101 Great Books for Kids 2017 (Evanston Public Library Edition)
This week the “Best of” lists just started hopping out of the woodwork like fleas. On the one hand you have Kirkus, slowly releasing their lists in dribs and drabs, and on the other you have NYPL simultaneously dropping its YA and JUV lists with a great big thunk. I hear that even Chicago Public will be announcing their 2017 books soon.
As you may know, for years and years I helped contribute to the NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. It was delightful. In fact, I can’t help but recommend the whole yearlong process as a way of bringing staff together and educating everyone about the latest books. I received such an education from the NYPL list that I wanted to pass on this knowledge to other libraries. Libraries like my current employer, Evanston Public Library. On that note, behold EPL’s 101 Great Books for Kids (2017) (PDF available here).
I cannot tell a lie. I absolutely adore our list this year. Its closest cousin is, without a doubt, the NYPL list, but there are some notable points on which we disagree (particularly in the picture book category). NYPL also included a lot of books that I’m going to try to cram in before the end of the year. They found some pretty cool sounding stuff! Of course, since these are lists created by committees a lot of my own personal favorites fell by the wayside. It’s like I always say: You’re not running a good committee unless every single member loses something they love at some point in the process.
Special thanks to the committee members that spent countless hours all year reading, considering, discussing, rejecting, and ultimately selecting the best books that you will find on this list. They are Laura Antolin, Hilda Gonzalez, Jessica Iverson, Leigh Kennelly, Kerry Littel, Renee Neumeier, Paula Shapiro, Ranea Surbrook, Bridget Sweeney, Jennifer Wasilewski, and Brian Wilson.
- Picture Books (for Children Ages 2-7)
- Folktales and Fairy Tales
- Easy Books (for Children Ages 4-6)
- Early Chapter Books (for Children Ages 6-9)
- Middle Grade Fiction (for Children Ages 9-12)
- Poetry (for Children Ages 7-12)
- Comics (for Children Ages 7-12)
- Nonfiction (for All Ages)
For Children Ages 2-7
Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi
Lola the armadillo has just caused a magnificent accident. But is running away to live in the library forever really the best solution to her problem?
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
We all know the story of how Humpty Dumpty fell down. But did anyone ever tell you about how he climbed his way out of his fears afterwards?
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, ill. Mike Curato
Cuban-American award winning author Margarita Engle tells the story of a boy, a classic car, and a family trip into the heart of Havana.
The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, ill. The Fan Brothers
When a fox with too many question joins a seaworthy crew of deer and pigeons, be prepared for a lush, eye-popping adventure like none you’ve ever seen before.
Be Quiet by Ryan T. Higgins
Ruper the mouse wants to star in a wordless picture book (they’re more artistic that way) but his plans are upended when his friends just won’t. stop. TALKING!!!
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
A quiet, contemplative, lovely little book about an old cat, a new cat, and what happens when one cat has to leave the other.
The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler
Take a trip to the magic hour between sunset and nighttime, when all the world is awash in radiant, breathtaking blue.
Boo! by Ben Newman
The perfect hilarious read aloud story for large crowds or one-on-one lap reads. Each animal that struts onto the page thinks that IT is the bravest. Can you prove them wrong?
Claymates by Dev Petty, ill. Lauren Eldridge
Told entirely in the medium of clay, this rollicking tale of two best friends is the very definition of wacky, kooky fun.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, ill. Gordon C. James
This magnificent book from Evanston publisher Agate Press is getting on almost all the Best of the Year lists, and for good reason. Let this young man’s strut, pizzaz, and pride show you what happens when you get a truly great haircut.
Double Take: A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood, ill. Jay Fleck
Far more than your usual opposite book. When it comes to opposites, there’s a lot to be said about perspective and point of view. A simple story, but a necessary one.
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
This introduction to earth by the author to his son has all the gentle humor, poignancy, and customary wit we’ve come to expect in an Oliver Jeffers book.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
We see lots of stories about overcoming your fears, but few are as sweet, real, and honest as this charmer of a picture book.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, ill by Adam Rex
An epic tale forged in the heat of battle. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!
Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, ill. Alyssa Bermudez
Who says girls can’t be superheroes? With the aid of her abuela’s luchadora costume, Lucía is transformed into the hero of the playground. But with great power comes great responsibility.
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Jill Davis
What parent hasn’t quailed in terror of those two most horrid words emanating from a kid’s mouth, “I’m boooored!” In this tale a rainy day proves to be far more exciting than anything screen time can conjure up.
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli, ill. Mariachiara Di Giorgio
An utter charmer. In this wordless tale a crocodile prepares for the day and his regular commute to work. Elegant in its simplicity.
The Ring Bearer by Floyd Cooper
Blended families and nervous jitters come together in this utterly sweet tale. When Jackson finds a way to save new stepsister Sophie at Mama’s wedding, he ends up saving the day (and forgetting his worries too).
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, ill. Eugene Yelchin
A message of non-violent resistance in the face of oppressors lies at the heart of this clever fable about a rooster and the dictatorial mayor that seeks to shut him up.
Spunky Little Monkey by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson, ill. Brian Won
Get out your dancing shoes cause this little monkey is ready to shine. A perfect read aloud for large groups, we dare you not to bop along to the wake-up instructions highlighted in this book by the author of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, ill. Sydney Smith
Thoughtful, haunting, moving and marvelous is this glimpse of a day in the life of a boy and his father in a maritime mining town.
The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi
Snuggled tight on mama’s shoulder, a child peeks in the windows of her neighbors and wonders what their lives are really like.
What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston, ill. Tim Mack
Convinced that all her other friends already have superpowers, Nalvana tries to figure out what it is that makes her special.
Where’s Rodney? by Carmen Bogan, ill. Floyd Cooper
Bottled up, brimming with energy, and always on the move, it isn’t until he goes on a class trip to the great outdoors that Rodney finally finds a place where he can truly be himself.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
A marvelous near-wordless tale of a girl, a wolf cub, and the ways in which we can transcend our own little bubbles and reach out to those that are different from us.
Folktales and Fairy Tales
The Crane Girl adapted by Curtis Manley, ill. Lin Wang
Based on a classic Japanese folktale, Manley weaves the tale of a boy who aids an injured crane, and the beautiful girl that rewards him tenfold.
The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais
A sweet little wolf in a red cape sets off through the woods but is warned to watch out for sneaky little girls with murder on their minds. Sound familiar?
Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, ill. Jeffrey Alan Love
Fans of Thor, rejoice! This gorgeous compendium of Norse myths is rife with all the best tales, and is accompanied by lavish illustrations that complement the storytelling perfectly.
Pattan’s Pumpkin : A Traditional Flood Story From Southern India by Chitra Soundar, ill. by Frané Lessac
Flood stories around the world abound, and this tale of a great big pumpkin that saves a man, his family, and all their animals from certain destruction is one to remember.
La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, ill. Juana Martinez-Neal
The Hans Christian Andersen classic is recast in Peru where a lonely prince finds his princess in an unexpected manner. Filled with Spanish words and bright colors, this is a fresh reimagining of a classic.
For Children Ages 4-6
Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder, ill. Emily Hughes
Small, slight, delightful little adventures of two brothers abound in this book. Comparisons to Frog and Toad would not be surprising.
Get a dog’s eye view of how to solve mysteries with King, Kayla’s pet and a very good detective (if he does say so himself).
Meet Woof & Quack by Jamie A. Swenson, ill. by Ryan Sias
Woof and Quack want to play a game of fetch but not in the way you might expect. Warning: Watch out for flying cake!
Snail and Worm Again by Tina Kugler
These two best friends may not have a backbone between them, but when it comes to wings, mirrors, and good old-fashioned envy, they’re there for one another.
There’s a Pest in the Garden! by Jan Thomas
Sometimes the simplest words are the funniest. Hold onto you turnips. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Early Chapter Books
For Children Ages 6-9
Coyote Tales, by Thomas King, ill. Byron Eggenschwile
Everyone’s favorite trickster is back, and this time he’s stealing everybody’s fur and insulting the moon while he’s at it.
Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence, ill. Elizabet Vukovic
Everyone says Jasmine is too small to pound mochi, but she’ll show them! The power of determination in a somewhat small package.
The New Kid by Karen English, ill. Laura Freeman
Third-grader Gavin is 100% convinced that new kid Khufu was the thief who stole his new bike. But what happens when you let your assumptions run away with you?
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, ill by Brian Floca
Overscheduled Princess Cora just wants a little time to herself and maybe a dog. What she gets is a naughty crocodile with a penchant for cream puffs and nipping royal ankles.
Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers by John Dougherty
It’s Monty Python for the third grader set. Two siblings set off to save the kingdom from a pack of malicious badgers with the help of a shopping cart named Eric, a cat, and a king who often poses as his own butler.
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke
This latest tale in the amazing Anna Hibiscus series takes a serious turn when Anna’s beloved grandfather dies and she and her siblings process their grief in both good and bad ways.
Middle Grade Fiction
For Children Ages 9-12
Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley
Road trip time! Two sisters set off in a car headed to Asheville, NC to spread their mama’s ashes (even though they’re really not supposed to have the ashes or the car or even each other anymore).
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
All the people in town are nice to Crow but they refuse to touch her and seem downright scared of her. Why? And what does it have to do with that mysterious man on the nearby island digging lots of holes?
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold
When Bat’s mother brings home a baby skunk that needs care she warns her son, who is on the spectrum, not to get attached. Uh-huh. Guess what. He gets attached.
Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao, ill. Helen Wang, translated by Helen Wang
A marvelous sweeping tale set in China during the Cultural Revolution. When Sunflower is suddenly orphaned in the middle of the country, a boy named Bronze and his family come to her aid and the two kids become a true brother and sister.
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, ill. Freya Hartas
A chocolate-loving dragon transforms into a human girl with one clear desire: to become an apprentice in a chocolate house. How hard could it be?
Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker
What’s worse than having an alien welded to your DNA? Having to navigate middle school, the boy you like, and an upcoming surgery to remove the (rather sweet) alien from your body, that’s what.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
Chicago-native Perez introduces readers to Malú, a punk-loving Mexican-American kid forced to move with her mom to Chicago. Will she find like-minded friends in this great big city? Will she find her voice?
Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird
Evanston librarian Betsy Bird (that’s me!) wanted an anthology of some of the funniest women writing for kids today, so she made one herself. Contains such luminaries as Rita Williams-Garcia, Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, Carmen Agra Deedy, Libba Bray, and more!
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Born without arms, thirteen-year-old Aven finds that when she moves with her family to a dying western theme park there’s a mystery to be solved, and she’s just the gal to solve it.
Jake the Fake Keeps It Real by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach, ill. by Keith Knight
Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Meet Jake. He’s just faked his way into a prestigious Music and Art Academy and he’s pretty sure the jig is up . . . or gonna be soon.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Here’s some advice. When the Earth is slated to be destroyed by a sun that’s collapsing way too soon, be careful when uncovering alien conspiracies. Those things will kill ya.
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
Fitted out in the full-body cast, Cuban-Jewish Ruthie doesn’t feel particularly lucky, until she realizes how her friends, neighbors, and love of the arts can help her through this.
Mango Delight by Fracaswell Hyman
From bad best friend to singing YouTube sensation, Mango Delight Fuller’s life is one wild ride where nothing is as simple as it seems.
The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff
Boring, Illinois doesn’t live up its name when eleven-year-old Brian discovers a kooky family and their one-of-a-kind home in the woods. Hijinks ensue in this book by Chicago-native, Graff.
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
On an island without adults, the children come and the children go. If they don’t go, the rhyme they chant says “the sky will fall.” You guessed it. Someone stays. A book that worms its way into your brain and makes you think and think.
The Pants Project by Cat Clarke
Getting your school dress code to allow girls to wear pants? Hard. Telling your parents you’re transgender and were meant to be a boy all along? Harder.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
Young Patina’s lost a lot of things in her life but she’s never lost a race . . . until now. She’s always been a loner, but all that’s about to change and she’d better be ready.
Posted by John David Anderson
When a public school bans all cell phone activity, the students start leaving old-fashioned Post-It notes as a way of communicating. But what happens when something so simple spirals out of control?
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, ill. Erin Stead
Based on the unfinished notes of Mark Twain, the Steads spin a delightful fable about a book, a chicken, a prince, his parents, and a very very hungry tiger.
The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr
Moxie McCoy (possibly the best named character in the whole of children’s literature) is on the search for a best friend, a missing mascot, and a suspect (not necessarily in that order) with the help of her little brother.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
You think your dad’s embarrassing? Imagine if you got picked up every day by a taco truck. A touching, funny tale of friends and family.
This Is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
If David Da-Wei Horowitz has any more to deal with (his bar mitzvah is coming soon, his teammates for the upcoming trivia contest do not like each other, etc.) he’s just gonna dig a fallout shelter and never come out again.
York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
For fans of tricky puzzles like those in The Westing Game. In an alternate Manhattan where ancient mechanics infuse everyday life, three kids try to crack the puzzles that will save their home and maybe the city itself.
For Children Ages 7-12
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas Familiares Para Cada Dia de la Semana by Francisco X. Alarcon, ill. Maya Christina Gonzalez
This posthumous work by great Chicano poet Alarcon (who died in 2016) ties together our days our lives our families and our sense of community with vibrant, eye-popping art on every page.
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, ill. Lane Smith
Is Chris Harris funnier than Shel Silverstein? Only one way to find out. Let’s just say he gives old Shel a run for his money.
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout, Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia McKissack, ill. Brian Pinkney
A seminal collection of Black poems, games, rhymes, parables, prayers, and more. As an extra added bonus, Brian Pinkney’s art whirls and swirls on the page beautifully.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
Grimes takes classic poems from the Harlem Renaissance and then integrates the words into her own, creating something new and vibrant with distinct ties to the past.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, ill. Ekua Holmes
Features twenty poems honoring twenty different poets in twenty new and entirely distinct ways. Come for the poetry, stay for the gloriously colored art.
For Children Ages 7-12
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
Eleven-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled her whole life by her Renaissance Faire employed parents. Now she has to attend middle school for the first time, all the while proving herself as a squire at the faire. Penned by the creator of Roller Girl.
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
A fox with aspirations of evil attempts to raise baby chickens for the slaughter but finds himself too darn attached to the little blood-thirsty brood that call him “mama”.
Bolivar by Sean Rubin
In New York City, no one knows if you’re a dinosaur. A sweet creature from the Cretaceous is discovered by his next door neighbor, and with her help comes to terms with people paying attention to him for the first time.
The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo, ill. Dice Tsutsumi
Behind the dam walls the world is safe and cozy. Outside the walls lies a black fog that means certain death. But when Pig, the dam keeper, leaves his safety for adventure he’ll need to question everything he took for granted before.
One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale
Fury Road meets Misty of Chincoteague in this gripping tale of aliens, ruthless road warriors, and a girl’s love for her pony.
Real Friends: A True Story about Cool Kids and Crybabies by Shannon Hale, ill. LeUyen Pham
Making friends is never easy, particular when those friends have a tendency to be cruel. A fun but awfully realistic look at what it takes to make and keep a friend.
For All Ages
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome
Spy. Nurse. Activist. Conductor. Told backwards, this incredibly simple text at Harriet Tubman’s life examines her through the lens of all the jobs she held before.
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, ill. Man One
Killer art accompanies the true to life picture book biography of Roy Choi, the man who brought high end cuisine and street food together so that everybody could have an equal chance to eat. Special Bonus: Ramen endpapers.
Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh
Tonatiuh does it again! This time he zeroes in on the founder of the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, Amalia Hernández, and what it took for her to beat the odds and create something utterly timeless.
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, ill. Victo Ngai
One of the craziest war stories of all time comes to life with colors so bright they’ll knock your socks off. Can you believe there was a time when ships looked like Dali paintings to escape killer submarines. Believe it. Read it.
Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline- Ransome, ill. James Ransome
Good and bad bacteria duke it out for ultimate supremacy in this fun and funky battle for a body’s ultimate health.
Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, ill. Katy Wu
Like your laptop? Then thank Grace Hopper, an early coder, who taught computers to “speak English” and had a keen sense of humor as well.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, ill. Shawn Harris
Writing luminary Eggers takes some time away from his adult novels to zero in on Lady Liberty and a very striking fact about her. Did you ever notice that she’s walking? The question is, where is she going?
The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler
Intimate and intricate photographs zero in on something that should be ordinary but, because of the closeness of the camera, becomes extraordinary. Simple enough for young ages, fascinating enough for all ages.
Math kids, rejoice! There’s a hilarious and hopping book for you too. Math guru Overdeck poses ridiculous questions (if you put a cup out in the rain, how many drops would it take to fill it up?) with serious answers.
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy
It’s hard not to like elephants, but were you aware of how meticulously they’re designed? Roy goes beyond the usual elephant tropes to examines the scientific connections behind how their bodies work and why they’re as amazing as they are.
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
Think you hate sharks? Think again. Williams perfectly delineates why these killers of the deep are an integral part of the greater ecosystem and why we should do everything we can to keep them safe.
Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton Reveal’d by Mary Losure
Imagine the magic of Harry Potter combined with the science of the ancient past. Issac Newton loved alchemy, but what he’s remembered for today are his scientific theorems. A fascinating biography for older readers.
Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush by Peter Lourie, ill Wendell Minor
Sure, Jack London’s stories are exciting but the crazy thing? His life was even more exciting. It’s Gold Rush of 1897 like you’ve never seen it before. Recommended for older readers.
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay. A Haring, ill. Robert Neubecker
A sensitive picture book tribute to the artist that brought happiness to the world and was gone all too soon.
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill.by Elizabeth Zunon
Think you know the story of Lena Horne? Think again. More than just an actress, Weatherford zeroes in on Horne’s civil right activism and bravery at a time when many would have hid their heads in the sand.
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, ill. Brett Helquist
There have been lots of sports rivalries over the years, but few can compare with the showdowns between tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Competitors and friends, this book follows them from beginning to end.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Jeanne Walker Harvey, ill. Dow Phumiruk
Lin was just a college student when she submitted the winning entry selected for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This gentle picture book biography looks at a woman who was as much an artist as an architect.
Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist, Photographer, Chameleon by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
What do you want to be when you grow up? Cindy wanted to be a photographer. Her best subject? Herself! The perfect book for older readers in the selfie generation.
Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Being Disabled by Shane Burcaw, ill. Matt Carr
When you’re disabled you have to deal with all kinds of questions on a daily basis. Shane Burcaw shows with his customary wit and wacky humor that you don’t have to pity him. He lives a pretty awesome life. Here are the questions you might have for him.
Older Than Dirt: A Kinda-Sorta Biography of Earth by Don Brown & Dr. M. Perfit
The entire history of the earth done in a comic format, hosted by a worm and a groundhog? Hope you like epic stories because this one’s a doozy!
The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in the Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander
Inspirational quotes from famous sport figures are coupled with Newbery winner Kwame Alexander’s true stories of his own attempts to find the right sport in his life.
Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, ill. Keith Mallett
If you lived during the Harlem Renaissance, odds are you would have had your studio portrait taken by James VanDerZee. A fun glimpse into the past through art.
Up Up Up Skyscraper by Anastasia Suen, ill. Ryan O’Rourke
How do actually make a skyscraper? Why don’t they just fall to the ground all the time? Written for the youngest readers, this clever picture book goes through all the step you’ll need to go up up up.
What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand
One kid’s monster is another kid’s delight.
The king of the kooks shows kids how your everyday life gives you all the material you need to be the best writer you can be.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, ill. Vanessa Brantley Newton
She was just a kid when she was arrested, but Audrey Faye Hendricks showed guts and bravery at a time when such feelings could be scarce. A great picture book biography.
And that’s all she wrote, folks! There’s something here for everyone.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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