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Newbery/Caldecott 2021: Fall Prediction Edition

Didn’t think I’d forget, did you?

This is such a weird year. Usually by the time a Fall Prediction Edition comes around I feel pretty confident about the year’s titles. This year, about half the titles were sent out as e-galleys and the other half just sort of melted into the mists of pandemic-tude. By the time my Summer Prediction Edition came out I wasn’t feeling at all certain that I had a good grasp on the material. But now, at this point in the year, I feel a little bit better. When Calling Caldecott lists books, I know each and every last one of them. Heavy Medal? You’re not catching me unawares this year. Let it be known that I am not going to be accurate in these predictions, no sir, but I at least won’t feel quite as out to sea as I have in years past. Pandemic or no pandemic.

On with the show!

2021 Caldecott Predictions

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, ill. Bryan Collier

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed. Yet long before his death, books were slated for release that would speak to the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020 we’ve seen a wide array of picture books that address Black joy, Black lives, Black hair, Black skin, and Black self-esteem. If you look at these books, each one tackles a different facet. But of all the books, I do honestly believe that Bryan Collier’s is the loveliest. Now I had the chance to see the original art of this book in a webinar conducted with Tami Charles and Bryan Collier. When you look at that cover you get only a hint at the sheer size of the final piece. On the webinar, Mr. Collier raised up an enormous piece of art, as large as a plate glass window. Look deep into that art too. Throughout the book you’ll see a feather pattern and each one of those feathers is massive, Collier overlapping them with great skill. Note too that the Caldecott loves him. He is, as of this writing, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient. That shiny gold seems to elude him though. Could 2020 be his year? The timing sure seems right.

Honeybee: The Interesting Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann

Nonfiction, this might just be your year too. Historically, Newbery and Caldecott committees eschew informational books. But if we can label 2020 anything, it may be the year when the real world squashed fiction flat. The movie industry, the book industry, and even the television industry all got whammed upside the head, thanks to COVID restrictions and limitations on creating new content. But the news cycle? Just try to tear yourself away from it. With that in mind, Candace Fleming is poised better than she has ever been in her entire life to pull off the rare twofer: A Newbery for one of her books and a Caldecott for another. We were joking at work that so many books this year are depressing, and then someone said, “Even the bee dies at the end of Honeybee!” Not untrue, but of all the picture books out in 2020, this is the only one that actually makes you gasp out loud when you look at the art. Chew on that.

My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, ill. Jillian Tamaki

For this one, I had to go to an outside source. Sometimes I can work out why a picture book is successful. Other times, I need to consult with others. I could tell that part of the allure of My Best Friend was how young it skewed. It is natural for any committee looking at illustration to want to award books that are sophisticated and complex. So where does that leave books meant for the pre-k crowd? To a certain extent, you have to gauge how successful they are at reaching their young audiences. Pondering all this, I wandered over to Calling Caldecott and took a look at Martha Parravano’s thoughts on this title. She writes, “The basic colors are browns — in a range from a rich russet to a warm peach — and greens, against a cream background. But she does so much within those limitations. Take the new friend’s hair, which is described as black, and indeed it presents as black, but it’s not — instead, Tamaki uses dark browns mixed with green. The effect is black hair reflecting sunlight.” Add in the remarkable use of (as Martha puts it) “THE PAGE TURN” and you’ve got yourself a book that is both very young and very smart. Also, it’s just the tiniest bit different from Tamaki’s last Caldecott Honor win.

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, ill. Cindy Derby

I can feel longshots in my bones. Books that don’t really have a serious chance at Caldecott glory, but still have what it takes. For a committee to award Derby, a couple things would have to happen first. The committee would have to acknowledge on some level that the events of 2020 have placed an inordinate amount of pressure on children. It is not the Caldecott’s job to make a statement with its choice. However, that is not to say that the committee isn’t swayed, to some extent, by outside forces beyond its control. Johnny Tremain comes out on the cusp of WWII and wins a Newbery because of its patriotic content. You see what I mean? There is no book on the Caldecott list that truly addresses COVID (though plenty of contenders speak directly about Black Lives Matter), with the possible exception of this one. The words are lyrical and the art elevates the form. This is award-level art, from the change in perspective to the play of light on the walls. Let’s see if it gets any acknowledgement.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, ill. Michaela Goade

I had to double check my facts before I believed it. Is it possible that an Indigenous artist has never won a Caldecott in any way, shape, or form? Michaela Goade is an enrolled member of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. In the event that this book won, she would be the first American Indian to receive a Caldecott in any form. Back in April I interviewed Lindstrom and Goade about this book, and it clarified some of the process that went into its creation. Please go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast if you would like to look at some of Goade’s preliminary sketches. They’ll give you a concrete feel for the process that went into the watercolors you find here. There’s beauty to the message and beauty beyond the message as well.

Update: This just in from reader Alexis Redhorse: “Zia Pueblo artist Velino Herrera won a 1942 Caldecott Honor for In My Mother’s House, written by Ann Nolan Clark.” Thank you, Alexis! This is a story I’d like to know better.

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

I always find it a bit unfair when I see previous years’ winners show up on prediction lists. As if we don’t have enough new talent that we have to keep looking to the past. That said, I know that Jason Chin already won a Caldecott Honor for Grand Canyon, and it deserved it, absolutely. That said, this book is better. I’m sorry! It is! Grand Canyon makes you feel small when you look at the sheer size of the canyon and the eons it took to produce it. But Your Place in the Universe consciously works to make you very very aware of just how small you truly are. Just when you think this book cannot possible back up any further, it does. Want to feel tiny? Have I got a book for you.

2021 Newbery Predictions

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Or, Why I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Maggots. 2020 turned out to be a very strong year for middle grade novels. Who knew? One of the earliest indications of this came when Wolk’s book released in April. I remember picking it up, reading a couple pages and feeling my muscles relax as I came to remember that Wolk’s books are always interesting and always written better than anything you can name. Hers is not the only book this year that gave me that feeling, but it was one of the first.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Blackbird Girls. Chirp. A Game of Fox and Squirrels. Here in the Real World. Fighting Words. What do each and every one of these books have in common? If you said, “The girls in each book are physically abused,” then you are correct. I don’t know why, but in 2020, middle grade was inundated with smart, well-written, sometimes witty books wherein the main character, or someone close to the main character, is both female and the victim of some form of abuse. And of all those books, Fighting Words is one of the most memorable. Now we’re far enough into the year that I’ve seen a bit of a Fighting Words backlash ah-brewing. I’m very curious to see if its momentum will carry its author to a second Newbery Honor win in some way. That is, of course, one of the things I like about Ms. Bradley. You honestly never know what she’s going to write about next.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

I heard someone take issue with this book jacket, earlier this year. They accused it of misleading the child readers, saying that it just looked like a cute, fun story when, in fact, it was full of incredibly serious details. Perhaps, but I would point out that it’s also an incredibly fun read. Can you win a Newbery for being a pleasure on the page? Because if so then Ms. Marks would win hands down. In too many cases, I find authors have a hard time establishing the “voice” of their main characters. Not Zoe. Take a gander at her first chapter sometime, if you ever want to figure out how to write one. Adept at balancing pure enjoyment with real-world problems.

A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

Startlingly adept. Were an author to come to me with the concept of this book in hand, I would have to advise them not to proceed. Mixing child abuse and fantasy sounds like a terrible idea. But Reese takes everything slow. She’s one of those authors that believes that the child reader is smart enough to figure out what’s happening on their own. As a result, she gives her kid audiences all the clues, then lets them work things out on their own. Who knew that the most gutting scene in any book this year would be the destruction of a stuffed animal? Not I, said the fly.

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

I almost missed it. Can you believe that? Though it came out in February, there was something about Pennypacker’s latest that I was avoiding. Probably, if I’m going to be honest with you, it had something to do with that cover. That brown brown cover. At heart I’m a 10-year-old child and that cover said “distinguished” and “boring” to me. Maybe a bit of “depressing” as well. Fortunately for me, I decided to check out the audiobook. A marvelous work, that. One that allowed me to listen to Pennypacker’s truly delicious writing. Folks have been comparing this one to Bridge to Terabithia, which I find somewhat unfair. Yes, it features two outsiders who find a friendship and a safe space away from the world. But the tone is entirely different in this book. It’s also, to be frank, deeply satisfying. It EARNS its ending. Keep your eyes trained on it. Blink and it might win something before you can react.

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Already Callender is counting their awards. The thing I like about the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards is that they can give us a sneak peek at future. So, after this won in the Middle Grade category of the BGHBs, it rapidly because a National Book Award Finalist to boot. And should Callender win a Newbery in some way, they would easily become the first non-binary author to do so. Heavy Medal moved fast to write this one up in their column, and little wonder. It’s got the chops. Let’s see how high it flies.

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candice Fleming

Ah ha! Bit of nonfiction in your prediction list? This is the second Fleming title I alluded to earlier when I was talking about her Honeybee. And it is with this book that we have to peer very closely at the Newbery criteria. Let’s see here . . . aha! Yes, that’s right. The Newbery age range does not, as some might think, go up to books for readers aged 12, but rather up to readers aged 14. Now, do you remember back in 2012 when Steve Sheinkin won a Newbery Honor for Bomb? I invoke the previous win to justify including this book on today’s list. It is, without a doubt, a most timely title. Opening with what feels like a Trump rally, the reader slowly comes to realize that Fleming has begun her story with something very similar: A Lindbergh rally. America had never been first-ier. From there she backtracks and though I do not tend to read biographies for fun, I was so sucked into her writing that I couldn’t pull myself out. Lindbergh was a horror story of a man, masquerading as an American hero. About the time you get to the scientific experiments where everyone’s wearing black or white you begin to realize that this title is something on beyond amazing. So yes, it deserves a Newbery in some form or fashion. It’s older, but we have room for it here.

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, ill. Jon Klassen

Honestly, I wouldn’t rule it out. While every other book on this list deals with some deeply heavy subject, this little number doesn’t. Now I’m going to let you in on a secret. When I first picked this book up and started reading it to myself, it struck me as merely okay. In fact, I wasn’t so sure I was going to finish it. I just figured it was some Wind in the Willows pastiche, and I was content to leave it at that. Then I listened to the audiobook, read by the actor Michael Boatman, and I came to a realization. Friends, there are some books in this world that benefit mightily when you read them out loud. It doesn’t happen all that often anymore, but when you pick up Skunk and Badger and read it to a child, suddenly it feels like the best thing you’ve ever dived into. Boatman’s version is so charming, in fact, that even as I’m writing this I’m scheming how I can get my kids to hear it too. Something about the way he makes the Badger and the Skunk laugh. I dunno. In any case, the writing is hard to beat and if your library has Hoopla, you can check out the audiobook there.

Go on.

I’ll wait.

We’ve 3 months until the Newbery/Caldecott winners are announced after all . . .

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. These are all interesting possibilities. I have a question; what happened to Uri Shulevitz’s Chance: Escape from the Holocaust? This is not meant to be rhetorical. I really am curious about its invisibility on lists of potential winners, especially given its positive reviews in The New York Times, Kirkus, and PW. Here is my encomium:
    https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/book/chance-escape-from-the-holocaust

    • You know, it’s been a tricky book to get my hands onto. They never sent out galleys (COVID strikes again) so I’m waiting on my copy on hold at the library. Once I read it I’ll have a better sense.

    • Are you suggesting Chance for a Newbery or a Caldecott? I loved it but found it hard to categorize.

  2. Alexis Redhorse says:

    Zia Pueblo artist Velino Herrera won a 1942 Caldecott Honor for In My Mother’s House, written by Ann Nolan Clark. But that was along time ago and I’m thrilled to see We Are Water Protectors on your list and are sending out good energy for Michaela Goode’s artwork to be recognized! May be back with more thoughts…

    • GOOD research!!! I read My Mother’s House a long long time ago. Now I want to know as much as possible about Velino Herrera. You’ve just sent me down a research rabbit hole. I appreciate it!

      • KT Horning says:

        Velino Herrera was also the first BIPOC artist honored by the Caldecott Committee. I wrote a bit about him in Horn Book article called “Arrow to the Sun and Critical Controversies.”
        https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=arrow-to-the-sun-and-critical-controversies

        I went down the Velino Herrera rabbit hole at the time I was researching the HB article. It’s a fascinating journey. He was a controversial figure among the Zia Pueblo because he gave the Zia’s sacred sun symbol to the New Mexican government. You can still see it on the New Mexico license plate, and there’s been a long-time lawsuit about it between the Zia Pueblo and New Mexico.

        He was one of many talented Native artists who illustrated picture books written by non-Native authors working with Native children. Many of these books were written by Ann Nolan Clark. There’s whole fascinating book about this called “Native American Picture Books of Change : The Art of Historic Children’s Editions” by Rebecca Benes. Velino Herrera is one of the artists profiled. I found this book to be the best source of info about him. (And it’s a great book overall. I highly recommend it.)

      • Oh! I always assumed that Plato Chan was the first BIPOC artist, since he honored in 1944. You’re completely correct. Velino won it in 1942, a full two years earlier.

        Now I need to find NATIVE AMERICAN PICTURE BOOKS OF CHANGE. Thank you!

      • KT Horning says:

        When we had the preconference honoring the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, Aimee Strittmatter at ALSC tried to track Plato Chan down so we could see what he as up to. I think he was about 12 when he won the Caldecott Honor — the only child to have ever won an ALSC award. Sadly, Plato had already died by 2013.

      • Now there’s a picture book biography waiting to happen. THE KID WHO WON A CALDECOTT.

      • This thread sent *me* down a rabbit hole, too. Being of Chinese heritage, I had to find out about Plato Chan. And now I’m completely intrigued. Oh, if only I knew how to write biographies 😂

    • Alexis Redhorse says:

      I should have owned up the first time and said that I learned about Herrera and that book (which Mom bought me) from KT Horning! Now I’m interested in Plato Chan.

  3. Julie Danielson says:

    Ah, Here in the Real World! Soooo understated. Boy howdy does it sneak up so sneaky sneak-like RIGHT around those eye muscles and push the tears right on out. Such intricate character-building too.

    • Right? She just writes these lines that are so good that a person like me despairs of ever writing anything ever again. I mean, why try? This book’s already out there.

  4. Alexis Redhorse says:

    Good list(s)! Always exciting to see your picks. I’m finishing Skunk and Badger and also believe it’s a serious contender. I think because of the format it’s less likely to be compared to a previous winner than some others. A couple of items:

    You don’t say it here, but I’ve seen several others remark that Echo Mountain is especially relevant in the pandemic year or during a calamitous event. The probs I have with that take is both the Great Depression and COVID-19 disproportionately affected/affect marginalized & vulnerable (like elders) populations. *We’re* not all in it together. (The major reason Indigo’s Bookshelf has been silent.) For this and other reasons, I like white historicals to take into account (doesn’t have to be main story) other people (“sharing” isn’t the right word) on the same land. I don’t mean to be cruel, but I wanted to point it out somewhere that others may read and reconsider the comparison.

    I guess the books that are sticking with me the most this year are well-written, with positive representation of nations/cultures/communities that are being bulldozed. Like We Are Water Protectors, Show Me a Sign, Efren Divided, among others. I’m seeing from inside a shattered world how much those kids need them. (Maybe the way Mary’s life—unexpectedly, horribly–flips in the middle of SMAS is the best metaphor for this year.)

    PS: Emily, I just picked up my hold on Chance: Escape from the Holocaust. Just flipping through, I already love the format! I’m 20 and I see clearly how my gen and younger disbelieve the Holocaust and have only (at best) ignorant views of Jewish lives. I’d prefer that gets more play than a bigot hero like Lindbergh.

    • I considered including Efren! That’s a seriously good book as well. Really respected its ending, which is tough tough tough.

      Your takes are so important here. Thank you! Show Me a Sign should also get love.

    • Alexis, I honestly love the way you put that! Still, it’s not because Chance takes place during the Holocaust, although I wholly agree that, as that catastrophe recedes into the past, there is more of a need for excellent books about it. It’s that the book is utterly innovative. While the Lindbergh book does have important information, I object strenuously to framing LIndbergh’s life as one of a “flawed hero.” He was, along with Henry Ford and Father Coughlin, one of the most influential antisemites and white supremacists in American history. Even though the book is critical of his legacy, why indeed is it getting more attention than Shulevitz’s work of humanistic brilliance?
      By the way, is anyone else on this thread at all troubled by Alexis’s admirably frank reference to people of her generation disbelieving the Holocaust, and being ignorant of Jewish lives? Would anyone like to comment on that?

      • KT Horning says:

        Emily, it’s been awhile since I’ve read this, but I didn’t think Fleming portrayed Lindbergh as a hero at all, even a flawed one. I think she depicted him from the beginning as a reprehensible human being whose celebrated public image was far from reality. She was up-front about him being a misogynistic, anti-Semitic white supremacist from the get-go. With his America First rallies, he struck me as Trump with a bi-plane. I don’t think I’ve ever read such an antipathetic biography written for children. After reading this, I would never want to spend a single minute with Lindbergh or anyone in his family, but I found this unflinching biography fascinating and meticulously researched.

      • Agreed. Lindbergh, as I said, is a horror show of a human being in that book. Fleming does a brilliant job at showing how awful he was in so many different ways. There is ZERO praise for the man in her writing.

    • Suzanne Mathews says:

      Have you read Land of the Cranes yet?

  5. Beverly Flichman says:

    I’d personally love to see Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera get some more attention. It hit right at the moment of our country shutting down and became my go-to read aloud to help students (and parents) grapple with the emotions of the moment. Its beautiful illustrations provided as much dialogue as the words on the page. And the bonus of a nonfiction spread about the science of tears made it an all-around standout. Add to that its previous existence in multiple languages making it accessible to the ESL community.

    No debate with your PB picks, they’re all beautifully worthy. Social justice is definitely long overdue for its day. Just wishing this social-emotional awareness gem would get a little sunshine, too.

  6. KT Horning says:

    Emily, thanks for mentioning the Uri Shulevitz book. It has not been on my radar before but I just ordered myself a copy. I’’m looking forward to reading it.

  7. I want to be careful to separate the book from the interviews in which Fleming has repeatedly referred to Lindbergh as a flawed hero, comparing him to Benjamin Franklin, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Dr. Seuss. But even in the book itself, including in the introduction, she frames his story as one of ambiguity. She lets Anne Morrow Lindbergh off the hook, implying that Lindbergh’s wife has repented for her support of her husband’s noxious ideas. She also tries to evoke sympathy for him in his final illness.
    https://imaginaryelevators.blog/2020/08/16/more-than-occasional-ugliness-the-unmistakably-unheroic-life-of-charles-lindbergh/
    I hope you enjoy Uri Shulevitz’s Chance, which really rewards multiple readings.

  8. Nothing for I Am Every Good Thing? (For either Caldecott or Newbery)
    Why’s that?

    • Oh, I like it! But Crown is just such a hard act to follow. I think it’s a great book, but it suffers from being in Crown’s shadow. But like I say, I’m often incredibly wrong about these things. You just watch. It could win the Caldecott that Crown deserved.

  9. A sidenote question: Has James Ransome ever won a Caldecott honor or medal? If not, why not?!?!?!

    Jean

    • Again, I suspect that there’s a dislike of realistic illustration out there. Kadir won last year, but that was treading into portraiture, which is slightly different. Not that I have any evidence for this. Just what I’ve observed.

  10. Grant Collier says:

    I’m sure most of these are very good books, but as with virutally every list like this, it’s dominated by books published by huge corporate conglomerates. I believe Skunk and Badger is the only one done by an independent publisher, but Workman isn’t exactly a small publisher. Caldecott and Newbery Awards are supposed to be open to all publishers, big and small, but I’m not aware of one ever being awarded to a small publisher, despite the fact that they publish about 50% of all books. If I’m wrong, I’d be glad to be corrected on this. As one of just many examples of great children’s books done by small presses “The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth,” (with which I have no affiliation) appears to have received no reviews from the big book review companies, nor any ALA award. Nevertheless, I’m not aware of any chldren’s book with better customer reviews and I have little doubt it would have gotten far more critiical praise had it been done by a big publisher. I realize that’s just how things work, but given the outsized influence that the ALA awards have on book sales, it’s disappointing.

    • I too love small publishers. The biggest wins I’ve seen them garner in the last few years were for Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut, which was published by Agate and when Eerdmans won a Caldecott Honor for a William Carlos Williams picture book bio about 10 or so years ago. When Agate won, we really saw the reason why it’s so hard for these small publishers to get their books seen. To be considered, each member of the committee needs to see the book personally. That’s not a problem for a large publisher that can afford to send multiple copies of their book out, but that’s money out of the pocket of the small pubs for whom every book is a potential sale. I have it on good authority that Crown was only even seen by the Newbery committee because one of the members typed out the text and emailed it to other people. That’s fine when it comes to picture books, but obviously they couldn’t have done that with anything longer. Smaller publishers have done better with other ALA awards like the Pura Belpre, but even then it’s a struggle.

  11. KT Horning says:

    Putting on my old ALSC PGC-V hat, no publisher, big or small, is required to send review copies to ALSC award committees in order to be considered. One of the forms incoming award members sign when they agree to serve indicates that they have ready access to new books (e.g. public libraries, inter-library loan, etc.), and they are told repeatedly that they must be actively seeking out books by reading reviews, going to bookstores, going to publishers’ exhibits at conferences, reading social media blogs like this one, or however they find out about new books when they are not on an award committee. And, yes, sometimes you just have to buy a book or two if you are unable to get something through a library. In fact, each committee has a small budget so if the Chair needs to buy a copy of any of the books they are not seeing, they can do so, and they can use same budget to mail the books around to committee members who have otherwise been unable to find them. ALSC helps facilitate this.

    Long and short, discovery of and access to potential award books is the responsibility of the committee, NOT the publishers. Any committee that sits back and waits for books to come to them is bound to miss something — from both large and small publishers. The story you recounted about Crown shows the the committee successfully casting a wide net, as they should, not a economic shortcoming of the publisher. That wide net includes a Newbery Committee thinking about a picture book for writing (at least as big a barrier as access to small press books). Presumably, the Caldecott Committee that same year, which also gave Crown an honor, had no trouble finding copies of the book for each committee member. Neither did the Coretta Scott King Award Committee, which awarded it for writing and honored it for illustration, or the Ezra Jack Keats Award Committee which also awarded it for writing and honored it for illustration.

    • All that you say is true, KT. As ever, discoverability is that tricky issue all small publishers face. One of the reasons I’ve always been quite partial to Kirkus is their inclination to review small publishers. But without even so much a review, a small pub won’t be able to catch the attention of even the most on-the-ball committee member. Thus the large publishers can afford to send their unreviewed books to committees (and there are some) while a small publisher many times cannot. I know that in the case of Crown, Agate was advised not to send their book to the Newbery committee since the likelihood of them selecting a picture book was low. Crown had at least three good strong reviews from major publications before ALA, which accounts for all those committees knowing about it.

  12. Meredith Burton says:

    I enjoyed these predictions very much. Many of them are on my prediction list, too.
    A Game of Fox & Squirrels was such a unique reading experience for me, and the book stole my heart completely. I truly hope it garners some recognition.
    And, yes, Skunk and Badger was a phenomenal audiobook!

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