Joanna Brichetto

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Bedtime books are worth their weight in gold if they work. The good ones—like these five new picture books—can help parents and children ease the tricky transition from day to night, light to dark and together to alone.

IN SHINING ARMOR
Owen Davey’s Night Knight transforms every element of a typical, boring bedtime routine into something fantastical. “For a knight like me, going to bed . . . is a great adventure,” begins the story, with one half of the sentence on the left page accompanying a boy wearing PJs and a colander helmet, and the other half of the sentence over on the right, with the same boy, same yawn, but dressed in full knightly getup. As he heads down the hallway and climbs the stairs, each picture combines the real and the fantastic: a telephone table and a forest, a hall closet and a snow-peaked mountain. The artwork, self-described as “contemporary and nostalgic,” calms in warm, muted brick tones, even as the imagined action busies itself with mythical creatures and noble exertions. Preschool and kindergarten children and parents will dub this daydream royally engaging.

NATURE’S WAY
Sweet Dreams by Rose A. Lewis, illustrated by Jen Corace, is a nature lullaby that works by color-soaked stealth. Although it begins and ends with the same four-line wish for “my precious child” whose “dreams be long and sweet,” thefocus is not so much on the child being put to bed as it is on the nighttime world waking outside the window. Mr. Moon, “who’ll watch you through the night,” also watches owlets in a nest and a tiny mouse family, while moonflower blossoms eclipse spent morning glories. Butterflies trade places with gray moths as crickets, possums, raccoons, frogs and other nocturnal animals “come alive in darkness.” Night, then, is something natural and nothing to fear. Lilting verse and predictable rhymes keep the mood soft but open to interaction. Young children can supply the last word of each page, or succumb entirely (and tiredly) to sleep.

A STUBBORN HOLDOUT
The daughter-father team of Kate and Jules Feiffer has created another winner with No Go Sleep! In a marvelous economy of word and ink, they transform what is one of the most frustrating scenarios of all time—the sleep-resistant baby—into its own delightful antidote. “One night when the stars were out and the moon was bright, a baby said, ‘No go sleep!’ “ Mom, Dad and the rest of the adjacent world, working in a gentle and benevolent conspiracy, try to persuade baby it is really, truly time. The sun, moon and stars weigh in, as do birds, frogs, bunnies, the tree above the house and “a car driving by” (which says, “Beep, beep, sleep, sleep”). Birds, frogs and bunnies reassure baby that he won’t be missing much. The dog, however, is already asleep. Resistance is lovingly futile, and the abrupt ending is a happy one for all concerned.

FAMILY OUTINGS
Good Night, Laila Tov by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Jui Ishida, uses simple, rhyming verse to describe a family on a camping trip. “Good night, laila tov” is the restful refrain after each day’s adventures in the natural world: A sunset sky sings it, a nighttime road rumbles it, a forest storm shushes it, and ocean waves whisper it. Laila tov happens to be Hebrew for “good night,” just as the sweet family in the luminous illustrations happens to be Jewish. The particular becomes universal with takeaway themes of discovery (and stewardship) of the environment, family time and gratitude. All families should be this lucky: to plant tree seedlings, gather berries, collect treasures in a jar, watch deer in a field and tuck each other into bed so tenderly. The youngest listeners will enjoy guessing the predictable rhyme at the end of each couplet.

IT’S TIME!
Adam Mansbach’s Seriously, Just Go to Sleep is a hoot. Exhausted parents need a chuckle at the end of an impossibly long day, and this G-rated version of the surprise bestseller Go the F**k to Sleep will deliver it. If you were too scandalized to pick up a copy of the adult book, try this one. If you bought the first version and hid it so well that you will never find it, this one is 100 percent safe. Even toddlers will appreciate Ricardo Cortés’ illustrations of cheeky peers wide awake amid sleeping lions, farm animals and all manner of obligingly restful critters. The rhythmic text describes natural, sleepy scenes, but each ends in a plea for the child at hand, the one still awake right now, to join the club already. This insistent change of key is funny on any level: sweet, sarcastic or just plain tired.

Bedtime books are worth their weight in gold if they work. The good ones—like these five new picture books—can help parents and children ease the tricky transition from day to night, light to dark and together to alone. IN SHINING ARMOR Owen Davey’s Night Knight transforms every element of a typical, boring bedtime routine into […]
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Fifty years ago, the word “parenting” didn’t even exist. What did parents do before that? Muddle through, mostly—lucky if they didn’t inflict their own problems on their children. These five books indicate that “parenting” these days is not just a neologism; it’s an art form invested with life-enhancing values. Here’s a smattering from the palettes of five wise instructors.

COMPASSIONATE CARE
Dr. Madeline Levine, author of the bestseller The Price of Privilege, presents her exhaustive research with clarity and passion in a compelling new book. To Teach Your Children Well, you need to get your kid off the “Merit Train” (test scores, sports trophies, etc.) and take a walk with them instead. You don’t just “parent” your children; you “mentor” them, bestowing values that matter: a love of learning, a sense of self, compassion for others, a close and caretaking regard for both body and soul and—above all—the resourcefulness to face most challenges. Most—but not all. Levine’s conclusions are wisely and boldly inconclusive. We cannot solve all our children’s problems because we have too many of our own. What we can do is show them that we’re with them all the way, holding tight, being brave together, letting go when it’s right.

CONTEMPLATING SCREEN TIME
James P. Steyer argues that it’s time for parents to start Talking Back to Facebook. He should know: As founder and CEO of the advocacy group Common Sense Media, Steyer has devoted his life to “improving the media lives of kids and families.” Here, he lays out what may be the crucial questions of our time: How can a person develop any self-image when constantly inundated with external images?  How can you uphold for your child the value of face-to-face connections when she is connected to Facebook instead? The author identifies two ways that children are at risk—through a loss of privacy and a loss of innocence. If anything and everyone is available online, these standard childhood privileges disintegrate. Thanks to technology, kids grow up much faster now, shedding their fragile childishness as quickly as possible.

Steyer is no Luddite fool. He celebrates the positive “data points” the Internet gives children, helping them to be more politically and culturally current than any previous generation. Nevertheless, his dire warning remains plain, given eloquent imprimatur by Chelsea Clinton’s foreword: If parents don’t take care, too much media exposure can undermine a child’s life and leave him or her scrambling for selfhood.

MANTRAS FOR MAMAS
The title of Erin Bried’s guide is almost ludicrously modest. How to Rock Your Baby is one of 97—count ’em!—“how to’s” for new moms in this handy book. Of all the instructors in this group of parenting authors, Bried is the most artful. Even her Table of Contents constitutes a work of art unto itself, combining a near-hundredweight of gentle and laconic imperatives for going as gently as possible into that sometimes-not-so-good night of parenthood. Consider this sequence of instructions in the section of the book on “Delivering.” Find Focus. Bear Down. Speak Up. Give Love. Or this set from “Surviving.” Reach Out. Cheer Up. Space Out. Go Out. Reclaim Yourself. Like most moms, I could have used these mantras in the pinched moments of early motherhood when it wasn’t at all clear what to do or how to do it. Concision, simplicity and sweetness are three fundamental and indispensable virtues of Bried’s compendium. Pregnant? Choose Well (another gem from the Table of Contents) and get this book for yourself and your partner.

HAPPY, HEALTHY BÉBÉS
Let’s face it: It seems like we’ll never figure out how to get our kids to eat what we want them to. Meanwhile, Karen Le Billon reports that French Kids Eat Everything. What might we learn from parents across the pond to help us make mealtime less of a tug-of-war and more of a picnic? Le Billon recounts with relish (and lots of different sauces) “how our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.” That’s the subtitle of the book, if you can believe it, and it fairly epitomizes the author’s point: To digest anything (whether it’s a morsel of food or an idea), you’ve got to slow down and chew on it. The French have this down. There have been many celebrations of that bon vivant attitude, but this volume about raising Gallic eaters beats them all. Filled with humorous anecdotes, recipes, foodie French nursery rhymes and scintillating cultural inquiry, Le Billon’s adventures take intercontinental flight, showing us it’s not quoi we eat with our kids, but comment we eat it together.

HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN?
Here’s a book that needs no endorsement: Sally Koslow’s melancholy title says it all to her alarmingly emergent readership. Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest packs an unsentimental punch for the growing population of parents with grown-up kids who are home again after college, travel or vocational school—jobless, heart-sore and adrift. Koslow’s “adultescents” are a new phenomenon, different from both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s or even David Foster Wallace’s slouchers, unprecedented in both scope and spiritual danger because of our new century’s perfect storm of economic hardship and over-qualification. “Sobering” is the word for Koslow’s data and hopeful conclusions. We have been drunk— not on alcohol, but on unreasonable expectations. For our lost kids at home, it’s time to dry up and move out.

Fifty years ago, the word “parenting” didn’t even exist. What did parents do before that? Muddle through, mostly—lucky if they didn’t inflict their own problems on their children. These five books indicate that “parenting” these days is not just a neologism; it’s an art form invested with life-enhancing values. Here’s a smattering from the palettes of […]
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It’s official: everyone is stressed out these days. Anyone who doesn’t feel anxious is either a saint, not paying attention or just kidding. The unprecedented frequency of clinical anxiety disorders arises out of a neurotic stew of economic uncertainty and our increasingly hectic day-to-day lives. BookPage has rounded up five new books, each presenting its own set of strategies for overcoming stress.

BEATING STRESS, NATURALLY
Paul Huljich knows about stress in ways that most of us can never imagine. The victim of a nervous breakdown in 1998, he suffered a terrifying loss of freedom and self-determination. But Huljich courageously constructed a happy sequel to his own Kafkaesque story. He researched various avenues for regaining his mental health, and now serves as one of the world’s leading spokespersons on mental wellbeing. In Stress Pandemic: The Lifestyle Solution, Huljich presents “9 Natural Steps to Survive, Master Stress and Live Well.” With matchless authority, he diagnoses the causes and defines the effects of our culture’s submission to stress, and then lays out his ninefold program of self-awareness and recovery. The simplicity of Huljich’s “natural steps”—including the obvious triad of exercise, nutrition and sleep—is balanced by the author’s complex account of his experience with psychiatric medications of all sorts. Here is a guru of organic healing who can be trusted, someone who has returned from the inferno of stress-induced insanity in order to reaffirm the power of the individual will.

A MEDICAL APPROACH
A clinical psychiatrist will naturally address stress in a very different way from Huljich’s holistic program. Dr. Joseph Shrand, a Harvard psychiatry instructor, provides a more dispassionate approach in Manage Your Stress, part of the Harvard Medical Health Series published by St. Martin’s Press. With a scientist’s clarity and restraint, the author, writing with Leigh M. Devine, presents a set of definitions of stress, locating it properly in its biological framework and then proceeding to an understanding of its physiological consequences. “Your body has reacted to the event of being cut off in traffic almost in the same way as if a rhinoceros had charged you,” Shrand writes, describing an individual’s response to stress. “When you experience a stress trigger your heart beats quickly, your palms and body sweat, blood rushes to your face, and your breathing quickens.” We all know the feeling, though we’re often unsure how to deal with it. Shrand draws a careful line between what a person can do for herself to overcome stress and what she must properly lay at the psychiatrist’s door when the problem becomes too large to handle. He saves his most striking (and, alas, newly stress-inducing) statement for the conclusion of the book: It turns out that our prolonged experience of stress can be epigenetically(!) passed down through our genes to our children. Thanks a lot, Dr. Shrand. Do you have an opening next Tuesday?

STRATEGIES FOR ANXIOUS YOUNGSTERS
No parent needs the looming prospect of epigenetics to understand how stressful life can be for kids nowadays. Donna B. Pincus wants to help us help our children build an entire toolbox for dealing with stress. In Growing Up Brave, Pincus, who serves as director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University, offers parents “expert strategies”for helping their children cope. By treating almost every conceivable configuration of family dynamics, the book provides a comprehensive array of do’s and don’ts, supported by well-assembled clinical evidence and numerous case studies. Whatever the problem your child is suffering—fear of the dark, fear of dogs, fear of school, or Charlie Brown’s unforgettable state of pantophobia (fear of everything)—Pincus delivers both philosophical principles and pragmatic steps for helping your child climb “the bravery ladder” and then happily throw it away at the top.

LIFE AFTER TRAUMA
We have saved the worst-case scenarios for last. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not only one of the world’s fastest growing maladies, it has also served cultural commentators as a good metaphor for the state of our nation since 9/11. On the individual level, the after-effects of a life-threatening trauma can cripple a person physically and emotionally. In two new books on the subject, the crucial idea for confronting the enormity of trauma is resilience. Both books go so far as to claim that there is a science of resilience. For psychiatrist team Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney, Resilience is nothing less than The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges. These two physicians are not content with providing clinical data or pharmacological solutions (which are relegated to a brief appendix). They are genuine philosophers—lovers of wisdom—bent upon uncovering all possible sources of empowerment for the resilient human being, including a courageous confrontation of the moral and spiritual dimensions of the still-untapped traumas of 9/11.

Journalist Laurence Gonzales has the award-winning journalist’s knack for telling a vivid story. His Surviving Survival is filled to the brim with tales of survival, of traumas suffered and overcome. It is a gallery of terrible life-and-death moments that arrive and depart with shocking suddenness, but then linger forever in the victim’s mind—from the death of a child to a bomb blast in Iraq. The author argues that it is necessary to cultivate both “The Art and Science of Resilience,” his subtitle. Without a doubt, the first stage of this process will have been achieved by any reader who can survive the relentless litany of trauma and resilience Gonzales so vividly catalogues.

It’s official: everyone is stressed out these days. Anyone who doesn’t feel anxious is either a saint, not paying attention or just kidding. The unprecedented frequency of clinical anxiety disorders arises out of a neurotic stew of economic uncertainty and our increasingly hectic day-to-day lives. BookPage has rounded up five new books, each presenting its […]
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Looking for great gift books for children, selections that will encourage creativity and curiosity? We’ve combed through publishers’ offerings to find these 10 irresistible choices for kids of all ages, from tots to teens.

FOR LITTLE ONES

Avast, toddler and preschool pirate fans, here’s a pop-up book and play mat all in one. Playbook Pirates, written by Corina Fletcher and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, is a take-along adventure set starring a cute crew (boys and girls, and with a range of skin tones) and colorful critters. Read the book from either end: One side is a pop-up tale with cheerful pirates searching for buried treasure and navigating sharks, a shipwreck and a mermaid tea party. The other side shares scenes from a pirate’s busy life, including parent-pleasing evidence that pirates “have to keep the ship clean and tidy!” The clever design unfolds into a large, pop-up play mat equipped with free-standing characters ready for uncharted adventures.

Here’s a wish: that kiddies will grow up loving and remembering Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and author Paul Galdone. The Folk Tale Classics Treasury: Six Cherished Stories in One Keepsake Volume is a core curriculum of the earliest kid lit, including The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears and The Gingerbread Boy as retold and illustrated by Galdone. Each story has a perfect ratio of word to fabulous image, “just right for reading aloud and reading together.” Who can forget the “TRIP, TRAP, TRIP, TRAP” of the third Billy Goat Gruff across the troll’s bridge? Hopefully, no one. This beautiful collection, designed for ages 4 to 7, includes a downloadable audiobook of all six stories.

MOVING PARTS

Pop-up master Robert Sabuda pays big homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid in this spectacular three-dimensional edition. Those of us who only know the Disney version or abridged picture book variations will be surprised by plot details and the emotional depth of Andersen’s story. It is hardly simple, sweet goodnight fare. Sabuda spins the drama with towering, intricately engineered eruptions on every spread, as well as within sequential booklets—with pop-ups of their own—in the margins. We are hooked from the very first page, when the sea king’s castle—a paper sculpture teeming with merpeople, studded with doors shaped like water drops—rises far larger than the book itself. Best for ages 6 and up.

Ever hear the phrase “rack and pinion steering” on car commercials and wonder what it means? Ask a kid to show you with this nifty kit: How Cars Work: The Interactive Guide to Mechanisms That Make a Car Move by Nick Arnold. Children aged 7 and up can build 10 basic car mechanisms with pegboard, cardboard bits (gears, strips, cams, etc.), rubber bands, plastic bolts and wing nuts. What they’re really building is a hands-on, working knowledge of stuff like valves, brakes and windshield wipers. Running timelines provide historical context, while adorable illustrations by Allan Sanders make instructions easy and fun to follow.

CREATURE TEACHERS

Nat Geo goes interactive with the Animal Creativity Book, stuffed with animal photos and facts, plus stickers, stencils, games, crafts and other neat things to do. Make a pop-up card for a friend, featuring one of the world’s longest living animals: a giant tortoise. Play Baby Animal Match-Up with colorful cards ready to cut out, or Build a Bear, a game of chance where players compete to assemble a paper panda model. More highlights: a cut-out 3-D lion mask (with a mane made of paper strips) and Animal Artist, a step-by-step, super-easy method for drawing dogs and cats. For ages 6 to 9.

A cell phone or digital camera is all a kid (ages 8 to 12) needs to make amazing animated films with the awesome boxed set of Animation Studio by Helen Piercy. We’re talking “stop-action” movies, where every incremental movement is caught “on film” and then combined at speed to look real. Movies can feature 2-D action, such as simple drawings on a whiteboard or paper, or 3-D subjects like clay and more complex models. The kit includes a fold-out stage, props, sets and storyboards, all with irresistible artwork, plus some cool tools from animation history: a zoetrope drum and a thaumatrope. The colorful handbook gives storytelling tips, advice on editing and complete how-tos.

Dinosaurology: The Search for a Lost World is a facsimile of the 1907 travel journal of Raleigh Rimes, a (fictitious) young explorer on a secret journey to a “lost island” in South America where indigenous humans and “living, breathing dinosaurs” coexist in the shadow of a grumbling volcano. Yellowed pages studded with notes, maps, drawings and lift-the-flap extras detail the boy’s adventures and bring to life many prehistoric creatures, remains and encounters. This fictional account is an entertaining way to learn a lot of facts, including a brief history of paleontology, dinosaur characteristics and behavior, plus a great deal about popular prehistoric creatures not classified as true dinosaurs, such as the Megalodon, Ichthyosaurus and Pterodactyl. For ages 8 to 12.

The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth is an “amoebas to zebras” reference destined to pique the interest of young readers and provide years of homework help for ages 8 to 12. A super simple (and thus memorable) Tree of Life graphic starts the book, dividing all living things into Plants, Fungi, Microscopic Life and—the main attraction—Animals, with invertebrates and vertebrates branching out from there. The goal is a comprehensive, at-a-glance guide illustrated with brilliant color photography, accompanied by facts that prove to be easily digestible. A nice bonus is the little silhouette “scale” graphic tucked beside each gorgeous spread, giving kids a better sense of how each specimen relates to other species and to themselves.

How the World Works, by Clive Gifford, promises young readers (ages 8 to 13) they can “know it all, from how the sun shines to how the pyramids were built.” “All” means “the systems, processes and phenomena . . . that make up the workings of the world,” organized into five headings: Earth and Space, Prehistoric Life, Life, Science and Technology, and History, presented in an inviting question-and-answer format. For example: How do volcanoes erupt, how did the dinosaurs die out, and how does nuclear power work? Each question and answer fits onto two adjoining pages, which gives kids plenty of information via illustration and description without being overwhelming. 

ROOKIE GROWS UP

Rookie is on online, independent magazine with writing and artwork from and for teenage girls. (Check it out at Rookiemag.com.) Rookie Yearbook Two, edited by Tavi Gevinson, compiles highlights from Rookie’s thrilling second year of life, including pieces by Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, interviews with Emma Watson and Carrie Brownstein, and tons of thematic content from dozens of talented young contributors. Themes like Play, On the Road, Freedom and Paradise give scope to memoirs, essays, fiction, photos and other creative responses. Funky DIY projects are paired with step-by-step photos, like the denim jacket tutorial which, according to a reader’s whim and materials on hand, can involve spray bleach, tie-dye, vintage fabrics and even googly eyes. This compilation would be a welcome gift for the hard-to-please teen on your list.

Looking for great gift books for children, selections that will encourage creativity and curiosity? We’ve combed through publishers’ offerings to find these 10 irresistible choices for kids of all ages, from tots to teens. FOR LITTLE ONES Avast, toddler and preschool pirate fans, here’s a pop-up book and play mat all in one. Playbook Pirates, […]
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The date on which Hanukkah falls is based on a lunar calendar, and this year it comes far earlier than usual—which means we don’t have much time to choose Hanukkah books for the children in our lives. You can’t go wrong with these selections. They either add a new twist to an old story or succeed in emphasizing timeless values with a light touch, and all are very entertaining.

A SNOWY CELEBRATION
Hanukkah in Alaska (ages 4 to 8), written by Barbara Brown and illustrated by Stacey Schuett, proves that there can be fresh, new children’s stories for Hanukkah, and that even one as specific as this—set in Alaska—can have universal appeal. A young girl describes winter in Alaska: the snow, the moose that wander at will throughout her neighborhood, the scarce hours of daylight. Pages later, the family kindles Hanukkah candles, but no mention is made that the family is Jewish or that everyone else in Alaska might not be. The narrator seems to take it for granted that her family celebrates this holiday, so readers will, too. It’s a relief, this easy-going tone about identity, and it’s believable. The story’s conflict is peculiarly Alaskan, involving one of the aforementioned company of moose, and is resolved when the quick-thinking narrator averts mild disaster with a Hanukkah-themed solution.

ONE MORE MENORAH
Sam’s dilemma in The Eighth Menorah (ages 4 to 7), written by Lauren L. Wohl and illustrated by Laura Hughes, might resonate with those of us whose kids bring home a handmade menorah from school every single Hanukkah, year after year. Is there such a thing as too many menorahs? My answer would be an emphatic no, but Sam is not so sure. He asks to make something else, please, but the teacher gently insists, assuring Sam that his newest creation will be well met at home. She’s right, of course. Sam’s menorah does find the perfect home, and ends up brightening the lives of grateful residents in Grandma’s new retirement facility. This value-oriented tale of a thoughtful boy and his Bubbe is a sweet addition to a Hanukkah picture book library.

HANUKKAH AT HOME
Hanukkah lasts eight nights, with a new candle added to a Hanukkah menorah each evening. In Eight Is Great (ages 1 to 4), written by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by Hideko Takahashi, eight is so great, every page of this board book rhymes with it: celebrate, decorate, late, great and so on, while describing cozy family Hanukkah scenes at home. “Each night with Shamash tall and straight a candle’s lit. Soon we’ll have eight.” And a page or two later, “Dad serves eight latkes from the plate. “There’s more,” he says, “don’t hesitate.” The rhythm and page turns are just right for the youngest listeners, who get a window into cozy home observance. No history here, which is just fine, but the illustration on the last page links the contemporary family’s Hanukkah menorah with the original, seven-branched lamp from the Temple.

SORTING THINGS OUT
Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah (ages 2 to 6) is the third picture book collaboration by Jamie Korngold ("the Adventure Rabbi") and illustrator Julie Fortenberry, and this time, their preschool heroine navigates the holiday of Hanukkah. Sadie loves school. Her awesome teacher, Morah Rachel, lets the kids take a whole week to make and decorate a clay menorah and learn the special Hanukkah blessings for candlelighting. Sadie is very excited about her own pink and blue creation, but as she runs to show her mom on Friday afternoon, she trips, and the menorah shatters into smithereens. Here’s where Mom shines: she notices that the one surviving chunk of Sadie’s menorah is the part where the helper candle would sit—the Shamash—that lights the eight Hanukkah flames and ushers in a new day of the holiday. So, Mom suggests to Sadie that this bit can become something very special, a kind of “Super Shamash.” Sadie is immediately on board, which proves her mettle once again. Mom and kid demonstrate resilience in the face of disappointment, creativity in figuring out how to make the best of a bad situation. For some sensitive (or perfectionist) children, the working through of the story from disaster to a beautiful solution can be especially redemptive. Sadie later uses the Super Shamash to light all four of her family’s menorahs.

The illustrations are lively and expressive, and, in one subtle way, rather miraculous: Not only does Morah Rachel wear a kippah (yarmulke), which is a traditional male headcovering, but several of the female students do, too. I can’t think of any other illustrator depicting this sort of thing in a picture book.

Another bonus: on the last page, the author includes all three Hanukkah candle blessings in English, Hebrew and in transliteration, so kids can welcome Hanukkah just like Sadie.

THE POWER OF GIVING
“It’s Hanukkah from A to Z. An alphabet of things to see,” begins ABC Hanukkah Hunt (ages 3 to 8), another entry written by Tilda Balsley. Every page has a simple rhyming couplet and busy, colorful illustrations by Helen Poole. Young listeners are prompted to find and point: “The leader’s Judah. Can you find him? Brave Maccabees all stand behind him.” Pages progress from history (King Antiochus “would not let the Jews be free”) to how we celebrate Hanukkah today. A maze to the Holy Temple, a page showing the calendar month of Kislev (Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev), and a pile of Hanukkah doughnuts called by their Hebrew name, sufganiyot, help bump this picture book from just cute to downright educational.

Best of all, even in a book with a whole alphabet to work with, gifts do not get much attention. In fact, the letter T puts the emphasis on giving, not getting: “A Tzedakah box—what goes inside? Who needs your help? You can decide.” So, not only do we see a kid with a collecting box, we see what she’s imagining: a hospital and a food bank. She’s the one with the power to ponder where her donations should go. This is powerful message for little eyes and ears, especially during these months when the big holidays are so hyper-commercialized.

AN UNEXPECTED GUEST
Hanukkah Bear (ages 4 to 8), written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka is a do-over. Kimmel, a Jewish picture book celebrity, published The Chanukah Guest with a different illustrator in 1990, and Hanukkah Bear is the same story, but tightened, edited perhaps for a new generation of parents and children who like to cut to the chase. It works. The charm and suspense are both heightened with the reduced word count, and I don’t miss a thing (I’ve still got my 1995 copy right here). Perhaps more importantly, the illustrations are truly delightful this time around.

Bubba (Granny) Brayna is 97 years old and can’t see or hear very well, but she keeps up her tradition of feeding friends and family the best latkes in the village. This year, she makes a double batch because a special guest is coming: the Rabbi. The Rabbi arrives first, so the two of them light the menorah, play a game of dreidel and then get down to the latkes, which are gobbled in a surprisingly short amount of time. What Bubba Brayna doesn’t realize is that her guest is not the Rabbi, but a bear, who was hungry from interrupted hibernation, but leaves the house full and happy. The mistaken identity interplay between bossy Bubba and the complacent bear is charming. When the real Rabbi and all of Bubba’s friends come for latkes and find none, they realize what has happened and all pitch in together to make more. A latke recipe and short explanation of Hanukkah are included.

The date on which Hanukkah falls is based on a lunar calendar, and this year it comes far earlier than usual—which means we don’t have much time to choose Hanukkah books for the children in our lives. You can’t go wrong with these selections. They either add a new twist to an old story or […]
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These five new books on home décor could hardly be more different, yet are unified by a common goal: to help us craft our homes into more comfortable, beautiful and uniquely personalized spaces.

HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW
It’s only natural that most of us focus on fixing up the inside of our home before we even think about the outside. Aside from the mandatory effort to establish minimum curb appeal, the yard doesn’t get much of a plan at all. Cultivating Garden Style can change this. The big book of inspired ideas from popular columnist and blogger Rochelle Greayer guides readers through the process of transforming outdoor spaces—vast or tiny—into practical yet gorgeous reflections of your own style. Wondering if you even have a garden style? You do, and all will be revealed as you respond to chapters that highlight specific styles via beautiful photographs and a framework of recurring elements—how to personalize with outdoor furniture and accessories, how to select plants—which help you discover and articulate what you like and why. Greayer also includes plenty of simple DIY projects to ensure your space has as much room for personal touches as possible.

EUROPEAN GRAND DESIGN
Veranda magazine is all about luxury and the very best in interior design. This means the magazine’s newest coffee table tome, Veranda: A Passion for Living, is not so much a practical guide as it is a showcase of some of the most beautiful homes in Europe, each with its own style, sense of place and personality. This is total eye candy for us average do-it-yourselfers, but it’s sure to inspire, teach and elevate our sense of the possible. If we see big, then we can dream big and perhaps adapt big. This is the perfect treat for both the design enthusiast and the armchair traveler.    

DECORATE WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM FRIENDS
Desha Peacock has lots of friends. From the bushel of folks she’s gathered together to tell us their stories in her new home décor book, Create The Style You Crave On A Budget You Can Afford, it looks like she could get anyone to talk about anything. No wonder she’s an award-winning TV host and producer. Desha enlists her budget-savvy friends into her conspiratorial cohort, so that we readers come to feel that we’re part of the teamas well, making the most out of our own homes with whatever we’ve got. For instance, there’s Corri in Arkansas, who takes us through her house room by room (with Instagram-inspired photos), proudly showing us how she turned her Little Rock, Arkansas, budget (she operates her own restaurant downtown) into a shining example of design magic. In the second half of the book, Desha lays out every last decorating option we might consider, taking us through “Decision Making 101” for our own idiosyncratic case. Tips on mood boards, color, budget and a resource list round out this well-balanced guide.

YOUR STYLE GURU
On the same subject, but on a different tack, HGTV star and Good Housekeeping Home Design Director Sarah Richardson shows so much confidence in her decorative good sense, she even names her approach (and her book) after herself: Sarah Style has much less regard for budgetary constraints, placing all its emphatic wisdom instead on cleanliness, good taste and artful arrangement. If you have the resources and the ambition, then Sarah is the style guru for you. Richardson goes room by room and offers a virtuosic range of visions: formal, informal, bachelor, Parisian, Victorian, Retro, Pop, minimal and many more, all absolutely gorgeous.

YOU CAN RESTORE IT
The art of furniture restoration is an oft-overlooked subject in the DIY design world, but it finally gets the grand treatment it deserves in Christophe Pourny’s sophisticated and engaging guide, The Furniture Bible: Everything You Need to Identify, Restore & Care for Furniture. As one of the official furniture restorers for the City of New York, Pourny knows his stuff. He challenges readers with a formidable syllabus, including the abilities to identify any piece of furniture by its historical period, materials, construction and finish along with a full run-down of repair techniques and methods of refurbishment. Hundreds of detailed photographs and step-by-step montages make this book a complete education.

These five new books on home décor could hardly be more different, yet are unified by a common goal: to help us craft our homes into more comfortable, beautiful and uniquely personalized spaces.
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Gift books sized right for stocking stuffers abound this season. Small in dimensions but big in style and content, they make ideal holiday gifts for any taste.

Horse and art lovers will appreciate the gorgeous equine celebration Horse: From Noble Steed to Beasts of Burden. A profusion of beautiful illustrations, paintings and sculptures each meticulously identified by captions accompanies short essays and quotes in a hefty hardcover volume. Horse is the latest addition to a charming Watson-Guptill series of mini-books that includes Dog, Cat and Zoo.

Other small and savory selections to slip into a stocking can be found in Abbeville Press' Tiny Folios series, which features subjects from pop culture to fine art. Just four inches square, each title combines text and art for a delightful peek at such topics as Elvis and American Art of the Twentieth Century. To score some points with the love of your life, choose Hugs & Kisses which features photos of touching and heartfelt embraces.

Brush up on your Bard with Fandex Shakespeare, a set of double-sided, die-cut cards attached at one end in a lively, colorful fan of facts. Background information and a summary of each play make for quick study. The Fandex Family Field Guide series has 13 other titles, too, like Mythology, Wildflowers and Civil War.

Holiday blues, winter blahs, sugar lows and bad hair days have a new remedy: The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up. Amusing animal photos are paired with inspiring, witty text designed to lift the spirits. Skip sending that well-intentioned e-card to a blue buddy, and give this charming antidote instead.

A Blue Dog day will cheer up fans of popular cajun artist George Rodrigue. A Blue Dog Christmas is a warm memoir of the artist's childhood holidays and canine companions. It features 19 new holiday prints, and a festive ornament that can be used year after year.

Another artist who happily refuses to grow up is Dan Price, author of The Moonlight Chronicles. Price describes himself as a hobo artist whose mission is to travel without a destination, observing and distilling the joys of simple living. His hand-written journal entries and charming sketches are full of wonder and gratitude. This is an unusual book in an unusual format, and well worth a look for its artwork, honesty, travel writing and journaling techniques.

For the simple joys of sophomoric humor, no one can outdo the usual gang of idiots from MAD Magazine. The MAD Bathroom Companion is a compilation of the magazine's best short pieces that can be read in one sitting. Enough said? The ideal gift for friends and family fond of infantile jokes, smug mockery and great cartooning.

If pearls of wisdom from MAD Magazine are not your style, the erudite gems from The Literary Book of Answers may be. The book is reminiscent of the time-honored practice of divination, where with closed eyes and an open book, a random finger pinpoints the answer. Here, readers are instructed to focus on a closed-ended question, touch the book just so and open to a seemingly random page containing a quotation from Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sophocles or a host of other famous writers. It may sound corny, but the quotations are pithy, interesting and certainly more grammatical than advice given by friends and family. Should you quit your job? Move to Wisconsin? Have asparagus for dinner? Wait a little, advises Rudyard Kipling; That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, says Lewis Carroll; Enjoy it, all of it, Homer concludes. As a bonus, a truly literary-minded reader can seek out the source of a quote, find the context or discover a favorite new author.

Another new book has all the answers too, but to only one question: why aren't you married? Even God Is Single (So Stop Giving Me a Hard Time) by Karen Salmansohn delivers 26 good, snappy, single-girl comebacks to that dreaded question. This edgy little gift book also offers its philosophy of why it's better to hold out for a soulmate instead of settling for a cellmate.

A true gentleman, of course, never asks a woman why she is not married. He might however, ask guests to dinner without consulting A Gentleman Entertains, by John Bridges and Bryan Curtis. As this elegant manual proves, such an uneducated move could be a mistake. Single or not, a good host must know how to set a table, put guests at ease, have enough ice on hand, avoid disaster when the entree burns and other essential skills. Several likely social scenarios are covered, as well as a few klutz-proof recipes and tips galore.

Two chunky palm-sized books that will fit even the tiniest of stockings are Christmas Joy and A Treasury of Christmas. Irresistibly small, they are nonetheless packed with seasonal delights. The Treasury recounts several classic holiday stories, and Christmas Joy explores a variety of holiday themes such as charity, children and food. Need more books for folks on your holiday list? Euripides says "Go forward to your favorite bookstore," for "Yonder lies some more of the same sort" (Hans Christian Andersen). In other words, plenty of great new titles, big and small, await selection. "You may be sure of that" (Aeschylus).

 

Joanna Brichetto is a Nashville based writer who agrees that good things come in small packages.

Gift books sized right for stocking stuffers abound this season. Small in dimensions but big in style and content, they make ideal holiday gifts for any taste.

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Making history

If the working portcullis on the cover doesn't convince you, the gorgeous pop – up castle, cathedral and medieval bridge will: A Knight's City by Philip Steele is one nifty book of knights. Guided by Sir Hugo, readers ages six and up are privy to the sights, smells, sounds and sensibilities of Northern Europe in the year 1325. Labeled color illustrations, illuminated manuscripts and photographs of contemporary tools, games, weapons and wares complete the "you are there" depiction of a journey to knighthood.

Fast-forward to the Dakota grasslands during the 1870s for The Story of Yellow Leaf: Journal of a Sioux Girl by Gavin Mortimer, illustrated by Tony Morris. The date is no accident: Yellow Leaf's intimate account of her ordinary life coincides with the extraordinary disruption of Sioux tradition by white prospectors, settlers and soldiers. Presented as an illustrated journal, the story flows around detailed watercolors, pop – ups and flaps showing scenes of Sioux home life, ceremony, hunting and eventual war. For readers eight years and up, this is an appealing introduction to an important chapter in American history.

For more chapters of American history, try yet another personal journal: America: The Making of a Nation. Imaginatively presented as the scrapbook of an anonymous, patriotic history freak (and a veteran, to boot), the book takes readers of any age through a tour of America from Independence Hall in 1776 to the present day. Maps, illustrations, facsimile souvenirs, song lyrics and memorabilia practically spill off of every page, and countless flaps, pull-outs, inserts and other paper tricks just keep coming. A must for any kid studying American history in school, or for any history-minded household.

Anatomy lessons

Two body books in one gift roundup? Yes, because this reviewer could not be induced to ignore either one. The first, The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Human Body is by David Macaulay. This in itself is reason enough to run out and buy it. Macaulay is a master of bringing intricate structures to vivid life, and he is no less suited to expose the human body than the buildings and machines he is famous for. Peppy, brilliant and oh-so-fun, Macaulay's latest ensures that kids (and grown-ups) finally stand a darn good chance of understanding this stuff for real.

Dr. Frankenstein's Human Body Book: The Monstrous Truth About How Your Body Works by Richard Walker is just as informative, but worlds apart in presentation. The Dr. Frankenstein connection compels even a reluctant learner to peep inside various body parts, but once there, classic DK style takes over: attractive, busy, organized and clear as a bell.

Visual treats

Now, really, can anyone get excited about a new dictionary? Yes, if it's Merriam-Webster's Compact Visual Dictionary. The key word here is "visual." Many dictionaries have the odd illustration here or there, but in this one, every single word gets a glorious color illustration bristling with captions and details. The thematic arrangement is practical for specific queries, but it also makes browsing fun: Universe and Earth, Sports and Games, Animal Kingdom, and so on. Any book with in – depth info on wildly disparate entries like the greenhouse effect, locking pliers, a kumquat, a mitochondrion and a deep fat fryer is supremely satisfying.

The Food Network's reigning queen whips up Paula Deen's My First Cookbook for the very young. Though sprinkled with Deen family lore and photos, this is a solid beginner's cookbook full of kid-friendly recipes and treats. The artwork is particularly cute, and goes a long way toward making each recipe look fun and doable. Each ingredient is illustrated, so even non – readers can see at a glance what to collect. The list of Good Manners is a priceless addition, and just what you'd expect from an icon of Southern hospitality.

Classics retold

Anthologies of children's stories are typically good bets for gifts, and The Kingfisher Book of Classic Animal Stories is a fine example for kids ages six through 10. Selected with care by children's author Sally Grindley, the stories are an inventive mix of favorite classics. Aesop's Fables and Just So Stories make an appearance, as do self – contained excerpts from Farmer Boy, The Wind in the Willows, Born Free, The Cricket in Times Square and more. To round out the treat, each of the 16 stories is paired with new illustrations from a different contemporary artist.

Fifteen years in the making, The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry was worth the wait. Each of these 200 poems was hand – picked by much – loved and much – missed children's author Bill Martin Jr., who hoped to share his love for words and poetry with children of all ages. Mother Goose, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Christina Rossetti and Jack Prelutsky are just a few of the selected authors in this dream of a collection. Plus, many of the artists Martin loved best have contributed all-new artwork, which makes this anthology a visual and verbal delight.

If your kids already know these nursery stories by heart, or, heaven forbid, think they're too old for nursery stories at all, whip out There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales by Zoe B. Alley.

The best best friends

Writer James Marshall gave us a lifetime of characters who will never stop being funny, dear and spectacularly spot – on. The Stupids, the Cut – Ups, Eugene, Fox, Portly McSwine and Space Case are just a few from his more than 75 books, and don't forget his hysterical renderings of fairy tales like The Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel. To rank them in order of wit and wonder would be an impossible task. However, too much can never be made of the particularly perfect duo of George and Martha. Marshall, who died in 1992, wrote and illustrated seven George and Martha books – 35 stories altogether – and all are collected in George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends. The adventures of the two hippos range from mild to outrageous, but always involve some kind of insight into the ups and downs and sideways of real friendship. The stories are super short – indeed, that is part of their charm – and always leave readers and listeners wanting more. The best reviews come from the little experts who sit on laps and hear these stories for the first or 500th time. George and Martha are, quite simply, tons of fun.

Making history If the working portcullis on the cover doesn't convince you, the gorgeous pop – up castle, cathedral and medieval bridge will: A Knight's City by Philip Steele is one nifty book of knights. Guided by Sir Hugo, readers ages six and up are privy to the sights, smells, sounds and sensibilities of Northern Europe in […]

Reporter Erin Einhorn recalls casting about for her next big adventure: a plum assignment on another continent. She found it in Poland, Sweden and the U.S.; in interviews, archives, databases, phone books and graveyards. What she found was the intensely personal story of her family and of herself, one she recounts in The Pages in Between.

Einhorn grew up insatiably curious and suspicious about her mother's early childhood. Curious because there were so few details, and suspicious because her mother didn't seem to want any. Her mother, Irene Fydrych, was a Holocaust survivor. To Einhorn, the story of Irene's escape, concealment and double emigration was a tantalizing mystery; to Irene, it was ancient history. When asked about her early life, Irene recounted the same impressions in the same order, in the same words, never trying to remember more. So, using her journalistic skills, Einhorn embarked on a mission to fill the gaps, "the pages in between" the accepted oral history.

She was especially eager to find details about her mother's initial escape in Bedzin, Poland. In 1943, when Irene's parents were rounded up for deportation, the child was taken in by a non – Jewish family acquaintance. Einhorn always found it odd that her own family looked upon this woman with suspicion; after all, didn't she save Irene's life at her own peril? Apparently, however, Irene's father had offered the woman something in exchange. Could such a transaction be both calculated and heroic?In the midst of her travels and research, Einhorn must confront the loss of her mother, the endless contradictions of modern Poland, her changing sense of Jewish identity and above all the absolute unreliability of memory. The ultimate discovery could be that her investigative lens, though focused on her mother, gives a clearer picture of the investigator. The Pages in Between uniquely underscores an old irony of history: when we set out to learn about others in the past, we end up learning more about our present selves.

Joanna Brichetto received Vanderbilt University's first-ever master's degree in Jewish Studies.

Reporter Erin Einhorn recalls casting about for her next big adventure: a plum assignment on another continent. She found it in Poland, Sweden and the U.S.; in interviews, archives, databases, phone books and graveyards. What she found was the intensely personal story of her family and of herself, one she recounts in The Pages in […]

Readers in search of the best new writing in America need not search far. Trustworthy editors have scrutinized a year's worth of publications in nearly every field to cull the finest short stories, sports writing, mystery stories, essays, travel writing and poetry for new anthologies. Each collection may be enjoyed as a satisfying end in itself or as a convenient introduction to new or unfamiliar writers.

Grand Master Donald E. Westlake has assembled a fine collection in The Best American Mystery Stories 2000. Offerings range from Shel Silverstein's nimble "The Guilty Party" to Robert Girardi's gritty shocker "The Defenestration of Aba Sid." As in the other categories of Houghton Mifflin's Best American Writing Series, the editors provide a kind of runner-up list of distinguished stories (with sources) for interested readers to track down.

The Best American Essays 2000, edited by Alan Lightman, is another diverse grouping, characterized by struggles with "truth, memory, and experience. Writers range from notable newcomers like Cheryl Strayed, a graduate student at Syracause University, to Wendell Berry and Cynthia Ozick.

For compelling short fiction, turn to The Best American Short Stories 2000. Edited by E.L. Doctorow, it offers the finest short stories chosen from American and Canadian magazines. New works by Annie Proulx, Walter Mosley and Raymond Carver are balanced by relative unknowns like Nathan Englander, whose authority and imagination make "The Gilgul of Park Avenue" a real heartbreaker.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 is the first in what promises to be a remarkable series. Oliver Sacks, Wendell Berry (again) and Peter Matthiessen are some of the acclaimed writers represented. Paul DePalma's kvetchy "http://www.when_is_enough_ enough?.com" is a delightfully depressing plea to examine the Faustian bargain we strike with our own personal computers.

Another new addition to the Best American Series is The Best American Travel Writing 2000, edited by Bill Bryson. Readers are in safe hands with a guy whose last three travel books have been blockbuster bestsellers. Bryson's hand-picked 25 stories are predictable only by being unpredictable and engrossing. Take "The Toughest Trucker in the World" by Tom Clynes, about a man whose daily grind involves 18-foot alligators, leeches and some of Australia's harshest terrain. Or "Lard is Good for You" by Alden Jones, a coffee-starved gringa trying to go native in a small Costa Rican village.

The Best American Sports Writing 2000 has been delivering dramatic, thought-provoking pieces to fans for 10 years. Particularly interesting are the stories about lesser-known sports like machine gunning, curling, poker and cockfighting. The definition of "sport may be open to discussion, but the quality of writing is not.

In Best New American Voices 2000, an eclectic group of short stories has been sifted from the fertile ground of the most prestigious writing programs in the United States and Canada. It is the inaugural effort of a new series and ideal for lovers of cutting-edge fiction. No celebrated authors here, just those who promise to be groundbreakers.

Finally, in The Best American Poetry 2000, Rita Dove has distilled the finest work of her colleagues. Good poems are already distilliations of the complex chemistry of thought and feeling, so this book more than any other in the bunch gives us "the voice that is great within us. From the unnerving confessions of A.R. Ammons's "Shot Glass," to the radical refashioning of faith in Mark Jarman's "Epistle," to the sustained aria of discovery in Mary Oliver's "Work," this is the innermost country of America, and it is our country at its best.

Joanna Brichetto is on BookPage's list of best reviewers.

Readers in search of the best new writing in America need not search far. Trustworthy editors have scrutinized a year's worth of publications in nearly every field to cull the finest short stories, sports writing, mystery stories, essays, travel writing and poetry for new anthologies. Each collection may be enjoyed as a satisfying end in […]

Power isn't always the exclusive privilege of males. Lives of Extraordinary Women (ages 8-12) proves this with captivating, concise, and entertaining stories of 20 of the world's most powerful women. What sets this book apart from other attempts to redress the balance of male vs. female contributions to world history is style. A fresh slightly cheeky, yet ultimately respectful tone describes these fascinating folks, and the appealing artwork borders on caricature. The portraits display disproportionately large heads, but with historically accurate renderings of costume and accouterments a combination in keeping with the light-hearted but serious mood of the text. All of the selected personalities may be seen cavorting on the cover in an anachronistic array, spurring curious readers to open the book and identity them. Kids will think all of this is cool.

The entries are in chronological order, from Cleopatra and her donkey milk baths and world-famous library, to Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan leader who became the first Indian to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Kids will recognize a few right away: Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Harriet Tubman, for example, but will no doubt be surprised by many facts hitherto unknown. Other entries may be entirely new, such as: Hung San Suu Kyi, the revolutionary Burmese leader; Gertrude Bell, the British spy and liaison to Iraq; and Wilma Mankiller, the first elected female chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Each entry receives about three large pages of text with illustration just enough to lay out big facts and sprinkle in juicy details that make an historical personage seem more "real." Readers may be delighted or dismayed to find out that women leaders are not necessarily any nicer than the men who usually get top billing. For example, Nzingha, the 17th century "king" (she preferred this title to "queen") in Portuguese West Africa was so opportunistic she converted to cannibalism to impress another tribe.

Although every female leader may not be an ideal role model for our youth, at least Lives of Extraordinary Women supplies a few more honest, detailed portraits of candidates to consider in the first place.

The result is a wonderful, all-too brief book that entertains as it instructs, and will no doubt whet appetites for further exploration and research.

Joanna Brichetto lives her extraordinary life in Nashville.

Power isn't always the exclusive privilege of males. Lives of Extraordinary Women (ages 8-12) proves this with captivating, concise, and entertaining stories of 20 of the world's most powerful women. What sets this book apart from other attempts to redress the balance of male vs. female contributions to world history is style. A fresh slightly […]

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