10 Children’s and YA Books Celebrating Latinx Poetry and Verse

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Hello all –

I am thrilled to be celebrating National Poetry Month with you!  As with many of you, poetry holds a dear place in my heart.  As a young person, I recall writing poem after poem and finding such liberation in exploring my voice, playing with syntax and line breaks, and testing out vocabulary that had yet to find a place in my daily life.  Poetry allowed for a freedom and creativity that was unmatched in other mediums.  And because of this, I believe that writing poetry enables us to develop our own voice, author our own truths, and honor our own experiences; all of which play an integral part in a young person’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Needless to say, there is absolutely room for poetry in both formal and informal settings.  I was introduced to poetry in the classroom and not long after, I carried it with me into my home.  For this, I am entirely grateful to those teachers.  For those of you who are not sure how to introduce poetry into your classroom or simply would like new ideas, please check out the Academy of American Poets website.  You will find a wealth of resources, including: information about National Poetry Month, ideas for how to celebrate, as well as easily searchable lessons plans for elementary through high school aged students.  I also invite you to check out the work that Vamos a Leer has done around poetry.  For starters, you can find an excellent resource that Katrina has compiled in her En la Clase post titled, Rhythm and Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice.  Additionally, this month’s Reading Roundup will highlight several previous Vamos a Leer posts which both focus on poetry and provide information about authors, activity ideas, and other relevant content.  Here’s to making this month an extra special one for your students and/or children!

Happy reading and writing everyone!

Colleen

Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera
Written by Francisco X. Alarcón
Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Published by Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 978-0892391998
Age level: Ages 6-11

Description (from Good Reads):

Tomatoes laugh, chiles explode, and tortillas applaud the sun! With joy and tenderness, delight and sadness, Alarcón’s poems honor the wonders of life and nature: welcoming the morning sun, remembering his grandmother’s songs, paying tribute to children working in the fields, and sharing his dream of a world filled with gardens. Artist Maya Christina Gonzalez invites us to experience the poems with her lively cast of characters–including a spirited grandma, four vivacious children, and playful pets who tease and delight. Follow them from page to page as they bring each poem to colorful life. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems is a verbal and visual treat, giving us twenty opportunities to see everything for the first time.

My thoughts:

This is not the first time that Alarcón’s Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera has been featured on the Vamos blog.  In 2015, Lorraine wrote an excellent ¡Mira Look! post that offers a well-rounded overview of the book as well as thoughtful resources for the classroom!  Here, I would like to say that I am happy to re-feature this award-winning, bilingual work.  Not only are the themes of family and nature always in season, this is an excellent way to introduce poetry to young readers.  Happy (re)reading!

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Written by Rosanne Thong
Illustrated by John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
ISBN: 9781452106168
Age level: Ages 3-5

Description (from Good Reads):

Round are tortillas and tacos, too Round is a bowl of abuela’s stew. In this lively picture book, children discover a world of shapes all around them: Rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, but all are universal in appeal. With rich, boisterous illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!

My thoughts:

Although Thong’s Round is a Tortilla does not fall within the “traditional” likeliness of a poetry book –its lyrical nature and playful use of words makes for a perfect fit to this month’s theme.  As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, the book “really inspire[s] the reader to be fully aware of all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around them;” skills that are essential for any developing poet.  Additionally, within Katrina’s post you will find some excellent ways to link this (and Thong’s other highly recommended book, Green is a Pepper) to poetry.  For an overview of both Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Pepper, head on over to Lorraine’s review!

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Lucía Ángela Pérez
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-0888996268
Age level:  Ages 5-8

Description (from Good Reads):

Tetl’s skin is brown, his eyes are black, and his hair is long. He’s different from the other children, whose taunts wound him deeply, leaving him confused and afraid. But Tetl’s grandmother knows the ancient teachings of their Aztec ancestors, and how they viewed the earth as alive with sacred meaning. With her help, he learns to listen to the mountains, wind, corn, and stones. Tetl’s journey from self-doubt to proud acceptance of his Nahuatl heritage is told in a series of powerful poems, beautifully expressed in both English and Spanish. Vivid illustrations celebrate nature’s redemptive powers, offering a perfect complement to the poignant story.

My thoughts:

I am always a fan of Argueta’s work and Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra is no exception.  This masterfully written and colorfully illustrated bilingual book of poetry focuses on self-love and nature.  What I find to be particularly valuable about this book, however, is that it challenges dominant ideas of what is considered acceptable and ‘the norm.’  This books invites us to look within ourselves to discover who we are and love ourselves not despite this, but because of this!  This book is also a great way to explore the theme of (de)colonization.  For more ideas on how to incorporate this theme and get a general sense of the book, please see Lorraine’s ¡Mira Look! post.

Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
Written by Jorge Argueta
Illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
Published by Groundwood Books
ISBN: 978-1554988495
Age level: Ages 7-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.

This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.

Compelling, timely and eloquent, this book is beautifully illustrated by master artist Alfonso Ruano who also illustrated The Composition, considered one of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids by Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine.

My thoughts:

As mentioned above, I am a fan of Argueta!  In a time when migration and borders are the forefront of everyone’s minds, this book feels particularly salient.  Undoubtedly, it challenges much of the political rhetoric around those who make their way into the US by humanizing and articulating the realities of why people immigrate.  The verses are simple, yet extraordinarily powerful.  Additionally, Alfonso Ruano’s artwork is simply captivating.  For a more in depth review of Somos como los nubes/We Are Like the Clouds, head on over to the Kirkus Review.

Poesía eres tú
Written by F. Isabel Campoy
Illustrated by Marcela Calderón
Published by Santillana USA
ISBN: 978-1631139642
Age level: Ages 7-10

Description (from Amazon):

For decades, F. Isabel Campoy has been delighting us with her poetry in various publications. Here, we can enjoy all of it. An endless party!

My thoughts:

I am sure that many Vamos readers are familiar with the award winning author and educator, F. Isabel Campoy.   Being fairly new to the field of children’s literature, I am just beginning to familiarize myself with her work – and I am delighted to be doing so!  Campoy’s Spanish language poetry anthology, Poesía eres tú, is diverse in themes; playful in sound, cadence, and rhythm; and rich in colorful art!  You can find a sampling of some of the poems at the publisher’s, Santillana USA, website.  I also encourage you to explore Campoy’s website, where you will find a wealth of books that she has both written and co-written (with Alma Flor Ada, below) in English, Spanish, and both!

Todo es una canción
Written by Alma Flor Ada
Illustrated by Maria Jesus Alvarez
Published by Alfaguara Infantil
ISBN: 978-1616051730
Age level:  Ages 7 and up

Description (from Santillana USA):

This delightful book gathers a selection of the most notable poems written by Alma Flor Ada—Latina writer, teacher, and passionate advocate for bilingual and bicultural education in the U.S. Organized by curriculum themes, this anthology is a fundamental tool for teachers who rely on imagination, play, and creativity to expand concepts and to enrich students’ vocabulary. Some of the themes included in the anthology are the parts of the body, numbers, vowels, family, animals, the city and the countryside, food, nature, bilingualism, and much more.

My thoughts:

Similar to F. Isabel Campoy, I am just beginning to discover the prolific writings of author, poet, and educator Alma Flor Ada.  Todo es una canción, an anthology of Ada’s poems, has been a great way to get acquainted!  The Spanish language book offers educators a variety of themes to work with in the classroom and young readers a wealth of ideas for writing their own poems.  And in case you are in need of additional education resources (who isn’t?) please head over to her website and explore videos, activity pages, and learn about the other books she has authored, or co-authored (with F. Isabel Campoy)!

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States
Edited by Lori Marie Carlson with Introduction by Oscar Hijuelos
Published by Square Fish
ISBN: 978-1250016782
Age level: Ages 8-12

 Description (from Good Reads):

Here are the sights, sounds, and smells of Latino culture in America in thirty-six vibrant, moving, angry, beautiful and varied voices, including Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Luis J. Rodríguez, Gary Soto, and Martín Espada.

Presented in both English and Spanish, each poem helps us to discover the stories behind the mangoes and memories, prejudice and fear, love and life–how it was and is to grow up Hispanic in America….

My thoughts:

For exploring poetry with older readers, educators will find Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States to be an invaluable collection.  This bilingual book of poetry brings together diverse voices from the Latin@ community with writings that invite adolescent and older readers to think about their own stories of growing up.  Overall, I really enjoyed the poetry within this book.  I do, however, think this book may be more appropriate for 12 and up, as some of the poems are more mature in content – despite the indicated age level of 8-12.  What are your thoughts?

CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse
Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Published by University of New Mexico Press
ISBN: 978-0826321145
Age level: Grades 9-12

Description (from Good Reads):

In this novel in verse–unprecedented in Chicano literature–renowned poet Juan Felipe Herrera illuminates the soul of a generation. Drawn from his own life as well as a lifetime of dedication to young people, CrashBoomLove helps readers understand what it is to be a teen, a migrant worker, and a boy wanting to be a boy.

Sixteen-year-old Cesar Garcia is careening. His father, Papi Cesar, has left the migrant circuit in California for his other wife and children in Denver. Sweet Mama Lucy tries to provide for her son with dichos and tales of her own misspent youth. But at Rambling West High School in Fowlerville, the sides are drawn: Hmongs vs. Chicanos vs. everybody vs. Cesar, the new kid on the block.

Precise and profound, CrashBoomLove will appeal to and resonate with high school readers across the country.

A California farmworker kid’s season in hell, told through fast-verse lines that careen to the beat of a fiery heart.

My thoughts:

As Katrina writes in her En la Clase post, novel in verse is an excellent way to introduce young people to poetry.  Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse, is a great option.  The narrative, featuring a male protagonist, offers a glimpse into the challenges of being a young person when there is a lot going on around you.  The themes – along with the element of grittiness – are certainly something that my younger self would have appreciated reading about.  Additionally, it is novels (in-verse) such as these that can further encourage young people to reflect on their own stories, their own experience, and their own surroundings; prompting their creative ability to think of their lives in poetic terms.  Consider including this one on shelves if it’s not already!

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics
Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael López
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805098761
Age level: Ages 8-12

Description (from Good Reads):

Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot—the Latinos featured in this collection come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!

Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia, Tomás Rivera

My thoughts:

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics, written by Margarita Engle is a unique look into the lives of influential and inspiring Latin@s.   Like many of the books on this list, Bravo! can serve multiple purposes.  Not only does it introduce poetry, it also teaches about people that are often overlooked in our school text books.  I certainly learned about several people that I did not know about, including botanist, Ynés Mexía, from Mexico and arms dealer, Juan de Miralles, from Cuba.  Rafael López’s artwork is also stunning!

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books
ISBN: 978-1600604294
Age level: Ages 14-17

Description (from Good Reads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience.

My thoughts:

Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, has been highlighted several times on the Vamos blog throughout the years.  With good reason, too!  Winner of the Pura Belpré Award, this novel in verse is a riveting read and great way to introduce and encourage poetry with high school aged readers.  Here, I would like to turn to Katrina’s thoughts on the book from 2013, because they are just as applicable and meaningful today:

Under the Mesquite is a beautiful book.  While it was a quick read, it lingered in my mind.  I found myself continuing to think about it days after I’d finished it.  It’s a book that is certainly worth a second (or even third) read.  The first time through I was engrossed in the story, only subconsciously aware of the beauty and simplicity of McCall’s verse. When I returned to the  novel later, I found myself incredibly moved by the imagery and sentiments conveyed through McCall’s words.  I think Lyn Miller-Lachmann describes it best in her own review: “. . .one of the most achingly beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time. It is a story from the heart, not written to fit into a marketing category but to remember, to honor, and to bear witness.”

¡Mira Look!: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

portraitsSaludos todos! Our book for this week is Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, written by Juan Felipe Herrera and illustrated by Raúl Colón (the same illustrator from last week’s book, Tomás and the Library Lady). Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes won the Pura Belpré Honor Book award for narrative in 2015, and perfectly embodies this month’s endeavor of honoring exceptional Latinos in children’s literature, as well as in society as a whole.

Each chapter of this wonderful compilation of portraits narrates the life and work of a Latinx hero, ranging from iconic activists such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, to trail-blazing intellectuals such as Sonia Sotomayor and Tomás Rivera, to some of my own personal idols, such as contemporary singer Joan Baez and 1920s author Julia de Burgos.

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En la Clase: Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro

Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe HerreraAs more and more people begin to talk about the need for diversity in our classroom curricula and literature, we must remember that diversity can’t exist just for diversity’s sake.  Conversations in our classrooms around diversity can intentionally or unintentionally lead to the perpetuation of stereotypes and labels.  As Colleen pointed out in last week’s post identity is complex.  She asks an important question: How does one meaningfully capture the range of cultural practices, traditions, languages, religions, geography, race, and ethnicity – just to name a few – of those who identify as Latinx?  While we want to teach about the multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and races that make up our classroom, our nation, and our world, we also want to make sure that we are providing the space for our students to express and identity both their cultural background and their own uniqueness.

One way to accomplish this is to build a strong classroom community.  It won’t happen overnight, but in the long run it’s always worth the time and effort.  Lee and Low Books just shared a free unit on “Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten.”  Based on eight different read-aloud books, the lessons provide in-depth literacy engagement while also encouraging students to connect through sharing about themselves and learning about others.  The lessons can be easily adapted for older children as well.

The LAII also has a curriculum unit on “Educating Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.”  These lessons focus on teaching younger students about race, culture, difference, acceptance, and respect, all things that can contribute to a stronger classroom community.

The literature we use in our classrooms is such an important tool for ensuring that we provide portrayals of identity that show how complex it really is.  Keira mentioned in her Sobre Septiembre post that as we highlight Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re also looking to diversify and expand beyond the stereotypical or superficial conversations that can be associated with any heritage month.

With this in mind, in today’s En la Clase, I’m sharing some ideas on how to use the Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe Herrerachildren’s book Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro with your students.  This bilingual book was written by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2015-2016 US Poet Laureate, and illustrated by Honorio Robledo Tapia.  It was published a number of years ago, but I just came across it a few weeks ago.  In case it’s new to you as well, here’s a short description:

“What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that’s what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status. Honorio Robledo Tapia has created brilliant images and landscapes that will delight all children.”

Not only is it a book that I think students will really enjoy, but it provides a number of opportunities for discussing themes relevant to identity and community.  When we talk about the purpose of diverse literature, we highlight the ways in which literature is like a door, a window, or a mirror.  It can allow students to see a world different than their own, provide them some way to experience it, and/or act as a mirror in which they see their own reflection.  Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro can provide all of this.  For students who have experienced what it’s like to have families separated by borders and immigration, the book will speak to all of the emotions they’ve felt as they’ve worried about far-away family members.  For those who’ve never experienced this, the book allows them to begin to think about what this may be like, providing the means to understand a different point of view and practice the skill of empathy.

Super Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe HerreraAll of this is done through the story of a young girl who becomes her own superhero.  Comic books have been critiqued for their largely white, male protagonists, but in this one, our superhero is a young Mexican American girl whose superpower comes from a plant indigenous to Mexico.  This undoes so many stereotypes, and it’s essential that these aspects of the book be discussed with students.

Too often literature portrays children as if they have no agency or power.  Herrera’s Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro reinforces the idea of student agency and empowerment, and shows how Esmeralda creates something beautiful with her power when she transforms the border.

While the book can obviously be used in a unit exploring immigration or the U.S-Mexico border, I think it’s also a perfect book for exploring identity and diversity. . .and what student doesn’t want to turn themselves into a superhero?

After reading and discussing the book, ask students to think about the kind of superhero they would want to be.  Esmeralda’s transformation is triggered by her mother’s situation.  Encourage students to think about an issue or situation they wish they had a superpower to fix.  In many superhero stories, the superpower comes from a scientific lab or something otherworldly, but Esmeralda’s comes from an everyday plant.  What commonplace item from their own lives could give them a superpower?  Give students time to brainstorm and discuss their ideas with a partner, small group, or the whole class.  Then, have each student create an illustration of himself or herself as a superherSuper Cilantro Girl | Juan Felipe Herrerao.  This could even be a fun twist on the self-portraits we often have students do at the beginning of the year for Open House displays.  Once they’ve created their visual representation, ask them to write their own superhero story based on the theme or problem they brainstormed earlier.  If time allows, students can create their own comic book or graphic novel.

If you get the chance to do this with your students, I would LOVE to see their superheroes! I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what could be done with this book.  If you’ve read the book or used it in your classroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts (and so would our other teacher readers).  Just leave a comment down below.

For other suggestions on great children’s literature that explores identity, check out Colleen’s Reading Roundup of 10 Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives and Alice’s İMira, Look! posts highlighting Pura Belpré winners.

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Reading RoundUp: 10 Children’s and YA Books with Diverse Latinx Perspectives

 

Vamos a Leer¡Buenos días a todos y todas!

As mentioned in Keira’s Sobre Septiembre post, this month’s Reading Roundup is related to the theme of Hispanic Heritage Month. To guide the direction of this month’s book list, I decided that it was imperative for me to determine what I believe Hispanx/Latinx heritage to be. Initially the task seemed easy enough, as I have certainly carved out an understanding of how I define my own Chicana/Latina heritage. Yet, as I attempted to make connections on a grand scale, I found myself unable. I felt as though I were distilling the vibrancy of an entire collective of people down to a single ingredient, a generalization, and a superficiality.

How does one meaningfully capture the range of cultural practices, traditions, languages, religions, geography, race, and ethnicity – just to name a few – of those who identify as Latinx? How could I be so bold to answer for others the deeply personal question of how they define their heritage? I am only able to define my own.

After much thought, I decided that the best way to view the tapestry of “Hispanx/Latinx heritage” was to hang it up, step back, and explore each pictorial design individually. For that reason, this month’s list will be focused on literature that possesses strong and individual narratives; where the author’s experiences, values, and diversity can seep through the text, allowing their unique Latinidad to be known.

Some of the narratives are rooted in reality, as in Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White. Others are teeming with imagination and the fantastical, as in The Jumbies. Others still may be representative of someone’s reality, somewhere, as in ¡Sí! Somos Latinos/Yes! We are Latinos, or even Niño Wrestles the World.

I invite you to explore and articulate how you define your own unique heritage, or ask your students about theirs. Is the way you define your heritage different from that of your family? Is there literature that represents you? What would be an important element of your heritage that you would want to share with others?

I hope that you enjoy these books as I did and that the diversity within the Latinx experience abounds from their pages!

Mis saludos,

Colleen

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En la Clase: Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month

I have to admit, novels-in-verse (also known as verse-novels) were an unknown genre to me until I started researching possible books for our Vamos a Leer book group.  There are quite a number of young adult books written with content or themes connected to Latin America or Latinos, so it was almost overwhelming.  Needing a place to start my search Crashboomlovefor the best books for our group, I began with past Américas Award winners and was surprised to see how many of those winners were novels-in-verse!  As skeptical as I was at first, I’ve since read a number of books from this genre, and loved them all.

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En la Clase: “Literature for Young Bilingual Readers”

Many of our recent posts have mentioned the conversations around the lack of literature by and about Latinos being used in our classrooms.  But, as many of you already know, and have shared with us, there also seems to be a lack of quality literature in Spanish–a problem that is related to many of the same issues connected to the lack of literature about Latinos being taught in schools. I recently came across an article that addressed this very topic in the winter issue of Rethinking Schools Magazine–“Literature for Young Bilingual Readers” by Grace Cornell Gonzales. Click here to access the article.

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