Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of all the latest children’s book news. There are a range of articles, interviews, resources and online events this week that I hope will entertain, inspire, help or comfort.

“Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”
― Mason Cooley

What I’m reading…

My bookshelves are crammed with so many books that I want to read and over the last few days I have been attempting to make inroads into the tottering heaps. Toto the Ninja Cat and the Mystery Jewel Thief is a winning mix of adventure and humour that will appeal to newly confident readers. It would also be great fun for parents and teachers to read aloud too. I’m reading Rocky of the Rovers by Tom Palmer at the moment and am reminded of my own interest in the game as a teenager and weekends revolving around footie with my two sons. However there are other important issues in this story that will give readers pause for thought.

The highlight of my reading week was the Audience with Alex Wheatle hosted by Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine on Thursday. The first in a new series this was a fabulous and inspiring event which I found interesting and hopeful too. I am very much looking forward to reading Cane Warriors now. I have included details of the second event this coming Thursday in the links below.

News, articles and resources…

Register for the 2021 Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme – this scheme is an excellent way to promote top quality books and encourage book chat in schools. You need to re-register each year to take part in online Shadowing activity and for a free Publicity Pack. Registration closes on 29th January 2021

High Quality Texts for Use in the Early Years Classroom – this helpful collaborative Padlet started by Adele Darlington @mrs_darl is full of excellent book suggestions sorted by themes including Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Literacy and Communication and Language.

Interview with Jason Reynolds, America’s Ambassador for Young People’s Literature – if you missed this interview in the Guardian last week, as I did, it is worth a read. “I’m looking forward to the day that I read a newspaper, and someone says: ‘I grew up reading Jason Reynolds and that’s why I knew I could do this.’ Then I’ll know, I’ve done my job.”

School Librarians Want Bigger Role In Information Literacy and Fighting Fake News – an excellent article by Elizabeth Hutchinson, Vice-Chair of the Great School Libraries working party. I am a firm believer in the power of school librarians and teachers collaborating to maximise impact and Elizabeth explains how to manage this effectively.

Q&A with Cathy Fisher, illustrator of The New Girl, Perfect and The Pond – this is a really lovely interview on the Family Bookworms blog in which Cathy discusses her illustration techniques, collaborations with Nicola Davies and life during the pandemic.

Lockdown Nativity Kit for Schools by Frank and Denise Cottrell-Boyce – This is an absolute delight and reading the scripts put a big smile on my face this week. Complete with instructions and handy hints on filming, costumes and editing, it’s the perfect resource for teachers this Christmas. Frank, who wrote best-selling book Millions, and his wife Denise, have developed two easy to memorise rhyming scripts for infant and junior school children. These can be filmed direct to camera and the clips assembled into a single play. It is free to download but please make a donation to the charity Mary’s Meals if you are able to.

CLPE’s What We’ll Build: Notes for our Together Future Teaching Notes for Primary Schools – Following on from their success with #CLPEWordsForTheWorld based on Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers, CLPE have partnered with HarperCollins again to create a free whole school unit for Oliver Jeffers’ new book What We’ll Build: Plans for our Together Future

Bone Talk: An interview with Candy Gourlay – this is an interesting interview with author Candy Gourlay on The Reading Realm website discussing her books, Bone Talk, Shine, and Is It A Mermaid?

In the Reading Corner: Nikki Gamble interviews Mary Roche – this is a thoughtful interview highlighting how picture books can be used to help give children a voice in the classroom. It’s a must listen for any children’s book lovers. Nikki and Mary discuss her research with children talking about picturebooks and the development of critical thinking.

Costa Book Awards Shortlists Announced – Launched in 1971, the Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most prestigious and popular book prizes and celebrates the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the UK and Ireland. The shortlist for the Children’s Book Award is made up of Wranglestone by Darren Charlton, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant, The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson and The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff.

Encouraging Reading for Pleasure While the World is in Fire – school librarian Lucas Maxwell has written about some of the ways he is trying to create a safe, welcoming place in the library during the pandemic in this article for Book Riot.

An Audience with Chris Van Allsburg – the second in this series of interviews with Nikki Gamble promises to be a real treat. Come and take part – ask your own questions or just enjoy the conversation. A single ticket for this festive event on Thursday 3rd December at 7pm is possible. With book and without book options are available.

Desert Island Discs with Helen Oxenbury – Helen has won the Kate Greenaway Medal twice and was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Book Trust in 2018. She attended the Ipswich School of Art and later the Central School of Art in London where she met fellow illustrator and her future husband, John Burningham. We can find out more on Sunday 29th November at 11.00am

Time Magazine: The 10 Best YA and Children’s Books of 2020 – ‘From a picture book following a young Black Muslim girl who learns to stand up for herself when her name is mispronounced to Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’sguide to dismantling racism, these books affirm the experiences of many young readers while bringing a new point of view to others.’ An interesting selection.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

Fascinating Fact Books – Inspirational People – as National Non-Fiction November draws to a close Jo Clarke reviews a number of books featuring inspirational people who have each in their own ways made their mark on history. All of them would be useful additions to school library shelves or would make interesting Christmas presents.

A Christmas in Time by Sally Nicholls – it is probably time to start perusing new Christmas titles and this sounds like a good one to start with. A time travel adventure, a magical mirror, a Victorian Christmas and ice-skating, it sounds irresistible! Read Emma Kuyateh’s review to find out more.

Tinsel: The Girls Who Invented Christmas by Sibeal Pounder – another Christmas read this time reviewed by Emma Perry at My Book Corner who says it “is warm, wintery festive treat populated with strong girls, friendship and adventures.” I do like the idea of reading a story about Mrs Claus for a change.

The Three Wishes by Alan Snow – any children’s book that is selected as a Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 should be a must have and this story of how Father Christmas works his magic sounds utterly beautiful.

Yet again there has been rather a lot of news and at this busy time of year you may not have time to read it all but I hope having these links together will be helpful for you to refer back to over the coming days. Happy reading.

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Toto the Ninja Cat and the Mystery Jewel Thief by Dermot O’Leary illustrated by Nick East

At the weekend I was involved in an online discussion about books suitable for children in Year 3, aged about 7 or 8, and as luck would have have it the next book on my reading list fitted the bill perfectly. Toto the Ninja Cat and the Mystery Jewel Thief, the fourth book in a series, but easily read as a stand alone, is an exciting adventure accessible to newly confident readers and great fun for teachers and parents to read aloud too.

During the day Toto appears to be an ordinary cat, snoozing contentedly alongside her brother Silver in the London townhouse in which they live with their owners. But as night falls things change. Under the cover of darkness Toto is a Ninja Cat, keeping the streets safe from dastardly villains and righting wrongs alongside Silver and her newly adopted brother Socks, in this latest adventure. Our story begins with Toto and her friends looking after the visiting French ambassador whose tour of London culminates at the Tower of London to see the animal world’s most famous jewels, the sacred diamond cat collar. But horror of horrors the collar is missing and Toto’s friends, Larry the Downing Street cat and Cyril the Chief Raven are accused of the crime! Assisted by old friend Catface and other characters Toto, Silver and Socks are determined to clear their friends’ names and to find the missing collar.

This exciting story pelts along at a rapid pace with many unexpected developments and lots of humour along the way. I liked the warm tone of the narrative and the references to well known London landmarks both of which added to my enjoyment. This would be lovely to read aloud providing scope for “doing the voices” and building tension and emphasising the jokes. However newly confident readers would enjoy this too as the text is spaced out well with changes in typeface and the use of capitals providing a less overwhelming appearance for young children. The illustrations by Nick East are marvellous with plenty of detail to notice and discuss and picking up on the humour.

Among the many children’s books written by celebrities this series is rapidly becoming my favourite and I can understand why it has appeal for children. The theme of kindness and helpful friendship is evident throughout the jollity and excitement and we are safe in the knowledge that good will overcome evil at the end of it all. Even the villains are more pantomime than scary. This well presented book would make a great Christmas present too.

I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and Hodder Children’s Books for my review copy. Toto the Ninja Cat and the Mystery Jewel Thief was published in September and can be purchased online or at your independent book shop which can be found here. You may like to try the earlier books in the series too, the third of which is Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of all the latest children’s book news. A chance to settle down and catch up with articles, resources and reviews that you may have missed during a busy week. Although I have been unable to keep up with all the events over the last few days I hope that this collection of links gives you a taste of what is available and may be interesting and helpful.

What I’m reading…

Real life has rather dominated this week so I have not had time for much reading however I have had the opportunity to browse some wonderful picture books that I would like to recommend. The Snowflake by Benji Davies is one of those special books that encourage you to slow down your reading and look properly at what is happening. A gorgeous story told with gentle kindness accompanied by illustrations in a subtle and emotionally engaging style, this is perfect for Christmas. A Little Bit Brave by Nicola Kinnear is a reassuring and amusing tale in which the reader follows a young rabbit who discovers he can be brave if he really needs to be. Finally, duo Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell have collaborated on another poetry collection, Honey for Me, Honey for You and this is every bit as wonderful as you would imagine it to be. Packed with old favourites and more obscure rhymes accompanied by stunning illustrations it would be a valuable addition to bookshelves at home or school. There are details below of an online event linked to this book which you may find of interest.

News, articles and resources…

The Book Trust Appeal – this appeal raises money to send book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care.  This year, more so than ever before, there will be children who may not be looking forward to Christmas. And for the first time, some parcels will be given out through community foodbanks to help some families who have been adversely affected by lockdowns and who are facing a difficult Christmas. Find out how you can help by clicking on the link.

Winter Mini Challenge 2020 Official Booklist – From friendship, to inventing to fun! This reading list is full of heroes that inspire, challenge and push the definition of what it means to be a hero. These books have been chosen by publisher Knights Of as recommended reads for the Everyone Is A Hero Winter Mini Challenge. 

Library Lesson Ideas from former School Librarian of the Year Lucas Maxwell – Lucas’s helpful blog is now seven years old and this link will take you to his great lesson suggestions covering subjects including Fake News, Copyright, Picturebooks and Reading Log alternatives.

Why Should We Value Factual Books for Children? – this article by author Andy Seed is particularly interesting this month as we highlight this type of children’s book as part of National Non-Fiction November.

#PassThePen booklist: Christmas gift ideas from brilliant Book Trust Represents authors and illustrators – as part of this new initiative Book Trust have shared some of the books that featured in #PassThePen – every book in this list has been published between September 2019 to November 2020 and has been created by at least one British author or illustrator of colour who has published no more than four books.

Tiny Voice Talks: Reading for Pleasure with Teresa Cremin, Sonia Thompson, Ben Harris and Richard Charlesworth – Joining Toria Bono in this podcast, these passionate advocates for Reading for Pleasure explore what exactly Reading for Pleasure means, why it is not an ‘add on’, or evidenced only by means of fun activity days, but should rather be viewed as a core part of the reading curriculum in every school.

Marcus Rashford launches children’s book club to spread the joy of reading – a footballer who now needs no introduction, even to people who have never watched a match in their lives, he is now spreading an important message and promoting reading and literacy. His Twitter feed is a source of optimism and hope every day.

Fiction for older children review – wayward wizards and a war of the worlds – the books reviewed by a Kitty Empire for the Observer include new titles from David Almond, Benjamin Zephaniah and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I now have even more titles on my shopping list!

Puffin Books: Meet an Author– schools across the country can book a virtual visit from a real life author. Taking place over Zoom, each 30-minute webinar session will include a live presentation by an author giving pupils a behind-the-scenes look at their books, characters and writing process. Friday 27th November: Jamie Littler, author of the Frostheart series Friday 4th December: Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries.

Top authors join Story Explorers: a new podcast for kids, by kids – The National Literacy Trust has launched a new children’s radio and podcast series Story Explorers, which is all about stories for 7 to 11-year-olds, available weekdays at 6.15pm on the national children’s radio station Fun Kids. There will be more content and quizzes on Words for Life created for listeners of Story Explorers based on the episodes from the week for teachers to share with their class or for children to do at home.

CLPE Literacy Library presents… The Role of Rhyme and Song in Early Reading Development – CLPE’s Charlotte Hacking will introduce the session focusing on the book Honey for me, Honey for you, and share how rhyme and song play a vital role in the development of children’s language and literacy. Together with Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell, they will discuss and reflect on the ways in which children’s literature offers ideas to develop word recognition, reading comprehension and cross-curricular activities through rhyme and song.

Little Angel Theatre Advent Story – a special digital advent calendar! The Christmas Nisse by Patrick Nielsen and Robyn Owen Wilson is a heart-warming tale which will take you all the way to Christmas with a chapter for each day of December. Ideal for primary-aged children. They will be released for free on the Little Angel Theatre YouTube channel

Mental Health, Wellbeing and the School Library – an update on Phase 2 of the Great School Libraries campaign from Barbara Band, vice-chair if the committee. This has always been an important aspect of school library life but one that has received more attention during the Covid19 pandemic.

Best books of 2020: Children’s and Young adult – James Lovegrove and Suzi Feay select their must-read titles for the Financial Times. This selection includes The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert which is receiving many plaudits and is moving rapidly up my to read list.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Incredible Record Smashers by Jenny Pearson illustrated by Erica Salcedo – this sounds like a book to look out for in 2021. Books that balance humour with sensitivity and a thoughtful look at life’s problems are always a welcome addition to school bookshelves and Andrew Rough says, “as a teacher I think this could be a valuable book for the classroom.” in his thoughtful review.

Fantastic Inventions! – Jo Cummins reviews several excellent ‘factual books’ here including one looking back at the history of inventions, another speculating what future inventions may look like and one examining inventions inspired nature.

The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah – historical fiction always holds an appeal for me and I do like the sound of this dual narrative set in Brazil and West Africa. In her review for LoveReading4Kids Joanne Owen says, “It provides vital insights into the impacts of European imperialism, and the connections between Africans and Brazilians of African descent, through a distinctly moving human story.” Suitable for 11+

My plans for the weekend include putting my huge pile of books to review in to some sort of order. With luck I will be able to share some Christmas reviews next Saturday. Fingers crossed!

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Welcome to this week’s Reading Matters and a chance to catch up on children’s book news that you may have missed during a busy week.

What I’m reading…

This week I have been reading adult fiction, Amanda Craig’s latest The Golden Rule, however I have written a couple of reviews of children’s books that I read recently. Butterfly Brain by Laura Dockrill illustrated by Gwen Millward is a cautionary tale that evolves into a guide to coping with grief and loss that culminates in words of kindness, hope and comfort. You can read my review for Just Imagine here. A Thousand Questions, the new middle grade book by Saadia Faruqi, was published on Thursday and I was struck by its important themes and the distinctive voices of the two main characters. The Reflecting Realities report has emphasised the need for stories such as this one and you can read my review here .

Over the last few days I have devoted some time to listening to podcasts linked to children’s literature and have found it both interesting and relaxing. Deeper Reading with Jake Hayes is a lovely listen; thank you to Mat Tobin for the recommendation. Jake’s interview with Piers Torday is fascinating and made me want to reread both The Frozen Sea and The Silver Chair. I have a couple more lined up for my weekend listening. I included In the Reading Corner with Nikki Gamble in my round up last week but would like to mention an episode I listened to this week where Nikki talks to Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett about their approach to gender-swapping in traditional fairy stories, it’s well worth a listen.

News, articles and resources…

CLPE Reflecting Realities Research Report – Reflecting Realities is the first UK study looking at diversity in children’s literature. Funded by the Arts Council, the aim is to quantify and evaluate the extent and quality of ethnic representation and diversity in children’s publishing in the UK. This is the third report to be published and although it shows a year on year positive trend there is still much work to be done. “In 2019 33.5% of the school population were of minority ethnic origins, in stark contrast only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character.”

Representation in children’s books still not reflective of society, says BookTrust and CLPE – an article providing opinion and background to the two reports published this week by CLPE and Book Trust.

Reflecting Realities in Children’s Books: 20 Picture Book Recommendations – if the findings of the recent research have prompted you to source new inclusive picture books for your collection this blogpost by Rachael Davis (Picture Book Perfect) provides details of some excellent suggestions.

Patti Bacchus: School librarians are the heroes we need – the political events of the last few years have shown that now more than ever we need to teach students media literacy and critical thinking skills. This excellent article by a Canadian education columnist details how school librarians are the people who are able to do this.

The Egmont Reading for Pleasure Teachers Awards 2020 – Through these awards, Egmont Publishing in partnership with The Open University and UK Literacy Association, aim to recognise teachers and schools whose research-informed practices make a real difference to children’s reading for pleasure. Many congratulations to this year’s winners. Please do have a look at the wonderful work that has been done by these inspiring schools and individuals via the link. An excellent way to pick up useful ideas.

12 Books of Christmas – teacher and children’s book enthusiast, Dean Boddington has kindly collated three great lists of Christmas themed books in three categories, Picture Books, Chapter Books and Favourite Characters. These are useful for present ideas, for parents and for sharing in the classroom. Thank you, Dean.

Graphic Novels Padlet – I have shared this brilliant Padlet created by teacher Richard Ruddick before but as he has recently updated it I am sharing this useful resource again. The books are suitable for KS2 and above.

Favourite books this month selected by Book Trust – a wide range of titles including Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Cancelled!, shortlisted for the Blue Peter Award, World Burn Down by Steve Cole and a book on my own wish list, Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake illustrated by Jon Klassen.

If everyone read books written for dyslexic children, the world would be a kinder place. – a thoughtful and thought provoking article by children’s author and bookseller, Fleur Hitchcock.

Recommended Reads for Anti-Bullying Week – the Books for Topics website is always a useful resource and this selection includes books suitable for a range of ages including picture books, longer reads and non-fiction too.

Books for Keeps November Issue – always a must read for me and this month is no exception. In addition to reviews and regular features James Mayhew selects his 10 Books Every Child Should Read, the latest Beyond the Secret Garden article is a seasonal special with suggestions for Christmas presents and Nicolette Jones’ interview with Shirley Hughes is the loveliest read of my week.

Tiny Owl Crowdfund – Tiny Owl was established in 2015 with the aim of publishing high quality, diverse and inclusive picture books that help to develop tolerance, acceptance and empathy, and build bridges to new experiences. The pandemic has badly affected Tiny Owl and for this wonderful publisher to continue producing books that make a difference they need our help. The CrowdFund page has details of the rewards available and, if their readers help, Tiny Owl hope that they can survive the next few critical months.

Little Island Books and Friends of the Earth Ireland join forces on crowdfunder for eco-friendly book for teens – independent Irish children’s publisher Little Island Books and environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Ireland want to produce Ireland’s most eco-friendly children’s book ever. The team behind this project is launching a crowdfunder to raise €15,000 to make this unique book. A Short, Hopeful Guide to Climate Change not only explains the problem of climate change in an easy to digest way, it is also part of the solution – a step into the future for Irish children’s publishing. You can find out more and how you can help via the link.

Books Are My Bag Readers Awards 2020 – the winners of the only awards curated by bookshops and chosen by readers were announced this week. Among the winners of the different categories were: Non-Fiction Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty; Poetry Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: An Animal Poem for Every Day of the Year by Britta Teckentrup and Fiona Waters; Young Adult Fiction
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron and Children’s Fiction The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini – I have read and enjoyed novels by Maggie O’Farrell and was intrigued when I discovered that she had written a picture book. Jill Bennett, in her lovely review, says that it is “destined to become a seasonal classic” so I am now even more tempted.  

The Snowman and the Sun by Susan Taghdis and Ali Mafakheri – it is National Non -Fiction November and picture books are an excellent way to introduce this style of reading to young children. Mary Roche’s insightful review encouraged me to have a deeper look at this book published by Tiny Owl and I’m glad that I did. A wonderful introduction to science and for encouraging curiosity.

Glassheart by Katherine Orton – somehow I missed reading this author’s debut, Nevertell, last year but before I have corrected that book number two has appeared on the scene. I do love the sound of this one, a mix of historical war story and fantasy. Described as “utterly enchanting, deeply mysterious and filled with the echoes of folklore” in this review on Fallen Star Stories this sounds appealing.

That’s all for this week, I hope that you have found something interesting, helpful of tempting among the selection of links.

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A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi

A Thousand Questions is a story of friendship, families, cultures and differences and it also provides some answers. It shows children that it is possible to build bridges across divisions in order to form friendships and that often people are in fact more similar in their hopes and dreams for the future than some may imagine.

Set in modern day Karachi, this story is told from the perspectives of two eleven year old girls, Maryam known as “Mimi”, daughter of a Pakistan born mother who is separated from Miami’s white American father and Sakina, the daughter of the cook in Mimi’s grandparents’ home. Mimi reluctantly accompanies her mother from Houston back to Pakistan, a country she has never visited before, to stay with her mother’s family for the summer holidays. It is there that she first meets Sakina.

Told as a dual narrative this is a lovely story featuring two likeable characters. Mimi is a curious girl, constantly asking questions, intrigued by an unfamiliar culture and dismayed by the poverty she encounters for the first time. Sakina is more reserved and quiet, less open about her feelings and works hard as a servant to help support her family. Yet both girls are hiding something. Mimi desperately misses her father, writing to him in her daily journal, and nurtures the hope that one day he will return and her family will be reunited. Sakina longs to go to school and gain a proper education. She has already failed the entrance test due to her low result in English but is determined to try again, something she has kept secret from her family. When the two girls meet they are wary of each other seeing only the huge gap between their backgrounds. However from this inauspicious beginning they gradually open up to each other and a cautious friendship develops. Over the summer this friendship will be instrumental in bringing about great changes for them both.

Saadia Faruqi has written this with great understanding and portrays life in Karachi vividly for the reader. I could visualise the city and the various settings and smell the delicious food as I read. The family relationships and the way in which these have influenced both girls are captured in both the dialogue and the unfolding events. The two voices telling the story are distinctive and relatable. Their concerns and interests, their likes and dislikes are all those of any eleven year old but what makes this work so well is the way in which the initial misconceptions and misunderstandings are gradually resolved and we witness how the girls gain an insight into each other’s cultures and this sharing dissolves the hostility and brings about understanding and friendship. This important message is conveyed within an exciting story told with humour and warmth. Without ever being didactic in tone Saadia Faruqi teaches her young readers a valuable and important lesson. Set against the backdrop of a national election the book feels relevant and timely prompting children to think about issues in society such as wealth, poverty, politics and corruption plus family and marriage.

In a week when the latest Reflecting Realities report has been published by the Centre For Literacy in Primary Education we are all aware how important books such as A Thousand Questions are. This would be a valuable addition to school libraries and classrooms enabling children to find children like themselves and discover children they think are different to themselves too. Best of all it shows how friendship can overcome differences through patience, understanding and kindness. A lovely book and very much recommended.

Thank you to Saadia Faruqi and Harper Collins for providing my preview. You can find out more about Saadia, author and inter-faith activist, and her other books on her website.

A Thousand Questions is published on 12th November and is available to buy online or via your independent book shop which can be found here

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Welcome to this week’s look at all the latest child book news and what a busy week it has been. There are award nominations and shortlists, podcasts, interviews and online events in abundance so I hope there is something for all tastes included here.

What I’m reading…

Unfortunately I have not read as much as I hoped or planned this week but I did write my review of Butterfly Brain by Laura Dockrill illustrated by Gwen Millward for Just Imagine. This a kind and poignant portrayal of the importance of memories, dreams and imagination in finding a way to cope with loss and grief. I also finished reading A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi a middle grade story set in modern Karachi. I think that the dual narrative works well at showing how it is possible to discover what unites rather than divides through conversation and understanding. My review will be up on the blog in the next few days.

News, articles and resources…

Exploring Children’s Literature: Podcasts – Nikki Gamble has interviewed a large number of top children’s authors, illustrators and poets and this link will take you to all of them. Perfect listening for children’s book enthusiasts and a fascinating insight into some of the very best books available.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – I always enjoy finding out which books Imogen Russell Williams has selected for her regular feature in the Guardian but these struck me as particularly hopeful and comforting just when we need them.

Little Angel Theatre Production of Clever Cakes by Michael Rosen – this story of a clever, brave girl and how she outwits a greedy bear is told by Michael Rosen accompanied by some lovely puppetry. This production, alongside all of Little Angel’s online activities, is being made available for free. If you are able to consider making a donation – however small – to help the theatre survive during this challenging time, it would be greatly appreciated:

Benjamin Zephaniah on new book Windrush Child – Benjamin Zephaniah’s new book Windrush Child is part of the Voices historical fiction series. In this interview he tells Book Trust about the book and why it’s so important to learn your history, and learn it right.

Nominations published for the 2021 CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals – Nominations have been published for the 2021 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. A total of 152 books have been nominated for the 2021 Medals; 77 books are in contention for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 75 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This includes four titles that received nominations in both Medal categories. You can explore the Carnegie nominations here and the Kate Greenaway nominations here.

Waterstones Book of the Year 2020 Shortlist – first introduced in 2012, Waterstones Book of the Year titles are nominated by their booksellers, recent winners have included Sally Rooney’s Normal People and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. This year’s shortlist includes Diary of a a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, The Book of Hopes, stories and poems by children’s authors, curated by Katherine Rundell and Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! An Animal Poem for Every Day of the Year compiled by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup.

North Cornwall Book Festival at School – launched on 3rd November the organisers of this festival have created a series of short films for schools and families. These video interviews, which include a creative challenge set by the authors for children to complete in their own time, are entirely free for use either in the classroom or at home. All of the authors involved have been kind enough to dedicate their time to this project for free. The videos are suitable for an age range from primary to KS4 and having watched a couple I think they are excellent.

Celebrating Book Week Scotland in your school – Book Week is celebrated in Scotland from 16th – 22nd November and the resource pack created by Scottish Book Trust is full of activity ideas and display materials that tie into this year’s theme of ‘Future’.

Join the Winter Mini Challenge and become a reading hero! – The Reading Agency are partnering with publishers Knights Of to bring you #EveryoneIsAHero – a challenge celebrating heroes in all their forms. The Winter Mini Challenge encourages children to keep up their reading habits over the winter holidays, with a free-to-access website featuring rewards and incentives for reading and reviewing books. It starts on Tuesday 1 December 2020 and finishes on Friday 15 January 2021.

Non-fiction books to help teens understand the world around them – this month marks Non-Fiction November and these non-fiction books chosen by Book Trust could be a great tool to help teenagers explore and investigate problems in their lives and around the world.

Rain Before Poetry – this is fabulous. An hour spent with Dom Conlon, Matt Goodfellow, David Lichfield, Vivian Schwarz and Smriti Halls discussing poetry, picture books and empathy. I enjoyed every minute.

Following in Dickens’ Giant Footsteps by Catherine Bruton – a guest post on My Shelves Are Full, this is an enjoyable and interesting read about Catherine Bruton’s new MG title for Nosy Crow, Another Twist in the Tale. I also love the sound of the book so another for my lengthy lists.

UKLA Book Awards Longlist 2021 (information texts) – thank you very much to Sadie Phillips for creating this Padlet displaying the non-fiction titles on the UKLA Longlist, it’s particularly useful this month.

Blue Peter Book Awards 2021 Shortlist Announced – There are three books are in the running for Best Story, and three are on the list for Best Book With Facts. The nominated books will now be sent to children in judging schools across the country, who will read them all and then vote for their favourites. Detectives, discoveries and incredible people from history make the line-up.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

Too Much Stuff! by Emily Gravett – as someone who struggles to de-clutter I love the sound of this picture book. A funny, rhyming story introducing young children to the concept of waste, recycling and re-using sounds both helpful and entertaining. In her lovely review Jill Bennett says, “It’s great entertainment…and there’s SO much going on in Emily’s detailed illustrations, every one of which is a mini-story in itself.”

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity by Carl Wilkinson illustrated by James Weston Lewis – chosen as LoveReading4Kids No -Fiction Book of the Month for November this sounds like a remarkable book. “Every reader will close the book fully aware of the enormity of Einstein’s achievement and his brilliance” says reviewer Andrea Reece. Suitable for KS2.

Blue Planet II – Leisa Stewart-Sharpe, illustrated by Emily Dove – Jo Clarke reviews this new book, a collaboration with BBC Earth, and hosts the author who tells us all about sharks and why they are her favourites.

Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery – this is Waterstones Book of the Month and I’ve read a great deal of very positive feedback from readers but this lovely review combines the opinions of school librarian Miss Cleveland and her pupils so it’s feedback that matters and they rave about it!

That’s everything for this week and I do hope that it’s helpful. Happy reading!

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s compilation of news, interviews, resources and reviews linked to books for children and teens.

“When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.” 

Michel de Montaigne

What I’m reading…

There have been some fabulous books published this year and just when I think I’ve selected my favourite reads of 2020 something comes along to change my ideas. The Silent Stars Go By, the latest YA book by Sally Nicholls, is published in November and is wonderful. Set at Christmas 1919, during the aftermath of the First World War this is social history brought to life through the experiences of characters that I grew to cherish this week. A perfect read for dark, winter evenings or specifically over Christmas time I think this is beautifully written. I have reviewed it for Just Imagine here.

Butterfly Brain by Laura Dockrill illustrated by Gwen Millward is a story told in verse about grief, memories, loss and love. Reading it gave me a great deal to ponder upon and I will be reviewing it within the next few days, again for Just Imagine

This weekend I will continue to enjoy reading A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi, you can read an interview with the author below. Although only a few chapters in I already think this will be a valuable addition to school bookshelves.

News, articles and resources...

Children’s book tells story of Daphne Caruana Galizia – I shared a review of Fearless by Gattaldo a couple of weeks ago and this article provides more background to this remarkable woman’s life and the inspiration for writing the book.

Colour the Shelves: Interview with Saadia Faruqi, author of A Thousand Questions – I have just started reading this book, the first MG title by this author, and am enjoying it very much. This interview provides an insight into how this book about friendship across cultures came about.

Great School Libraries: Case Studies Blog – if you are looking for inspiration for how to make the most of your school library these examples provide plenty of ideas ranging from newsletters and teachers’ reading groups to inquiry based learning and creating links between primary and secondary.

Courage in World War 2 – Sufiya Ahmed and Tom Palmer 4th November 6pm – an online event organised by Scholastic, you are invited to join Sufiya and Tom in conversation, talking about their books set during the Second World War.  You can sign up via the link for a chat about bravery, the importance of history and the true stories told in their books.

Love My Books October Newsletter – in case you missed it earlier I’m sharing this again as it contains so much that may be helpful to both parents and teachers. This edition includes how to a shadow puppet theatre, newbooks and activity pages, downloadable activity booklets for older children and Mary Roche on the importance of reading to babies and toddlers.

Penguin launches project to boost diversity in GCSE reading lists – publisher Penguin Random House has teamed up with the thinktank the Runnymede Trust to boost diversity in reading lists in schools. There is more information in this Guardian article The partnership – Lit in Colour – follows a recent report by Teach First which found that pupils could leave school in England without studying a novel or play by a black or minority ethnic author.

Advice for Writing Poems, Kids Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen – This is great. A Poetry Masterclass in collaboration with Authorfy this Michael Rosen Poetry Masterclass, the other poems, stories and interviews on the channel are free resources and make great starting points for English, TEFL or ESOL lessons or homeschooling.

Shh! We Have A Plan: Opera for Kids– the team who created the wonderful versions of Jon Klassen’s “Hat books” now turn their attention to this lovely, popular picture book by Chris Haughton. If you sign up to the English National Opera family newsletter you will also receive instructions on how to make your own puppet bird so you can join in!

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expury – this is a gorgeous review of a classic children’s book beloved of adults too but what I loved as much as the review was the beautiful exploration of the importance of listening to stories read aloud. I have returned to this more than once since I read it earlier this week as it reminds me of the happiest and most important memories. Thank you very much to Jack Brown for writing this.

Wrigglers, wanderers, stampers and shy children… reading different stories to different listeners – Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring winners of the Little Rebels Award 2020 with their book The Boy Who Loved Everyone. They share their book recommendations for children who listen to stories in all sorts of ways. I enjoyed reading this article; it reminded me of reading picture books to nursery children as a Beanstalk volunteer, sadly still on hold at the moment. There are several great suggestions here.

October World Kid Lit Round Up – this fabulous selection collated by Claire Storey and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp of all the latest news, reviews and details of books in translation plus events is extremely helpful and I love have it all together in one place. Thank you very much, Claire and Ruth!

Blue Peter Book Awards 2021 – the longlists for this popular award were announced this week. Ten books are in the running for Best Story, while ten are on the list for Best Book With Facts. Watch Blue Peter on 5 November to discover which titles end up on this year’s shortlists! The nominated books will then be sent to children in judging schools across the country, who will read them all and then vote for their favourites.

National Non-Fiction November 2020 – don’t forget this annual event celebrating the wonderful world of non-fiction books for children. This year’s theme is The Planet We Share, a subject of importance and concern. There are book lists, ideas and resources available on the website.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth – this thoughtful picture book is one of my favourites of the year so far and this insightful review by Mat Tobin gives a flavour of what the book is like and the reasons why it has such an impact. Mat’s understanding and knowledge of picturebooks always encourages me to revisit them and discover more and this review has had the same effect.

Timelines from Black History by Dorling Kindersley illustrated by Lauren Quinn – this DK children’s book includes more than 30 visual timelines, which explore the biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous – from royalty to activists, and writers to scientists, and more. In her glowing review Jill Bennett says, “This is a book that should be used in all KS2 classrooms and secondary school history departments.”

Along The Tapajos by Fernando Vilela translated by Daniel Hahn – This picturebook, originally published in Brazil, has been longlisted for the UKLA 2021 Book Awards under ‘Information Texts’ and this helpful review on The Values Bookshelf explains why and how it could be used in the classroom

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange – I loved The Secret of Nightingale Wood, Lucy Strange’s debut, and this lovely review by Rich Simpson has encouraged me to put her latest book on my to read list. “A dark, Gothic ghost tale in the true Victorian sense, it has all the classic elements of a period scare story…” It sounds perfect for dark, winter evenings.

The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert – this YA debut on themes of grief and loss sounds like a must read as it is receiving accolades from authors I trust such as Hilary McKay. Ben Harris is a reviewer whose opinion I also trust and his fabulous review for Just Imagine has pushed this book up my to read lists. Ben says, “I have been lucky enough to read many excellent books this year, but very few have taken me in their steely grip and struck so forcibly as this one.” Impossible to resist really!

That’s all for this week and I hope you have find something enjoyable, enlightening or useful in this week’s selection. Happy reading.

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of books and reading for children and young people. The kind, thoughtfulness of the children’s book community was in evidence this week when author Anne Booth organised a letter in response to the free school meals vote in Parliament. More than 200 authors and illustrators signed the letter and you can read more on the BBC News site.

What I’m reading...

This week I’ve read and reviewed, with the help of my family, a lovely picture book, Where’s Baby Elephant? by Ali Khodai. This is a joy to share and would make a great present for babies and toddlers.

Sometimes books hold unexpected connections and reminders of other stories, other lives, other possibilities and The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay is, for me, one of those books. It makes you want to believe in magic, or at least to believe in the power of wonder and imagination, something we may sometimes lose in adulthood. Although described as a children’s book quite honestly I think it’s a book for everyone.

A highlight of my week was the Open University webinar on Reading for Pleasure: the role of book talk, an interesting and inspiring hour of ideas, recommendations and advice. Professor Teresa Cremin was joined by an expert panel of teachers – Ben Harris and Richard Charlesworth, a librarian – Rumena Aktar and the children’s author Smriti Halls. If you missed it the video link is available here and I would highly recommend it.

News, articles and resources…

The Book That Made Me: Eloise Williams – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month and in this edition of The Book That Made Me on the Book Trust website author Eloise Williams explains why it had such an impact on her as a young reader.

The Promise: Bringing The Promise to life in your school, home or community – this is wonderful. A range of videos and resources linked to the picture book The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin including tips for how to make your screening of The Promise more engaging. The resources include: a classroom guide for how to prompt discussion and creativity after the screening, ideas for how your school can take collective action and become part of a generation of youngsters who are promising themselves a greener future, and thoughts on how to continue the energy after the day. The videos are also available with signing.

What is Reading For Pleasure? with #MorningBrewEd – Ed Finch and Toria Bono hosted this chat on Sunday 18th October and this helpful blogpost by Toria includes a summary of the chat between their guests, Teresa Cremin, Ben Harris, Sonia Thompson and Richard Charlesworth, links to a video recording of the event and a Recommended Books Padlet. Lots to explore and well worth having a look at this if you missed the event last Sunday.

Tiny Owl Publishers Activity Packs – Tiny Owl publish a range of fabulous picture books and have created free activity packs, full of brilliant ideas to help enrich your readings of many of their books, whether in the classroom, library or at home! More are being added so it’s worth keeping up to date with this website.

Scoop Magazine Black History Month Special –  If you’ve not come across it before, Scoop is a magazine for children aged 7-13, that tackles a particular theme every issue. It is created with the help of a guest editor and a young junior editor. This month the guest editor is prize-winning author, Sharna Jackson and the Black History Month issue was curated to help children understand and contextualise discussions around race and racism in positive, inspiring and creative ways.

Glenthorne School Library September Reopening: An Update – school librarian, Lucas Maxwell provides an update on his library and how he is coping with adapting to the current requirements. A helpful look at what works and what doesn’t and the good news that book borrowing figures are soaring!

Stories of Joy and Hope: share your story to win a school visit from Book Trust Writer in Residence Smriti Halls – a competition for primary aged pupils with a deadline of 22nd January 2021 this is an opportunity to encourage children to think about what brings them happiness. It could be a story, a list of joyful things or a series of jokes. The winner will receive a visit by Smriti to their school and the runners up will win a set of her books for their library. All the details are available on the website.

Jenni Jennings & Damaris Young in conversation with Scott Evans 31st October 5pm – Celebrate Halloween with two spooky middle grade reads! Join Jenni Jennings (author of Malice in Underland) and Damaris Young (author of The Creature Keeper and The Switching Hour) for a conversation about their new books with Scott Evans (host of Primary School Book Club). This is the perfect event for the spooky season for young readers and teachers. 

Astrid Lingdren Memorial Award 2021 – Congratulations to all who are in the running for the this auspicious award. The list of candidates was announced on Wednesday 21st October. It is one of the most comprehensive lists of the world’s foremost living children’s and young adult’s book creators & reading promoters. The UK section includes the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, Aidan Chambers and Daniel Hahn plus authors including David Almond, Michael Rosen and Katherine Rundell and illustrators Shirley Hughes and Quentin Blake.

Picture books for children – reviews – Imogen Carter’s round up for The Observer includes the follow up to to Jill Murphy’s classic, Peace at Last, the lovely picture book version of Dame Floella Benjamin’s memoir, Coming to England and more to add to your ‘to be read list’.

Little Rebels Award Winner Announcement – Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring have won the 2020 Little Rebels Award for their picture book The Boy who Loved Everyone. You can read more about the award, the winning picture book and the shortlisted titles in this Books for Keeps article.

Five books to read to children that adults will enjoy – a great selection chosen by Alison Baker Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, University of East London for The Conversation, for ages three to ten plus and their grownups.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week...

Who Makes a Forest? by Sally Nicholls and Carolina Rabei – this picture book tells the story of how a forest came to be, a lovely look at the life cycle and what makes up the ecosystem of this habitat. Jill Bennett says in her review, “Whether for home bookshelves or school classroom collections, I strongly recommend this book.”

Fairy Tales Reimagined – Jo Cummins reviews four collections of fairy tales reimagined for the modern era, all of which look tempting and would be great additions to home or school bookshelves.

Mabel and the Mountain by Kim Hillyard – this debut sounds delightful. It tells the story of a tiny fly named Mabel who has big plans and is determined to overcome adversity to achieve her goals. Kate Hitchings describes it as “a lovely book to read aloud” and in addition “it will engage children and inspire them to voice their own dreams.” You can find out more in Kate’s review for Just Imagine.

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr – this debut is due out in January 2021 and I am lucky to have a copy which I am saving until I can settle down and savour it properly. This lovely review by Jo Clarke gives you a taste of this WW2 story and its “hauntingly beautiful storytelling,” and it is most definitely one to watch out for next year.

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle – this is a book I keep seeing mentioned online as a must read. Based on true events in 1760 Jamaica, a 14 year old slave boy is involved in an uprising against his oppressors this is a fabulous review by Joanne Owen for LoveReading4Kids. She says, “Lucidly lyrical and raw, I cannot praise Cane Warriors enough.” 

I hope that this week’s assortment has contained something that has been useful or interesting or maybe just another book to add to your lists. Wishing everyone on half term break this week a relaxing and restoring holiday.

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The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

I fell in love with this book from the opening paragraph. Hilary McKay’s gorgeous writing captures both the power of stories to transport us and the promise that magic exists if we open our eyes to it.

“There were no curtains at the window and the room was bare, except for the sofa and Abi’s rocking horse and Abi herself, hunched over her book like a diving bird on the edge of a pool, poised between worlds.”

When we read we make connections, with our own lives and memories, with people the story may remind us of, with the settings and the characters. Instantly, with this first sentence I was transported back to my own childhood and that sensation one feels when you start reading a new book and enter the world created by the author. Others, I am sure, will recognise that moment conveyed so beautifully by Hilary McKay in the prologue to this enchanting story. As I turned the first page alongside Abi doing the same with her book these connections continued. This is a wonderful book, a story to escape into on dark evenings, a story about families with all their imperfections and difficulties but most importantly it is a story full of kind wisdom and an understanding of what matters most to people.

Abi’s mum died when she was a baby and since then she and her dad Theo have been a team aided in life by Granny Grace who dispenses love, wisdom and delicious food. When Theo meets Polly and they decide to marry Granny Grace departs on her long delayed trip to Jamaica and the rest of her family. Twelve year old Abi has not only acquired a step mum but also finds herself now the middle child between two brothers, teenager Max and six year old Louis. Theo and Polly hope that their two families can blend into a happy new one. The reader follows their attempts and the discoveries that they make along the way.

Houses feature in several classic children’s books and in a similar way to Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Children of Green Knowe it is a house that takes centre stage in this story too. The family move into a mysterious ivy clad house next to a graveyard with a lamppost outside reminiscent of that found in Narnia. It is Abi who is first aware of a strange magic in the air. Her beloved stories become more real and she finds herself literally becoming part of their make believe worlds, little Louis receives a visitor who gradually looms larger in his life and eventually sceptical Max succumbs to magic.

Beautiful writing, well rounded and believable characters, tension and humour combine in this story which is magical in the best possible way. Sometimes it is real magic that means most to children and this book is brimming with it. The magic that bonds people together, that makes a house a home and that enables stories to transform readers. As an adult I read this book with that ‘if only’ feeling you have as a child, that perhaps if you believe hard enough magic can really happen. The blurring of reality and imagination is exquisitely done and as I read I could see Iffen just as clearly as Louis does and disappeared into the story almost as completely as Abi in hers.

Hilary McKay creates such fabulous characters and displays an understanding of family life that makes these people real to the reader. Abi is a child who I understood immediately and I loved Louis so easily that as I read I wanted to crouch down and give the little chap a hug. The author’s humour and empathy are particularly apparent in the writing of Max’s struggles with his first crush and friendship issues which arrive simultaneously as he struggles to cope with a new father figure. The way in which hardworking parents have to cope with demanding careers, family life and financial isssues is handled with a reassuring understanding and it is probably helpful and comforting for children to see depictions of this in fiction.

I enjoyed this book so much that I slowed down towards the end as I did not want to say goodbye to these lovely people. There are sentences that one reads twice to savour the use of language and all that is conveyed in a few words. I was going to quote sections but frankly there were too many to choose between. A book for children but for adults too, this cast a magical spell in an unexpected but utterly delightful way. Highly recommended.

My copy was borrowed from my local library but I will be buying my own copy as I definitely want to reread this. The Time Of Green Magic was published in September 2019 by MacMillan Children’s Books and is available online or at your independent book shop which can be found here.

I can also recommend The Skylarks’ War and Straw Into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-spun both by Hilary McKay and beautiful books in very different ways.

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Where’s Baby Elephant by Ali Khodai

This is a delightful, attractive and interactive book introducing the animal kingdom to young children and would be a lovely gift.

From the eye catching cover to the happy resolution on the final page this lovely book has been a hit with my whole family. The vibrant illustrations are attractive and the array of animals on the front prompt happy book chat before you even turn to the first page. There is a helpful list at the start providing the names of the parents and babies included in the story and this is a perfect way to combine learning with fun. We are invited to “unfold the flaps” but the way in which Ali Khodai has linked the animals together is innovative and extremely effective. Every adult I have shown this book to has commented on the original and clever presentation and it caused great merriment for the youngest member of the family. For example the lions blend into hedgehogs and then to orangutans causing a surprise with each unfold.

This is a clever and enjoyable treat to share and has been read and reread several times already. I have a feeling this will be a long standing family favourite. My three year old assistant reviewer has announced that she “really likes this book” and she’s a discerning audience! Already it is being read to her favourite toys which is a sure sign of approval. This has a traditional feel to it and the hardback edition has sturdy fold out pages making it a great book for toddlers and early years settings. I can wholeheartedly recommend this and it would be a beautiful present.

If I haven’t convinced you the helpful team at Tiny Owl have produced a wonderful video which displays the interactive element beautifully.

Thank you very much to Tiny Owl publishing for providing my copy. Where’s Baby Elephant? was published on 1st October and is available to purchase on the Tiny Owl website. Their are many other fabulous picture books from Tiny Owl and one of my favourites is Felix After the Rain.

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