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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
Committed to providing a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence, the Books for Youth editorial staff has chosen the titles below as best-of-the-year nonfiction and fiction books and picture books.
Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights
. By Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, $18.95 (9781629790947). Gr. 8–12.
When Martin Luther King Jr. asked for help ending racial injustice in the South, Jonathan Daniels, a white northern seminarian, answered. Knowing he was risking his life by wearing a clerical collar and pushing for racial equality, he worked for voting rights until he was jailed, released, and assassinated.
Brown v. Board of Education: A Fight for Simple Justice. By Susan Goldman Rubin. Holiday, $18.95 (9780823436460). Gr. 6–9.
This thorough, large-format account of several monumental courtroom cases is a model of lucidity. Rubin sets a vivid backdrop, introduces memorable personalities, and weaves through complicated proceedings with stunning aplomb.
Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word. By Nadia Abushanab Higgins. Lerner/Twenty-First Century, lib. ed., $35.99 (9781467761475). Gr. 8–11.
After a brief survey of the history of feminism, Higgins allots the majority of her book to a discussion of its present. Intersectionality, criticisms of second- and third-wave feminism, and the importance of grassroots organizations, among other topics, are all cogently explained in this empowering volume.
In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. By Kenneth C. Davis. Holt, $17.99 (9781627793117). Gr. 7–10.
Davis’ account of five enslaved people and the U.S. presidents who owned them is not just an incredibly researched piece of history—it’s a fierce wake-up call to anyone who praises their leaders without critical nuance. A devastating and eye-opening investigation. (Top of the List winner—Youth Nonfiction.)
March: Book Three. By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illus. by Nate Powell. Top Shelf, $19.99 (9781603094023). Gr. 9–12.
This closing volume of Lewis’ comics memoir highlights the growing violence and tensions among activists during Freedom Summer and culminates in the Voting Rights Act. Cinematic artwork heightens the tension in this timely, accessible account of the civil rights movement and serves as a call to action.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story. By Caren Stelson. Carolrhoda, $19.99 (9781467789035). Gr. 7–10.
Sachiko Yasui experienced the bombing of Nagasaki firsthand, and her vivid, affecting account of the event and its aftermath comes to life here. Periodic explanations of concepts and events bring helpful, informative context to Sachiko’s narrative as well as her enduring message of peace.
Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience during World War II. By Albert Marrin. Knopf, $17.99 (9780553509366). Gr. 9–12.
In the midst of WWII, 110,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and moved to relocation centers. It is Marrin’s well-documented contention that this shameful act of resettlement was rooted in wartime hysteria and enduring racism, a theme that informs this masterful account.
Vietnam: A History of the War. By Russell Freedman. Holiday, $20 (9780823436583). Gr. 6–9.
Newbery medalist Freedman’s absorbing, concise narrative lucidly illustrates Vietnam’s road to revolution, escalating U.S. involvement in the region, and how it became one of history’s greatest messes. A thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful glimpse into a pivotal moment in recent history.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. By Misuzu Kaneko. Illus. by Toshikado Hajiri. Tr. by David Jacobson and others. Chin Music, $19.50 (9781634059626). Gr. 2–5.
Kaneko’s children’s poetry is translated into English for the first time in this beautiful package, presented alongside a narrative of her early life and gorgeous, haunting visuals. A brilliant introduction to a unique, less discussed artist.
Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights. By Mary Cronk Farrell. Abrams, $19.95 (9781419718847). Gr. 5–8.
Fannie Sellins was working in a sweatshop when she first heard about the United Garment Workers of America. She helped to organize her fellow seamstresses, largely recent immigrants, into Ladies’ Local 67. This volume, richly photo-illustrated and imbued with solid scholarly features, explores her battle.
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune. By Pamela S. Turner. Illus. by Gareth Hinds. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (9781580895842). Gr. 5–8.
With more beheadings than you can shake a katana at, this account of the life of twelfth-century samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune is pure excitement. Swift, novel-like prose reveals Yoshitsune’s formative battles, rise to fame, and eventual fall in 1189, while demonstrating the changing role of samurai in Japanese society.
Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. By Melissa Sweet. Illus. by the author. HMH, $18.99 (9780544319592). Gr. 2–5.
In this inviting biography, Sweet ties together elements of adored author E. B. White’s life with pleasantly rambling prose and enchanting illustrations constructed from found objects, collage, and watercolor scenes. White’s story, shy personality, and love of animals will easily draw in young readers.
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness. By Donna Janell Bowman. Illus. by Daniel Minter. Lee & Low, $19.95 (9781620141489). Gr. 3–5.
Doc Key, a former slave, is best remembered for nursing sickly colt Jim not only to health but also to heights of interactive intelligence, thanks to a program of positive reinforcement. Luminous paintings bring to life this inspirational stranger-than-fiction tale.
The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk. By Jan Thornhill. Illus. by the author. Groundwood, $18.95 (9781554988655). Gr. 2–5.
Touching on evolution, ecology, human technological advancement, globalization, and even cultural trends, Thornhill illustrates the many factors, including its own physiology and behavior, that led to the auk’s ultimate demise and the surprising affects its extinction had on modern ideas about conservation.
Under Water, under Earth.
By Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. Illus. by the authors. Candlewick/Big Picture, $35 (9780763689223). Gr. 2–4.
This oversize picture book thrillingly and comprehensively illustrates the fascinating components of the ground beneath our feet and the waters that cover the planet. The array of information is dizzying, but the engrossing format makes it irresistible. Comical interludes add buoyancy to this informative volume.
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes. By Sara Gillingham. Illus. by the author. Phaidon, $19.95 (9780714871431). K–Gr. 2.
This brilliantly designed abecedary introduces four systems of nautical communication and offers loads of information about boats and sea travel. Snazzy, primary-colored art illustrates the codes, and nestled into each two-page spread is a paper version of the flag itself.
Freedom in Congo Square. By Carole Boston Weatherford. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. little bee, $17.99 (9781499801033). Gr. 1–3.
Coretta Scott King honorees Weatherford and Christie create a gorgeously artistic and poetic homage to the slaves of New Orleans, who were allowed to gather in Congo Square each Sunday. Their anticipation of these joyful Sundays stands in poignant contrast to the harshness endured during the week.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. By Debbie Levy. Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (9781481465595). Gr. 1–3.
Dissent is the powerful through line in this picture-book biography of Ginsberg. Levy and Baddeley show how young Ruth was shaped by her objections to injustice and how that dissent led to her iconic career. Dynamic illustrations further enliven this inviting account of a historic woman.
Alice and the Fly. By James Rice. Quercus, $16.99 (9781681445281). Gr. 9–12.
Greg—known by classmates as “Psycho”—keeps a journal recounting his medical “condition,” his bouts of uncontrollable arachnophobia, and his obsession with a girl on the bus named Alice. A slowly unfolding mystery powered by equal parts dread and empathy.
Burn Baby Burn. By Meg Medina. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763674670). Gr. 9–12.
Set against New York’s turbulent summer of 1977, Medina’s latest tells the story of Cuban American Nora, who’s determined to gain independence from her increasingly violent brother and the mother who coddles him. An artfully crafted story of family loyalty and personal strength.
The End of FUN. By Sean McGinty. Disney/Hyperion, $17.99 (9781484722114). Gr. 9–12.
The year’s funniest YA novel is this high-concept offering about “FUN,” an embedded, interactive marketing program chip that Aaron is having a heck of a time deleting. Barbed tech commentary is only part of this surprisingly bighearted debut.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear. By E. K. Johnston. Dutton, $17.99 (9781101994580). Gr. 9–12.
At end-of-summer cheerleading camp, Hermione Winters is drugged, raped, and impregnated. Recovery is long, but Hermione is determined to live her life. Fierce and gorgeously drawn, this reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a rape story that doesn’t focus on victimhood.
Falling over Sideways. By Jordan Sonnenblick. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545863247). Gr. 7–10.
Ballet student Claire had enough problems before her father’s stroke. Now she needs to help him recover. However, in doing so, she finds a way to move forward with all aspects of her life. Another smart, droll winner from Sonnenblick.
Fifteen Lanes. By S. J. Laidlaw. Tundra, $17.99 (9781101917800). Gr. 9–12.
As part of her community service, Grace, a privileged student in Mumbai, meets 14-year-old Noor, who has grown up in her mother’s brothel. In detailing their hopeful kinship, Laidlaw doesn’t shrink from the desperate, dangerous realities.
Golden Boys. By Sonya Hartnett. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763679491). Gr. 9–12.
With stunning subtlety and quietly escalating tension, Hartnett traces the shattering fissures that work their way through a modest community when an effusive wealthy dentist, Rex, and his family move in. Through the neighborhood kids’ perspectives, the unsettling truth about Rex emerges.
The Lie Tree. By Frances Hardinge. Abrams/Amulet, $17.95 (9781419718953). Gr. 7–12.
In the mid-nineteenth century, 14-year-old Faith Sunderly aspires to be a naturalist like her father, but such professions are deemed unacceptable for women. When her family hastily moves to a remote island, dangers engulf her, knitting science, religion, and fantasy into a dark but empowering tale.
My Lady Jane. By Cynthia Hand and others. HarperTeen, $17.99 (9780062391742). Gr. 7–11.
The Tudor-era Catholic-Protestant conflict is reimagined as a feud between shape-shifters and non-shape-shifters. Bookish Jane Grey, less than thrilled with an arranged marriage, is soon caught up in a hilarious web of court intrigue and high adventure in this wacky, irreverent historical fantasy.
The Passion of Dolssa. By Julie Berry. Viking, $17.99 (9780451469922). Gr. 9–12.
The story-within-a-story begins in 1290 as a friar gathers testimonies from the Inquisition. But one tale troubles him: sassy matchmaker Botille and her sisters encounter aristocratic, mystic Dolssa—beloved by Jesus and spreading a message of love—running from the Inquisitors after escaping the pyre.
Playing for the Devil’s Fire. By Phillippe Diederich. Cinco Puntos, $16.95 (9781941026298). Gr. 9–12.
After Boli’s Mexican village is overrun by drug dealers, he teams up with a drunken, down-on-his-luck masked wrestler to fight back. Their strange but tender relationship grounds this compassionate, violent, and timely novel.
A Small Madness. By Dianne Touchell. Groundwood, $16.95 (9781554988372). Gr. 9–12.
Rose is pregnant, and only Michael, the father, and her best friend, Liv, know the secret. Calling the baby a “virus,” Rose sinks into a melancholy with horrific results. What begins with a standard YA plot explodes into one of the year’s most disturbing dramas.
Steeplejack. By A. J. Hartley. Tor Teen, $17.99 (9780765383426). Gr. 8–12.
Repute as a death-defying “steeplejack” leads to Anglet being hired to solve the theft of a luxorite stone before a civil war breaks out. Like many other great fantasies, this thriller, set in an alternate South Africa, brings up a bevy of relevant subjects.
Still Life with Tornado. By A. S. King. Dutton, $17.99 (9781101994887). Gr. 8–11.
Sarah’s in the midst of an existential crisis, but when she meets her 10- and 23-year-old selves, they help her piece together some hard truths about her family. King laces Sarah’s restrained first-person narrative with powerful images and offers compassionate, but frank, insight into the damage abuse leaves behind. (Top of the List winner—Youth Fiction.)
The Sun Is Also a Star. By Nicola Yoon. Delacorte, $18.99 (9780553496680). Gr. 8–12.
Natasha has only hours left to prevent her family’s deportation to Jamaica. Korean American Daniel has to decide whether to follow the path his parents want. It’s inconvenient, but when they meet, sparks fly. This lyrical account of one life-changing day is artful, smart, and swoonworthy.
This Savage Song. By Victoria Schwab. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780062380852). Gr. 9–12.
Verity, a not-so-distant America, is overrun with monsters, including the musical, soul-stealing Sunai. When Sunai August meets Kate, daughter of one of the city’s most powerful men, they find themselves thrown together despite existing on opposite sides of Verity’s underground war.
Whatever. By S. J. Goslee. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781626723993). Gr. 9–12.
High-school junior Mike is doubly surprised when his girlfriend dumps him and informs him he’s gay. But nothing’s more shocking than this: his former rival looks a little less like competition and more like a crush. A coming-of-age story that’s both sweet and hilarious.
When the Moon Was Ours. By Anna-Marie McLemore. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $18.99 (9781250058669). Gr. 9–12.
Sam and Miel begin a tentative romance even as Sam is drawn to bacha posh, a Pakistani practice where families allow a daughter to live as a boy. But the mysterious Bonner sisters are paying attention, and they could destroy everything. A fairy tale infused with magic realism and Latino folklore.
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon. By Torben Kuhlmann. Illus. by the author. Tr. by David Henry Wilson. North-South, $19.95 (9780735842625). Gr. 1–4.
In this beautifully illustrated adventure, a stargazing mouse is inspired to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon—something not even humans have yet accomplished. The story is rich with the spirit of discovery, as the mouse studies, sketches, builds, and ultimately takes to the skies.
As Brave as You. By Jason Reynolds. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $16.99 (9781481415903). Gr. 5–8.
Genie and his brother are spending the summer with their grandparents in backwoods Virginia—a far cry from their home in Brooklyn. Inquisitive Genie’s explorations gradually uncover deep rifts and hurts in his family as well as enduring love. A moving, vivid account of intergenerational family dynamics.
The Best Man. By Richard Peck. Dial, $16.99 (9780803738393). Gr. 4–6.
Two weddings bracket this amusing and ultimately moving novel. In the first, Archer is a six-year-old ring bearer suffering from a wardrobe malfunction. In the second, he’s the best man. Archer’s dad, his grandfather, and his gay uncles are portrayed with particular affection and respect in this intergenerational story.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. By Kate Beasley. Illus. by Jillian Tamaki. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374302610). Gr. 5–8.
When fifth-grader Gertie learns her estranged mother is planning to move away, she devises a five-phase plan to get her mom’s attention. Beasley takes on real-life problems while remaining true to the feelings of childhood.
Ghosts. By Raina Telgemeier. Illus. by the author. Scholastic/Graphix, $24.99 (9780545540612). Gr. 4–7.
Cat’s scared of the ghosts in their new home on the Northern California coast, but her sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, is enchanted by them. Telgemeier’s graphic novel deftly explores fears about death, and her jaunty, jewel-toned art enlivens the story beautifully.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon. By Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin, $16.95 (9781616205676). Gr. 5–8.
Every year, a baby is sacrificed to appease an evil witch—though Xan, the witch, actually rescues each infant. When she accidentally feeds baby Luna moonlight, the child gains powers, prompting Xan to adopt her and guide her magical education. A richly imagined read filled with whimsy and treachery.
Hour of the Bees. By Lindsay Eagar. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763679224). Gr. 5–8.
Twelve-year-old Carolina eschews most of the Mexican half of her culture. When she’s forced to spend the summer in New Mexico with her ailing grandfather, the long summer feels unbearable until Grandfather Serge begins telling half-magical family stories.
The Inquisitor’s Tale; or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. By Adam Gidwitz. Illus. by Hatem Aly. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525426165). Gr. 5–8.
Gidwitz plunges into medieval France to tell the incredible story of three gifted children, a holy greyhound, and the people whose lives they touch. Taking cues from The Canterbury Tales, he nimbly weaves history, excitement, and multiple narrative threads into a taut, inspired (and illuminated) adventure.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel. By Firoozeh Dumas. Clarion, $16.99 (9780544612310). Gr. 5–8.
Set in 1978 California, Dumas’ funny and affecting novel tells the story of Iranian-born Cindy Yousefzadeh as she navigates middle school during the Iranian hostage crisis. As Cindy’s family becomes the target of prejudice, readers will root for the Yousefzadehs’ safety and laugh at Cindy’s relatable mishaps.
Maybe a Fox. By Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $16.99 (9781442482425). Gr. 4–7.
When Jules Sherman loses her sister in an accident, she struggles to adjust to life “After Sylvie.” At the same time, a newborn fox, Senna, feels a spiritual connection to Jules, and the pair’s fates become entwined in important and unforeseeable ways.
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. By John David Anderson. HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99 (9780062338174). Gr. 5–7.
When Ms. Bixby disappears from class to battle cancer, her class concocts a mostly legal plan to create a grand gesture of appreciation. Multiple narrators propel the plot, eventually filling in all the gaps of the absorbing narrative puzzle.
When the Sea Turned to Silver. By Grace Lin. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $18.99 (9780316125925). Gr. 3–5.
Lin’s third book in her fantasy cycle set in ancient China beautifully interweaves traditional folklore with the story of Pinmei, a timid girl who must dig deep within herself in order to rescue her storyteller grandmother from the clutches of the emperor.
The Wild Robot. By Peter Brown. Illus. by the author. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316381994). Gr. 3–6.
In the wake of a hurricane, a crate containing a robot washes up on an island’s shore. What follows is not a flash-bang robot adventure but a tale of wilderness survival and friendship, as the robot adapts to her surroundings and earns the trust of the island’s animals.
Wolf Hollow. By Lauren Wolk. Dutton, $16.99 (9781101994825). Gr. 5–8.
Eleven-year-old Annabelle’s idyllic life on her family’s Pennsylvania farm is interrupted by Betty Glengarry, sent to her grandparents because she is “incorrigible.” When Annabelle stands up to her, Betty shifts her attention to Toby, a WWI veteran already saddled with a dubious reputation.
Before Morning. By Joyce Sidman. Illus. by Beth Krommes. HMH, $17.99 (9780547979175). PreS–Gr. 2.
A young girl’s pilot mother has, sadly, left for the airport. But then: snow! Enough of it, in fact, that the mother returns for sledding and hot chocolate. Sidman’s story is simple and powerful, and Krommes’ signature scratchboard art is first lonesome, then wonderfully warm.
Bramble and Maggie: Snow Day. By Jessie Haas. Illus. by Alison Friend. Candlewick, $14.99 (9780763673642). Gr. 1–3.
Maggie’s family prepares for a big winter storm. That night, her horse, Bramble, escapes her stall and relishes the exciting storm. She becomes a hero the next morning when she helps clear away the snowdrift that blocks her family’s door. A beautifully crafted book for beginning readers.
Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763665302). PreS–Gr. 2.
Crafting her own language, Ellis offers a brilliant account of a few bugs who discover a green shoot sprouting from the ground. Readers and prereaders alike will find myriad visual cues in the folk-style illustrations that give meaning to the nonsensical dialogue and signal the subtle changing of the seasons.
The Journey. By Francesca Sanna. Illus. by the author. Flying Eye, $17.95 (9781909263994). K–Gr. 2.
A refugee family flees a war-torn country and seeks out a safe new home in this gorgeous picture book. The captivating artwork, rendered in bright colors and a playful, fairy-tale-like visual style, is a bold contrast to the heartbreaking, sometimes scary, but always hopeful text. (Top of the List winner—Picture Book.)
Juana & Lucas. By Juana Medina. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $14.99 (9780763672089). K–Gr. 3.
This early chapter book introduces Juana, a spirited young Colombian girl, who is reluctant to learn English. By integrating playful artwork and Spanish words, Medina provides excellent depictions of Juana’s life in Bogotá and demonstrates the exciting opportunities that knowing another language can bring.
Nanette’s Baguette. By Mo Willems. Illus. by the author. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781484722862). PreS–K.
Mom asks Nanette, a young frog sporting a Madeline-style hat, to get a baguette. Elated with this new responsibility, she sets off but faces many distractions and obstacles along the way. The delicious wordplay, energetic illustrations, and relatable story make this a winning read-aloud.
School’s First Day of School. By Adam Rex. Illus. by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.99 (9781596439641). PreS–Gr. 1.
This book about first-day jitters has a surprising twist: the nervous one is Frederick Douglass Elementary, a brand-new school building. Robinson’s blocky, naive-style paintings are the perfect match for this touching, gently silly take on a classic picture-book story.
A Small Thing . . . but Big. By Tony Johnston. Illus. by Hadley Hooper. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781626722569). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this gently uplifting book, a girl is intrigued by an old man’s little dog at the park, and he gradually encourages her to interact with the dog, first petting it and finally walking it. Small in plot? Yes, but big in impact.
Steamboat School. By Deborah Hopkinson. Illus. by Ron Husband. Disney/Jump at the Sun, $17.99 (9781423121961). K–Gr. 3.
African American James is growing up in 1847 when the sheriff and his men begin enforcing a new Missouri law prohibiting “the instruction of negroes or mulattoes” to read or write. Circumventing the law by teaching school on a steamboat in the Mississippi River, Reverend John inspires James.
Super Happy Magic Forest. By Matty Long. Illus. by the author. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545860598). K–Gr. 2.
A unicorn, gnome, toadstool, pixie, and centaur embark on an epic quest to recover the Mystical Crystals of Life in this hilarious, video-game-esque adventure. Long mixes rainbow-spattered double-page spreads with comics-style panels packed to the gills with magical creatures and whimsical details.
They All Saw a Cat. By Brendan Wenzel. Illus. by the author. Chronicle, $16.99 (9781452150130). PreS–Gr. 2.
What does saw mean anyway? Employing a nursery-rhyme refrain, Wenzel’s text features a single cat that is seen from the often amusing and always startling perspectives of a bird in the sky, a fish in a bowl, a flea on the cat’s back, and more. A thought-provoking treasure.
We Found a Hat. By Jon Klassen. Illus. by the author. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763656003). K–Gr. 2.
With dry wit and deadpan humor, Klassen relates one more hat-related caper. Two turtles stumble across a cowboy hat only to find that one hat isn’t enough for two. The narrative feels distinctly western, complete with a dusty pink-and-brown desert setting—and, of course, a sense of impending betrayal.
A Well-Mannered Young Wolf. By Jean Leroy. Illus. by Matthieu Maudet. Eerdmans, $16 (9780802854797). PreS–Gr. 2.
A young wolf goes hunting alone, quickly catching a rabbit and politely offering a last wish—only to have the rabbit break his promise to stay put. Humorous text blends with a rich palette in this cockeyed tale of politeness gone awry, with a twist ending to boot.
Woodpecker Wants a Waffle. By Steve Breen. Illus. by the author. Harper, $17.99 (9780062342577). PreS–Gr. 3.
Benny the woodpecker wants waffles. Like, really wants waffles. The rest of the forest animals mock him, but Benny says he’s got a plan, and it’s not at all what the animals—or the readers—expect. Farcical, clever, and quite appetizing.
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