through the story and is printed with music on the last page. A good book for kids who can listen to a longer story, but little ones might respond to the lively action as well.

Spotty - - by Margret Rey; illustrated by H.A. Rey Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945,1997. This classic story shows the importance of accepting those who are different from us, be they human or bunny. What does it mean to be "different"? Spotty was originally published in 1945 but was reissued a few years ago. And I for one am so glad that it was! This is a real treasure of a book, a modern fable from the authors of the Curious George series. But while I find the curious George books dated in their morality (George is always getting in trouble for being too curious, can you imagine?) Spotty has a message that is more relevant today than ever. Mother Bunny has nine children, eight little white bunnies that look just like her and one bunny with brown spots and blue eyes. Because he is different, Spotty is left behind when the rest of the family goes to grandpa's birthday party. Left all alone, poor Spotty tries using spot remover and when that doesn't work, he runs away. Well, everything works out in the end, and the story has a delightfully satisfying resolution. This is a great book for starting to talk to small kids about individality, conformity and prejudice. There are lots of words to the page, but the illustrations are so appealing and the characters so endearing you will find even quite young children falling in love with this book. This book is a charming classic, sure to please and with a great message to boot.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt - - by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by James Ransome Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. A young slave woman sews a quilt which has a map to freedom hidden in its pattern. This rich historical story is set in slave times. Young Clara works at the big house as a seamstress. By keeping her ears open, she learns of the underground railway, and she learns that a map is needed to guide runaway slaves to the Ohio river. Slowly she starts to piece together a quilt that is really a map. Gradually, she gathers information about the route to the Ohio River and adds it to her map. When the quilt is finished, young Clara runs away. She leaves the quilt, and others also use it to find their way north to freedom. I love the way Clara creates something so significant out of little scraps of leftover cloth. Using her own ingenuity and creativity, she is able to create something of vital and lasting importance to her community. The final picture shows a group of runaway slaves gathered around the quilt, studying it, after Clara is long gone. Clara leaves her "Aunt" Rachel behind, but she manages to find her mother and younger sister and bring them north to freedom. The rich illustrations really bring you back to an earlier time. The story is lengthy and quite complicated, but for kids with a longer attention span it is well worth it. This is another great girl-power book; Clara's fiesty determination and courage is inspiring to adults as well as kids. Be prepared to shed a few tears when Clara leaves Aunt Rachel, but overall this is a powerfully positive book.

The Carrot Seed - - by Ruth Krauss; illustrated by Crockett Johnson HarperCollins, 1945. A boy's faith in himself is rewarded when he plants a carrot seed. You may very well remember this classic from your own childhood. A little boy plants a seed. He waters and weeds it. Everyone tells him it will not grow, but the boy believes in himself and his carrot seed. Determinedly, he continues to tend his carrot seed. Finally the seed starts to grow and, in the end, produces a huge carrot- a carrot which is bigger than the boy and has to be carted around in a wheelbarrow. The exageration in this simple story delights very young children and really brings home the message that sometimes you just have to believe in yourself, no matter what everyone else thinks (even if they are bigger and older). Available as a board book for little ones.

The Story of Ferdinand - - by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Robert Lawson The Viking Press, 1936. Non-violence and non-conformism are celebrated in this tale of a bull who prefers flowers to fighting. Ferdinand is a little bull who does not like to fight. He likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. He grows up to be a very big strong bull; but he still likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. One day he is chosen for the bullfight in Madrid. There is a big parade and a big crowd and everyone is waiting for a big fight. But Ferdinand doesn't care. He just sits down in the middle of the bullring and quietly smells the flowers in the ladies' hair. This classic tale is a celebration of non-violence and non-conformism. The language and the line drawings are both very simple and give the book a poetic quality. The message - that its O.K. to be yourself no matter how different you are is one that kids today need to hear more than ever. Very little kids will love Ferdinand, but older ones will get a lot from this book, too.

Tucking Mommy In - - by Morag Loh; illustrated by Donna Rawlins Orchard Books, 1991. Two little girls take on an adult role as they put their very sleepy mommy to bed. This book is kind of a "sleeper." Though it isn't very famous or well-known, I am constantly finding it in the homes of families with small kids, and it is almost always checked out of the library. In other words, once families discover it, it becomes a much loved favorite, to be read again and again. When we first discovered it, we loved it too. Tucking Mommy In glows with the warmth and comfort of a loving family life. The illustrations are soft and vibrant, the house is comfortably messy. The characters faces are strong and alive, and the kids really look like the parents, which is something I always look for in children's books. The simple story, of two little girls who tuck their mommy in when she is exhausted at the end of a long day, will delight children. Little ones, eager to grow up themselves, love to see kids take charge. Jenny and Sue take over with confidence, telling each other stories, leading Mommy to bed, undressing her and kissing her good-night. I think of this as a "kids are competent" book. Funny how hard those are to find. This is a middle level picture book, great for weary parents and their competent kids.

***

A Bear for Miguel - - by Elaine Marie Alphin; illustrated by Joan Sandin HarperCollins Publishers, 1996. A young girl in war torn El Salvador gives up her special bear to help her family. This is such a beautiful story; it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. Maria is a young girl growing up in war torn El Salvador. Her father cannot get work and they must sell their possessions at the market in order to buy food. Maria accompanies her father on market day, bringing along Paco, her special stuffed bear. They trade hard at the market, but they still have no milk for Maria's baby brother. At one point Maria's father leaves her in charge of their stand. A young couple comes by with milk and cheese to trade. They spot Paco, the stuffed bear in Maria's arms. They explain that their little boy, Miguel was wounded by soldiers. He can't run and play anymore and he has been begging for a stuffed bear. They plead with her to trade Paco to them. Maria bravely gives up Paco, for Miguel's sake as well as for the milk and cheese her family receives. In this setting the love and gentle humour with which Maria's father holds his family together shines through. Maria is a courageous and dignified role model. This is a real girl-power book for those who are looking for stories of strong and wise girls for their daughters (boys will like it too.) The easy reader format makes it accessible to the early grade-school ages, when some of the issues this book addresses are very relevant. Younger children also will respond to the simple story and bright watercolor illustrations (my four-year-old loves it.) Almost any age child can relate to the sacrifice Maria has to make. The text is also sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases, a nice touch especially if you are interested in early foreign language exposure for your child. Bring this book into your home. You will find yourself discussing many important topics, from the importance of family members helping each other, to issues of war and peace, privelege and need. Highly recomended.

Aaron's Shirt - - by Deborah Gould; illustrated by Cheryl Harness; Bradbury Press, 1989. Aaron gets bigger but his favorite shirt does not in this sensitive and realistic story. It can be hard for a small child to conceptualize the passing of time and what growing older and bigger means. As parents we can't believe how fast our kids grow, but to a child a year is forever. This book helps kids put the passage of time into perspective. When Aaron chooses his red and white striped shirt off the rack at the end of a long day of shopping it is almost too big for him. Nevertheless, it soon becomes his favorite shirt and he wears it all summer long. He wears it as he makes new friends, wins a big stuffed bear, on the first day of school. He misses it all winter when it is packed away with the summer clothes, and the following summer he again wears it whenever he can. By the next summer of course, this well loved garment is worn and frayed and just too small to wear another summer. Aaron can't believe he has to give up his favorite shirt, but in the end, he finds the perfect home for it (I won't tell you where). The warm, vivid illustrations make it clear that Aaron's mom is a single parent, which will make this book especially meaningful to many families. For older picture book listeners, this sensitive story will help kids understand some of the conflicts they feel as they outgrow the things they have loved.

Annie's Potty - - by Judith Caseley Greenwillow Books, 1990. Annie learns to use the potty and her parents learn a little bit of patience in this sweet and straightforward book. With the right attitude, potty training is a fun and exciting time. Going to the bathroom is a real marker for being a big boy or girl and it is great to share your little one's excitement. Annie's Potty is a good companion to this special time. This bright and cheery book really covers a lot of ground in a gentle, non-judgemental way that will be reassuring to parents and kids alike. In the beginning Annie does not feel ready to use the potty, and she resists her mother's suggestions. Her father encourages a wait and see approach. As Annie overcomes her reluctance the book addresses such issues as privacy, using public bathrooms, and accidents. All is handled with a gentle, accepting, child-led approach. The language is just right for the two to four year olds who will be using this book, the illustrations are clear and bright with lots of kid appeal. A great book for anyone you know who is about to take the big step.

Fiona's Bee - - by Beverly Keller; illustrated by Diane Patterson Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975. A shy girl rescues a bee from drowning and becomes a celebrity in her neighborhood. This is a good book for kids who are afraid of bees. It really helped my son to see these sometimes frightening insects in a different light. Fiona is a lonely little girl. She buys a dog dish and fills it with water every day. She is hoping to make friends with a thirsty dog and its owner. Thus, she will get two friends from filling one dog dish. Unfortunately it isn't working very well, and Fiona is still lonely. One day however, she finds a bee drowning in the dog dish. Fiona is afraid of the bee but she also feels sorry for it, so very carefully she lifts the bee out of the water with a stick. The half-drowned bee climbs onto her hand, then onto her wrist, then onto her shoulder. Fiona hardly dares to breathe. Finally, she decides to walk the bee to the park, hoping that he can find some flowers which he will prefer to her shoulder. While walking to the park the kids in the neighborhood see the bee on her shoulder and by the time Fiona arrives at the park she is being followed by a whole group of wide-eyed children. Fiona announces that she is going to let the bee go free and then leave quickly so he doesn't get too attached to her. The kids in the neighborhood are even more impressed. By the end of the story the bee flies away to a patch of clover and Fiona has a new group of friends. I found this quiet story very satisfying. Fiona's loneliness at the beginning of the story, her seriousness and courage as she tries to help the bee, the amazed reactions of the neighborhood children, all give the story realism and depth. I like the way life takes Fiona by surprise, and she manages to make friends in a way she never could have imagined. Fiona's kindness to animals and respect for nature make her an admirable heroine for young kids. This book is in easy reader format, so beginning readers may want to read it to themselves, but it also makes a nice read-aloud for older picture book listeners.

Owen - - by Kevin Henkes Greenwillow Books, 1993. Owen's parents find a wonderful solution to the security blanket problem in this wise and loving tale. Owen's favorite posession is his security blanket, Fuzzy. His parents don't seem too perturbed by this, but society, in the form of nosy Mrs. Tweezers, disaproves. No matter what trick Mrs. Tweezers comes up with to try to get Owen to give up Fuzzy, Owen outwits her. No matter how much Owen's parents plead and reason, Owen is staunch in his attachment to Fuzzy. Finally Owen's parents see the light, and find a brilliant solution to their problem. I won't give too much away, but they are able to find a socially acceptable way to meet their child's very clearly stated need. What are parents for if not this? Kevin Henkes is, as usual, brilliant in his deep and subtle understanding of how children see the world, what is truly important to them, and how families really work. This is a loving and gentle book, with brilliant and lively pastel toned illustrations by the author (all the charecters are mice, by the way, but they seem so human that you hardly notice). Not too wordy, with quiet humour throughout, it's a good book for young picture book listeners and their parents. This is a special book, because it is about validating children's feelings, not bulldozing them, in spite of considerable social pressure. And if you have a child who doesn't want to give up his blankie, you may find yourself using Owen's parents solution too!

Soup For Supper - - by Phyllis Root; illustrated by Sue Truesdell Harper & Row, 1986. A story of a wee small woman and a giant which celebrates gardening, sharing, friendship and vegetable soup. A wee small woman lives alone, with only her garden for company. Oh, how lovingly she tends her plants! But when Giant Rumbleton comes ka-rumbling along and smells her vegetables, her peaceful existence is turned upside down. After a riotous melee where veggies and insults both fly freely, the two reach an understanding, and a friendship blooms over bowls of vegetable soup (well, actually, Giant Rumpleton eats his out of a stewpot). This lively book shows the joys of gardening and a very nice example of conflict resolution as the two characters stop throwing things at each other and start talking. The illustrations are fresh and humorous with a lighthanded quality that children love. There's even a song that winds its way through the story and is printed with music on the last page. A good book for kids who can listen to a longer story, but little ones might respond to the lively action as well.

Spotty - - by Margret Rey; illustrated by H.A. Rey Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945,1997. This classic story shows the importance of accepting those who are different from us, be they human or bunny. What does it mean to be "different"? Spotty was originally published in 1945 but was reissued a few years ago. And I for one am so glad that it was! This is a real treasure of a book, a modern fable from the authors of the Curious George series. But while I find the curious George books dated in their morality (George is always getting in trouble for being too curious, can you imagine?) Spotty has a message that is more relevant today than ever. Mother Bunny has nine children, eight little white bunnies that look just like her and one bunny with brown spots and blue eyes. Because he is different, Spotty is left behind when the rest of the family goes to grandpa's birthday party. Left all alone, poor Spotty tries using spot remover and when that doesn't work, he runs away. Well, everything works out in the end, and the story has a delightfully satisfying resolution. This is a great book for starting to talk to small kids about individality, conformity and prejudice. There are lots of words to the page, but the illustrations are so appealing and the characters so endearing you will find even quite young children falling in love with this book. This book is a charming classic, sure to please and with a great message to boot.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt - - by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by James Ransome Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. A young slave woman sews a quilt which has a map to freedom hidden in its pattern. This rich historical story is set in slave times. Young Clara works at the big house as a seamstress. By keeping her ears open, she learns of the underground railway, and she learns that a map is needed to guide runaway slaves to the Ohio river. Slowly she starts to piece together a quilt that is really a map. Gradually, she gathers information about the route to the Ohio River and adds it to her map. When the quilt is finished, young Clara runs away. She leaves the quilt, and others also use it to find their way north to freedom. I love the way Clara creates something so significant out of little scraps of leftover cloth. Using her own ingenuity and creativity, she is able to create something of vital and lasting importance to her community. The final picture shows a group of runaway slaves gathered around the quilt, studying it, after Clara is long gone. Clara leaves her "Aunt" Rachel behind, but she manages to find her mother and younger sister and bring them north to freedom. The rich illustrations really bring you back to an earlier time. The story is lengthy and quite complicated, but for kids with a longer attention span it is well worth it. This is another great girl-power book; Clara's fiesty determination and courage is inspiring to adults as well as kids. Be prepared to shed a few tears when Clara leaves Aunt Rachel, but overall this is a powerfully positive book.

The Carrot Seed - - by Ruth Krauss; illustrated by Crockett Johnson HarperCollins, 1945. A boy's faith in himself is rewarded when he plants a carrot seed. You may very well remember this classic from your own childhood. A little boy plants a seed. He waters and weeds it. Everyone tells him it will not grow, but the boy believes in himself and his carrot seed. Determinedly, he continues to tend his carrot seed. Finally the seed starts to grow and, in the end, produces a huge carrot- a carrot which is bigger than the boy and has to be carted around in a wheelbarrow. The exageration in this simple story delights very young children and really brings home the message that sometimes you just have to believe in yourself, no matter what everyone else thinks (even if they are bigger and older). Available as a board book for little ones.

The Story of Ferdinand - - by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Robert Lawson The Viking Press, 1936. Non-violence and non-conformism are celebrated in this tale of a bull who prefers flowers to fighting. Ferdinand is a little bull who does not like to fight. He likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. He grows up to be a very big strong bull; but he still likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. One day he is chosen for the bullfight in Madrid. There is a big parade and a big crowd and everyone is waiting for a big fight. But Ferdinand doesn't care. He just sits down in the middle of the bullring and quietly smells the flowers in the ladies' hair. This classic tale is a celebration of non-violence and non-conformism. The language and the line drawings are both very simple and give the book a poetic quality. The message - that its O.K. to be yourself no matter how different you are is one that kids today need to hear more than ever. Very little kids will love Ferdinand, but older ones will get a lot from this book, too.

Tucking Mommy In - - by Morag Loh; illustrated by Donna Rawlins Orchard Books, 1991. Two little girls take on an adult role as they put their very sleepy mommy to bed. This book is kind of a "sleeper." Though it isn't very famous or well-known, I am constantly finding it in the homes of families with small kids, and it is almost always checked out of the library. In other words, once families discover it, it becomes a much loved favorite, to be read again and again. When we first discovered it, we loved it too. Tucking Mommy In glows with the warmth and comfort of a loving family life. The illustrations are soft and vibrant, the house is comfortably messy. The characters faces are strong and alive, and the kids really look like the parents, which is something I always look for in children's books. The simple story, of two little girls who tuck their mommy in when she is exhausted at the end of a long day, will delight children. Little ones, eager to grow up themselves, love to see kids take charge. Jenny and Sue take over with confidence, telling each other stories, leading Mommy to bed, undressing her and kissing her good-night. I think of this as a "kids are competent" book. Funny how hard those are to find. This is a middle level picture book, great for weary parents and their competent kids.

 

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