¡Mira, Look!: Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

¡Buenos días! Today’s book fits perfectly with both National Poetry Month and Earth Day. Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad, written by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal and translated by Adriana Domínguez, is a picture book biography  of the Cuban hero José Martí (1853-1985). It was published in 2017 by Lee & Low Press. Each page provides the text in English and Spanish, with Otheguy interspersing Martí’s own words alongside her narration of his life.

This book would be a wonderful contribution to children’s literature at any point, but it stands out in the present era as a timely resource for encouraging young readers to see injustice and seek change in the world around them. For a snapshot into why his life might inspire readers today, long after his death, the publisher’s description offers a useful biographical sketch:

As a young boy, Jose Martí traveled to the countryside of Cuba and fell in love with the natural beauty of the land. During this trip he also witnessed the cruelties of slavery on sugar plantations. From that moment, Martí began to fight for the abolishment of slavery and for Cuban independence from Spain through his writing. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and was forced to leave hisbeloved island. Martí traveled the world and eventually settled in New York City. But the longer he stayed away from his homeland, the sicker and weaker he became. On doctor’s orders he traveled to the Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for freedom. Here is a beautiful tribute to Jose Martí, written in verse with excerpts from his seminal work, Versos sencillos. He will always be remembered as a courageous fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.

Martí was a philosopher, poet, traveler, and, yes, “fighter for freedom and peace among all men and women.” His life is complicated and not easily conveyed to even adult readers, yet Otheguy, who is a scholar of Spain and colonial Latin America, has managed to do just that. In School Library Journal’s starred review, they acknowledged that she offers a “sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figure.”

Writing a children’s book is never easy. Writing a children’s book about a complex historical period and renowned figure is harder yet. Somehow, Otheguy does it. She manages to weave simple descriptions of Martí’s experiences into and alongside references to the broader history, politics, and cultural moments that shaped his philosophy. An epilogue at the end provides even more information about his life. This attention to detail is itself enough for the book to merit a prime bookshelf spot, but Otheguy does more than just situate him in history. Her carefully chosen verses also allow students to see the person behind the figure, and particularly his love of the naturalworld. With Earth Day upon us, it’s timely to read how she explores how the natural world influenced his philosophy.

This attention to the natural world is particularly evident inOtheguy’s descriptions of Martí’s time in the United States. During Martí’s exile to New York, he soon came to realize that the American’s fixation withmoney created a sense of indifference and apathy which he could not tolerate. In order to escape the city and its materiality, Martí would go tothe Catskill Mountains, where he would walk and write.Otheguy describes the Catskill Mountains as Martí’s way of dwelling in Cuba fromafar – the pine trees of rural New York forests paralleling Cuba’s palm trees and beaches. A love of homeland becomes a literal love for the land, leading to the notion that it was his time in the New York countryside which recharged Martí and prompted him to return to Cuba to fight for his people.

Stanzas taken directly from Martís work, Versos sencillos, ring boldly from each page and reinforce the nuanced importance of the landscape. Here, for instance, with few words he somehow manages to speak at once to the natural beauty of the New York and Cuban landscapes and his estranged longing for home:

“Mi verso es de un verde claro

Y de un carmín encendido:

Mi verso es un ciervo herido

Que busca en el monte amparo.

 

My song is of the palest green

And the fieriest crimson:

My song is a wounded deer                                                          

That in the countryside, seeks safety.”

Vidal’s soft and colorful illustrations perfectly accompany the words of both Otheguy and Martí. Her depictions of the New York and Cuban countryside, of battlefields and urban spaces and of pain andcelebration are breathtaking and dynamic. As much as each individual image is striking, it is her choice of juxtaposition that lingers. Images of rolling hills are matched by horses charging into battle.

At the end of the book, the Acknowledgments section allows Otheguy to tell readers how she places herself in relation to Martí and of her family’s experience as Cuban Americans in New York. She writes:

“This book was inspired by my parents, who read me stories from La edad de oro and who embody every day the capacity to hold two homelands, two cultures, and two languages within oneself. When I was a child, they talked endlessly about their lives in Cuba, while staying ever-present in the very different lives my brother and sister and I  shared. I hope this book captures my love for the palm trees of my parents’ homeland and the oak trees of nuestro Nueva York; I hope this book also conveys what it means to me that Martí, too, knew, loved, and was inspired by these two places.” Young readers who come from families and households that share multiple languages, places, and people may well relate to both Martí’s and Otheguy’s lives.

Here are some resources for you to check out while working with this book in the classroom:

  • PBS has a short documentary about Mosé Martí
  • Here is a lesson plan for using two of Martí’s poems and one of his letters
  • Here you can hear Martí’s famous poem, Versos Sencillos, read aloud. Excerpts of this poem are found throughout Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad.
  • To help make connections between Martí and the present day, check out this informal piece from the Huffington Post on “What My Millenial Students Can Learn from José Martí
  • If you’d like to pair this title with other books on Cuba or other biographies, you might want to peruse Teaching for Change’s compiled Social Justice Books.

For those interested in the book itself, we suggest checking out:

I hope you enjoy this book as much as we do!

Saludos,

Kalyn


Images modified from Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Our Next Good Read. . .Lucky Broken Girl

Join us on Monday, September 11th at Tractor Brewing (1800 4th St NW) from Lucky Broken Girl | Vamos a Leer | Ruth Behar5:00-7:00 pm to discuss our next book.  We are reading Lucky Broken Girl (Grades 6 and up) by Ruth Behar.

Here’s a sneak peek into the book: (from Goodreads)

Based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.

Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

We hope to see you there!

We’ll also be raffling off a copy of October’s featured book, Reputations / Las reputaciones (Adult)Join us that evening to be entered!

 

Reading RoundUp: Diversifying Women’s History (Month) with Hispanic Stories


Hello, dear readers!

It’s not often that I get the chance to contribute TWICE to the blog in one week, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chime in on the conversation about diversifying Women’s History Month. I’ve been humming to myself over here in the office as I’ve been digging into children’s and young adult literature focused on women’s history – and Hispanic women’s contributions to history, in particular. While there are beautiful books by and about women peppered throughout the blog and in our previous Reading RoundUp posts, for this month I had the pleasure of finding and compiling books based on real life heroines. These are books that highlight the groundbreaking, earth-shattering contributions and hard work of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana and indigenous women in the United States, Cuba, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Chile. Sometimes their work was an act of personal triumph; at other times, it revolutionized society.  Their achievements break barriers in music, labor rights, school segregation, literature, and art.  Across the spectrum, their stories are absolutely worthwhile.

As a caveat, I should add that I haven’t personally read all of the books on this list — like The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood — but they’re stellar publications if others’ reviews are anything to go by.  If you should add them to your bookshelf, please let us know what you think. They’re certainly on our TBR list now.

Side note: The descriptions provided below are all reprinted from the publishers’ information.

Without further ado, here are 15 children’s and YA books that we hope will expand your classroom and home discussions about Women’s History Month!

En solidaridad,
Keira

p.s. Remember that Teaching for Change is offering a discount in their TFC non-profit, indie bookstore in honor of Women’s History Month. Just use the code Women2017 at checkout!

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Sobre Marzo: Más Resources for Teaching About Latinx and Latin American Women

Vamos a Leer | Más Resources for Teaching about Latinx and Latin American Women

Hola a tod@s!

This month we’re joining many around the country in celebrating Women’s History Month. Of course, we hope that the discussion of womyn (past, present, and future) can be constant and valued within the standard curriculum that’s used all year long, but we don’t deny that Women’s History Month provides a timely opportunity to hone in and heighten that effort. More than just acknowledging women, though, we want to draw attention to the diversity of women whose struggles and experiences have led us to the present day. Unfortunately, information that goes beyond the White (largely middle class and US-focused) experience is scarce. It’s rather hard to identify, let alone come by, resources that  shine a light on the breadth and depth of women’s experiences.

While they get some props for trying, even the Smithsonian Education division only goes so far toward remedying the lack of materials. On their Women’s History Teaching Resources site, for instance, they offer materials that focus on African American Women Artists and Native American Women Artists, but make no mention of Hispanic/Latina/Chicana women!  In all honesty, though, the portal was just recently launched and we can only hope that the content is still a work in progress.

On a more positive note, organizations such as Teaching for Change are making significant strides toward diversifying the conversation. Starting March 1st, they’re daily highlighting diverse books featuring women’s accomplishments every day AND offering a 20% discount on book purchases from their non-profit, indie bookstore (code Women2017). Check out their page on “Women’s History Month: A Book Every Day” for the details.

And courtesy of Colours of Us,  blog dedicated to multicultural children’s books, we’ve been enjoying “26 Multicultural Picture Books About Inspiring Women and Girls” and “32 Multicultural Picture Books about Strong Female Role Models

For our part, we’re going to bring you suggestions for worthwhile children’s and YA literature over the next few weeks, all with the goal of highlighting women’s accomplishments. Stay tuned for our blogging team’s thoughts and contributions! If you’re hard at work diversifying the conversation in your classroom, please share your experiences with us — we’d love to hear what you’re doing to change the world!

En solidaridad,
Keira

¡Mira Look!: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Image result for martina the beautiful cockroachSaludos todos! This week we are concluding our monthly theme of love with Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, an adaptation of an old Cuban folktale, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Michael Austin. This book won recognition as a Pura Belpré Honor Book. According to the introduction of the book, this folktale is one of the best known in Latin America, but versions of this classic tale also exist in other regions of the world. Nonetheless, Deedy takes this traditional tale, and its familiar themes, and intertwines it with her own creative twists and childhood memories. This in itself is one of the beautiful things about traditional folktales—their themes and plots have become so familiar to most people that they can be retold and adapted across countries, cultures and individual experiences to reflect both common sentiments of society, and the particular lives of individuals. Martina the Beautiful Cockroach deals primarily with themes of romantic love, but also of familial love, as young Martina relies on the advice of her wise abuela in choosing a future spouse. This charming story conveys themes of respect, compatibility, and family love, and is bound to make any reader smile as they follow the journey of Martina the beautiful cockroach.

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An Américas Award Interview: Margarita Engle

Saludos! We’re excited to start the new year by bringing you a second Américas Award interview, this time speaking with Margarita Engle. We’re delighted to have the chance to talk with Margarita about her work and the importance of Latino/Latin American children’s and YA literature. We hope you enjoy, and keep an eye out for her 2017 releases (including All the Way to Havana, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, and The Flying Girl: How the First Woman Pilot Learned to Soar).

~Hania


vamos-a-leer-interview-margarita-engle-finalMargarita Engle is an acclaimed children’s book author of many award-winning books written in verse. Before embarking on her journey as a poet and novelist, she pursued studies in botany and agronomy – a background that influences many of h­er works to be rich with descriptions of natural resources and an emphasis on ecological preservation and appreciation.

Among her many accolades, Engle has been recognized several times over by the Américas Award. In 2016 alone, her memoir, Enchanted Air, and children’s book, Drum Dream Girl, were Commended Titles. In 2015, her historical novel, Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, was an award winner. In earlier years, the A­méric­­as Award has recognized in similar form the exceptional contributions that Engle makes to Latin American and Latino children’s and YA literature.

Here, the author converses with Hania Mariën of the Vamos a Leer blog as she poses questions about the Engle’s ties to Cuba and how her background has influenced her work. For more about Engle’s work, including publications and supporting educational resources, visit http://www.margaritaengle.com/. This interview is also available as a PDF.

Lastly, if you’re piqued by Margarita’s answers here, you may enjoy hearing/reading other interviews with her:

“Finding the Poetry in History: A Lecture” (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Discussion with Margarita Engle (video) – VOCA: The University of Arizona Poetry Center
Interview with Margarita Engle (written) – Yarn: Young Adult Review Network
Interview with Margarita Engle: One Voice, Two Voices (written) – BookPage
Neighboring Nations | Margarita Engle on Her Work, Cuba, and the History that Binds Us (written) – School Library Journal

DECEMBER 5, 2016

HANIA MARIËN: You’ve mentioned that many of your stories (including The Wild Book) wildbookwere inspired by your grandmother. Do you think her voice comes out in your writing? How might teachers use your books as springboards to encourage students to explore their family histories through writing?

MARGARITA ENGLE: The Wild Book was inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood, and Enchanted Air is my own childhood memoir, but most of my verse novels are based on first person accounts written by historical figures such as Juan Francisco Manzano (The Poet Slave of Cuba), Fredrika Bremer (The Firefly Letters), Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (The Lightning Dreamer), and Antonio Chuffat (Lion Island).  I do think teachers can use The Wild Book and Enchanted Air to encourage students to interview older family members.  Perhaps the best way to do this is to call it time travel.  My memoir and all my historical novels are written in present tense specifically for the purpose of bringing the past back to life.

HANIA MARIËN: In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you gradually combined your love for the outdoors with writing. How did you learn that writing and the sciences were not mutually exclusive? How can teachers encourage students to bridge their passions with writing?

silverMARGARITA ENGLE: As a botanist and agronomist, it always feels natural for me to include plants and animals in my verse novels about people.  In certain books, such as The Surrender Tree and Silver People, wilderness actually feels like a character in the plot.  I’m enthusiastic about STEAM education, so I would encourage teachers to take their students outdoors for little walks, or to show them videos of natural habitats, and let them wonder how it feels to be a tree or a bird.

HANIA MARIËN: Mountain Dog was inspired by your husband’s volunteer work in the Sierra Nevada forests. Summer Birds focused on one of the earliest female scientists and explorers and was selected for Scholastic Knowledge Quest. Most recently you’ve written about the lesser known ornithologist Louise Fuerte in Sky Painter. What role do you believe (historical and/or fictional) narratives play in science education? Do you think (historical and/or fictional) narratives can play a role in all curricular subjects?skypainter.jpg

MARGARITA ENGLE: I love to write picture book biographies about great scientists who have been forgotten by history.  Several are included in Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics, which will be published by Holt in March, and is beautifully illustrated by Rafael López.  I think history text books have a tendency to check off categories such as ‘bird artist,’ leaving room for no one but Audubon. On the other hand, children are smart enough to know that the world needs more than one bird artist. Fuertes pioneered the painting of living birds in flight, ending the tradition of killing and posing birds. That is an accomplishment children respect and admire. I do think historical narratives can play a role in any area of study.  For instance, can you name a Latino Nobel prize-winning medical researcher, or the wildlife biologist who established our National Park conservation policies?  The first is Venezuelan-American, Baruj Benacerraf, and the second is Salvadoran-American, George Meléndez Wright, both included in Bravo!  These are inspirational figures who can serve as role models for children.  Women are even more likely to be omitted from history books.  In Bravo!, I’ve included Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, New Mexico’s pioneering nutritionist, and Ynés Mexía, a Mexican-American plant explorer.

HANIA MARIËN: As a writer you’ve said you were influenced by several Latin American “magic realistic” poets including Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Martí and Rubén Darío. Can you share a bit about why those particular writers were so influential or inspiring?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Whenever I’m asked about poets, I just start listing names, because there are so many. Martí and Darío actually precede magic realism, and I also love Dulce María Loynaz from Cuba, and some of the twentieth century poets from Spain, such as Antonio Machado and Jorge Guillén.  I find each of these writers to be inspiring on a particular day, in a certain mood, when I absolutely need to read a verse about freedom, or flying horses, or walking beside a river.  One of my favorite contemporary English-language poets is Mary Oliver, because I find her odes to nature so comforting.

HANIA MARIËN: Freedom is a recurring theme in your books. In an interview with Colorín Colorado you mention that you wrote several of your longer books with a “transitional age in mind” – when readers begin to seek “mature topics, such as freedom and justice.” What make “freedom” and “justice” “mature” topics? At what age do you believe kids can (or should) be exposed to thinking about these ideas? How can books (yours or others) enrich these conversations in the classroom?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Freedom and justice are accessible to very young children primarily in the form of a personal story, such as my picture book, Drum Dream Girl.  Older children and teens are able to grasp broader, more general aspects that cover longer periods of time.  When I say “mature,” I’m not just referring to images of violence from history, but to concepts of time.  Very young preschool children don’t understand centuries, because they haven’t even grasped the difference between yesterday and tomorrow.

HANIA MARIËN: The latest election cycle has generated discussions and debates about the boundaries of freedom of speech. How can educators engage students in discussions that support such freedoms but also respect the outcomes of freedom of expression?

MARGARITA ENGLE: This is a heartbreaking dilemma.  I think we are in a moment of history when it would be unfair to ask Latino and Muslim children to utilize their freedom of expression without caution, because they have been directly threatened by a screaming man on the television screen, a man who is now extremely powerful.  In a memoir unit, facts revealed about families could place them on lists for deportation or internment.  Tragically, it’s very likely that hostile classmates will be encouraged to report certain groups to their parents.  This is a time for teaching poetic devices, showing children how to use metaphors, so that emotions can be expressed indirectly, without placing oneself in danger.  It’s the way poets survive in repressive regimes.

HANIA MARIËN: There has been a lot of rhetoric recently around students feeling unsafe lionand/or uncertain about their futures in and out of the classroom. You say one thing you have noticed about people who are doing amazing things in history is that they “made hopeful choices in situations that seemed hopeless.” What “hopeful” choices can youth and educators make to create supportive communities and classrooms that affirm and validate student experiences?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I think educators can use history to show how people found hope.  There are so many examples of nonviolent heroes who used words to change the world.  Even though history’s mistakes keep getting repeated, history’s freedom advocates always respond.

HANIA MARIËN: Recent events, including the U.S. presidential election and the death of Fidel Castro, present a renewed necessity for understanding the relations between Cuba and the United States. If you were a parent or teacher interested in broaching this topic with youth, how might you structure that conversation? Where would you start?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Cuba has been marginalized by the U.S. for so long that it’s necessary to show a map, even when speaking to adults. The map makes it clear that this is one of our closest neighbors, and that neighbors can be friends.  I’m always saddened when children ask me, “What is Cuba?” instead of, “Where is Cuba?” That means they haven’t studied their close neighbor in class.  Recently I met a high school U.S. History teacher who actually thought that Cuba was still a protectorate of the U.S., like Puerto Rico.  That means she was taught incorrectly.  Ignorance is passed from generation to generation.

HANIA MARIËN: When seeking a perspective on Cuban culture that’s suitable for classroom use, we often turn to your work and that of Alma Flor Ada. Are there other authors or resources that you would recommend?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you! That makes me very happy.  Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me is a wonderful picture book about the Cuban-American experience that could be used for any immigration unit.

poems

HANIA MARIËN: We want to draw attention to some of your books and hear what’s on the horizon for you. My colleague, Keira Philipp, returned from her trip to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) raving about your new book, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics  having seen an advance copy (we also learned that it will have a starred review from the School Library Journal!). Keira also heard about your forthcoming book, All the Way to Havana. Can you speak a bit about these projects, their inspirations and where you’re headed from here?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I’m so grateful for her interest!  Since I already mentioned Bravo! above, I’ll focus on All the Way to Havana, beautifully illustrated by Mike Curato.  This is one of the most unusual author-illustrator relationships, because he went to Havana, stayed with my cousins for a week, rented an old car, and rode all the way to Trinidad, in order to make sure his art would be authentic.  It’s a story about a boy and his family driving from the countryside to the city, fixing their car along the way.  It’s a tribute to poor people everywhere, who keep their possessions working because they can’t afford to buy new ones. In addition, I have Miguel’s Brave Knight, a picture book about Miguel de Cervantes, coming out from Peachtree in August, 2017, with absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Raúl Colón.  I wrote it in honor of the power of imagination to offer hope in times of trouble.

I’m a bit embarrassed about the way things have worked out, with three beautiful picture books in the same year.  I wrote them at different times, but somehow they’ve converged.  I hope librarians and educators will order all of them, instead of choosing just one, because they’re for different age groups, about very different subjects. In October, 2017, Atheneum will publish Forest World, an adventurous middle grade novel set in contemporary Cuba, with a strong environmental theme.  It’s a family reunion story, with siblings meeting for the first time, after one parent has lived in Miami, and one in rural Cuba.

surrender-tree-bilingualHANIA MARIËN: For some time now, The Surrender Tree/El árbol de la rendición was your only work available in a bilingual edition. Recently, we’ve been ecstatic to hear about the Spanish language editions coming out, from Enchanted Air to Drum Dream Girl.  Can you speak a little about how this shift has come about and what prompted it?

MARGARITA ENGLE: Thank you!  The publishing world seems willing to experiment at this moment in time, but this has happened before, and it won’t last unless people buy the books—not just mine, but bilingual books and Spanish editions in general.  The brilliant translation of Enchanted Air, by Alexis Romay, will come out in August.  Bravo! will have a Spanish edition.  A middle grade historical fantasy called Morning Star Horse/El caballo Lucero (also translated by Alexis Romay) will be released next month by HBE Publishing, an innovative new small press which is actually making a choice of three separate editions available—English, Spanish, or bilingual.  I feel blessed!

HANIA MARIËN: Lastly, drawing upon your dedication to preserving and promoting Latino/a culture, Cuban and beyond, is there any advice or inspiration you can offer to the teachers reading this interview who may have young Latino/a students in their classrooms?

MARGARITA ENGLE: I hope teachers can help all students enjoy reading about a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences.  I hope they can help children feel curious about the whole world.

 


Book images reprinted from Margarita Engles’ website.

Author image of Margarita Engle adapted from photograph by Cybele Knowles, 2014, courtesy of The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Photography copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

 

 

 

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10 Children’s and YA Books about Sung & Unsung Latin@ Heroes

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Hello all!

In case you missed Keira’s Sobre Enero post, this month’s theme honors the many individuals, real or imagined, who populate the rich landscape of Latin@ literature for children and young adults.  This month’s Reading Roundup brings together a few of these heroes, both sung and unsung, whose actions inspired positive change.  While it is a monumental task to choose just a few of the many wonderful books that are out there, I’ve narrowed down the list to books that will encourage our students and children to honor their own truths. I also hope that these books will help expand the literary canon beyond those heroes whose stories are taught repeatedly. The books below encompass a diverse panorama of experiences, accomplishments, and outcomes.  To name a few, these remarkable figures displayed their passion through art, literature, activism, and even by simply passing on their knowledge to new generations.   May you enjoy these works as much as I enjoyed finding them!

Happy New Year!

Abrazos,
Colleen

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