The Accidental Prime Minister Returns / Roald Dahl Rotsome & Repulsant Words

Books that make us laugh are much needed at the moment: here are two such, sent for review by Oxford University Press

The Accidental Prime Minister Returns
Tom McLaughlin

Do I detect a touch of irony in this title? Perhaps the return of Joe who found fame by accidentally becoming Prime Minister while trying to save his local park, knew just when he’d be needed again. Now, I defy you to get through even one chapter of this new story without splitting your sides with sniggering snuffling laughs and ginormous guffaws, let alone wait till chapter four.

Who better than Joe (aka your Primeministerness) to bring back a bit of cheer? So here he is – the perfect counter to all the current doom and gloom – at the ready to remind the populace of life’s good things, and how they can all do their bit to make our great country (or rather, tiny island) and the world, a better place in which to live.

With his entourage, that’s best pal, Ajay dubbed ‘an all round absolute dude, and Alice, democracy’s most mega enthusiast (also a total dude), not to mention Mr Rottweiler (a useful ally?) who else could possibly get our vote. (He’s even got the right colour hair – almost!)

With its healthy herbal juice, spare false eyelashes and an absolute wealth of shenanigans, book seven, laying bare the ups and downs of political life, could not have come at a more apt time. Bring on the ‘coal addition’ – right now!

Delicious daftness of a different kind in:

Roald Dahl Rotsome & Repulsant Words
illustrated by Quentin Blake

Roald Dahl was a prolific inventor of rude words. He used some incredibly adroit putdowns and curses, insults and expletive forms.

Now, thanks to editor and lexicographer Dr Susan Rennie, they’ve all been brought together into this collection of naughty-sounding words that will absolutely delight any child (and probably adult) who gets their hands on a copy of Rotsome & Repulsant Words. (my spell check is NOT happy!)

So, if you want to try creating your very own ‘gigantuous’ curse word, there’s a spread to show you how. Or perhaps you’d rather become ‘as Grumpy as a Grandma’ then you can find out how so to do.

I have to say I rather enjoyed the ‘How to be rude in other languages (so grown-ups won’t notice).’ It doesn’t always hold true however: I can recall several occasions when teaching reception and nursery age children, hearing extremely insulting words (meaning much worse things than the examples in this book) coming from the role play area, spoken by children not knowing that their teacher could understand their Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi etc.

Naturally children will relish the collecting of ‘bottom’ words and even more so, those relating to sounds that emanate from same.

There are some smashing onomatopoeic examples here including the Spanish ‘popotraques’ and the Scots ‘rummlypumps’.

Think of the fun you might have in a group discussing ‘swatchwallop’ (the most disgusting thing you can eat. An opportunity for some more creative word inventions methinks. Think too of the wealth of language lessons you could enliven using this with your class.

Whether or not you’re a Dahl fan, I’m pretty sure you’ll relish this little linguistic goldmine, especially with those Quentin Blake illustrations.

Attack of the Smart Speakers

Attack of the Smart Speakers
Tom McLaughlin
Oxford University Press

Here’s another hoot of a story from Tom McLaughlin. It tells what happens when a new and crazy fad hits the town of Happyville in the form of smart speakers.

Seemingly everybody has one or is about to acquire same, for it appears as though these Nova devices – virtual assistants – are mega helpful. But are they?

It isn’t long before Tyler and her pals are starting to become just a tad suspicious. Are they the only ones concerned about who, or indeed what, is really doing the controlling. I wonder what the terms and conditions accompanying these things actually say – has anyone read them? That I doubt.

A big surprise awaits the children when they arrive at school. Their headteacher announces that he’s signed up to a new sponsorship deal with – guess what – Nova – and he at least is super-excited about it. Uh-huh!

When the ‘things’ start acquiring appendages we wonder how much worse things can get. Robot spiders intent on a take-over not just of the town but humanity itself? No thank you.
Come on geek guys Ashley, Dylan and Tyler – it’s up to you.

Following a communal dance session –Nova controlled,

a foresty foray, and a possible unlikely alliance, plans are finally afoot but …

Absolutely full of gigglesome moments, with plenty of zany pictures as well as the spidery speakers that provide visual chapter headings,

this book with its unexpected twist, will enthral junior audiences, especially those with a techy bent, whether its read alone or shared as a class read aloud.

(If you’ve not tried Tom’s earlier story set in Happyville, then you should try Happyville High: Geek Tragedy that also features Tyler et al.)

The Dragon in the Library / The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden

The Dragon in the Library
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

Kit is anything but enthusiastic about reading; she much prefers to be playing outdoors and the library is definitely not her choice of destination on the first day of the summer holidays. But when her friends manage to persuade her to accompany them she discovers that she’s a wizard. Not just any wizard though, possibly the youngest ever wizard. The librarian doubles up as a wizard too.

Before long Kit learns that she has to play a crucial role in protecting the dragon sleeping in the library. The existence of the library itself is at stake though (the villainous Salt is determined to destroy it and it seems as though he knows too much about that dragon).

There’s another snag however, over-enthusiastic Kit is, shall we say rather impetuous in the use of her new-found power and it might be that her action has put not only the library but the entire world in danger.

The plot moves at a rapid pace and with its plethora of wonderful one-liners, allusions to other children’s books, and excellent characterisation, Louise Stowell’s debut story is a cracking one. Throw Davide Ortu’s illustrations into the mix and the magic becomes even more potent. ‘True magic’ indeed as the final words of the story say.

The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden
Tom McLaughlin
Walker Books

This book is totally crazy; it’ll likely have you giggling your way through in one gulp as you encounter its diverse cast of characters. There’s metal detecting enthusiast Billy and his trusty dog Shakespeare, Billy’s nan (who loves to snooze and in between bakes cakes (rocky ones) and watches television. Then come – thanks to the wormhole of the title – Queen Victoria, Roman warrior and wonky road builder Atticus, Einstein (self explanatory), Shakespeare – the real one this time and Professor Jones, scientist specialising in time travel and consumer of quantities of his favourite dunkable chocolate biscuity confection.

How on earth can all those co-exist you may be wondering; it’s on account of that time portal aka wormhole. When you toss into the mix a whoopee cushion, (it reminds Queen Vic. ‘of my Albert after a pork-pie session’),

a toaster – which according to HRH “has utterly blown one’s mind.”, a dinosaur and the frantic race to close that wormhole before the whole of history is forever altered, you’ll be sure Tom’s day cannot get any more complicated.

Splutter-inducing dialogue, a plot that moves so fast you almost have to run to keep up, and a liberal scattering of suitably silly drawings by none other than Tom himself, not to mention a quiz, a maze and instructions for making an olde quill pen, make for a terrific adventure to tickle the taste buds of independent readers.

It would make a super class read aloud too – as long as you don’t laugh so much you lose the plot.

Along Came A Different

Along Came A Different
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

What is a ‘Different’? Well that all depends on your perspective. If you’re a Red then it could be a Yellow and vice-versa.

Suppose however, quite unexpectedly, a Blue happens along into ‘your’ territory sporting a blue bow tie, twanging a blue guitar and slurping a blueberry shake, supremely happy in its blueness, then what? It might well mean trouble and dare I say, separatism. BIG TROUBLE indeed, and by the look of things, a complete loss of joie de vivre.

Maybe it’s time to come together and draw up some rules …

The resulting isolation of each group appears to be working – temporarily at least but then a whole host of ‘different’ differents appear on the scene – friendly ones; could that be the start of a change of heart?

It might, but wait for it: how about a ‘really different different’ with an all-embracing attitude to life and living, maybe that could really make a difference …

Time to tear up that rule book guys!

Tom McLaughlin has surely created a fable of our divisive times. How much better we’d all be to take notice of the message of this wonderful picture book that blows the horn for inclusivity, difference and friendship everywhere.

It should be read, pondered upon and discussed and then trumpeted by all who value positive relationships across the world.

Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg

 

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Chicken Nugget in Scrambled Egg
Michelle Robinson and Tom McLaughlin
Puffin Books
Little Chicken Nugget seems to have a slight complex about being the smallest member of the family but is soon to lose this position in the family pecking order: a new baby, Benedict, is being hatched as Mum keeps on reminding her offspring Moreover, the soon-to-be infant ‘can hear every word’ its brothers and sisters unenthusiastically utter.
Our narrator however, vows to be the ideal older sibling,

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so obviously when Mama suggests taking the ‘eggling’ outside to play, warning that special care needs to be taken of the creature, Nugget duly obliges. A game of footie – solo style – ensues but then who should pop her head over the fence but neighbour, Mrs Kiev. I don’t know; Nugget complains about Benedict not listening but somebody should be admonishing Nugget for not looking …

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There follows a crazy ‘Red Riding Hood episode’: “Why, Mrs Kiev, what furry arms you have today.
All the better to warm you with, … Why don’t you let me look after the baby while you play?
We all know where this is going, or rather WE do; seemingly not Nugget though who scoots off to take a break from being kind. Uh-oh!
But then a wild kick from an older sibling send their ball right over fence into Mrs Kiev’s back yard and Nugget goes off to retrieve it. What is lying trussed up on the barbecue brings the ball rescuer up short. And as for Benedict, it looks as though he is about to become the chief ingredient for a lip-smacking meal.

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And, as we know already, he can hear every word; but maybe that is the key to an escape. …
This cheepy chirpy twist on the fox and chickens tales we all know and love, really tickled the imagination of my audiences. Nugget’s naivety and Michelle Robinson’s frequent cracking of eggy jokes really appealed, as did the final twist in the tale – just the thing to ruffle their feathers and keep them engrossed in Tom McLaughlin’s pun-filled, fun-filled illustrations.

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Up, Up and Away

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Up, Up and Away
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I have a particular soft spot for small boys with large imaginations so I instantly fell for Orson, a boy who loves to make things. On the particular day we meet him, young Orson has his head in a book, and his heart and mind on an extraordinary idea …

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Now unlike many of the inventive ilk, Orson is an organised little chap and so in a short time he’s busy gathering all the vital ingredients for his venture – a cup of rocks, a splosh of water, some chunks of metal and a large amount of nothingness (lots of empty space is required on a planet after all). Naturally, he’s decided to employ the big bang method and has managed to get his hands on just what he needs for the purpose …

 

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And before long BOOM! There in his bedroom, right before his, and our, eyes, is a small swirling spherical object. It’s a case of love at first sight so far as Orson is concerned, but concerned he is ,for the planet he’s brought into being has a decidedly unhappy look about it. What’s a lad to do with a sad planet?
Orson resolves to cheer it up … not very successfully …

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Off he goes to his favourite place to do a spot of research and having genned up on the subject through the night, he proceeds to carry out his plan of inducing planet happiness. He feeds it, dusts its craters, tidies its ocean and voila! By the following morning there’s a decided improvement and significant increase in size … with veritable moons even.
Unsurprisingly, care equals happiness where the planet is concerned but most of us know, though perhaps Orson had yet to learn, that happiness has a tendency to attract … Before long, it’s not ‘ just a few teaspoons and the odd unicycle’ but …

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And come bedtime both boy and big bang ball are equally down at heart.
Next morning, (no doubt Orson’s unconscious mind was in over-drive all night), the boy has come to a decision: braveness is called for – and a release …

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That however, is not entirely the end of the story …
Oh the wit, oh, the wisdom, oh the beauty of Tom McLaughlin’s whole phenomenal enterprise.

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Dogs to the Rescue

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Ralf.
Jean Jullien, text collaboration Gwendal Le Bec
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is Ralf, just a little dog …

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but he manages to occupy a great deal of space …

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get in the way rather too frequently OOPS beg your pardon Mum!

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Sorry Dad!

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The result? Banishment to his kennel where there ensues a very brief period of peace and quiet. But then Ralf’s nose begins to twitch: smoke is coming from the family home. Time for our canine pal to test his abilities to the utmost.
Flexible he may be – I’m sure this heroic pooch must have been taking yoga lessons on the quiet – but having finally gained an entrance of sorts, can he succeed in waking the blissfully unaware slumberers? Or is there another way he can effect a rescue perhaps? …
What follows are fantastic heroism and supreme stretchiness on Ralf’s part …

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and utter brilliance on Jean Jullien’s. In fact the whole book (endpapers included) is entirely brilliant.
Jullien documents Ralf’s rise from outcast to celebrated hero with such aplomb it’s hard to believe this is his first solo picture book. (he was the illustrator of the wonderful Hoot Owl)
Let’s hear it for Ralf. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And again for the genius visual storytelling of Jean Jullien – YEAH! YEAH YEAH!

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Hot Dog Hal
Peter Bently and Tom McLaughlin
Scholastic Children’s Books
Most of us will be familiar with children having comforters they insist on taking everywhere they go, but a dachshund– surely not? Well surely yes, if your name happens to be Hal. Hal totally loved his blanket and refused to be parted from it despite the fact that ‘… he felt boiling and flustered/ And looked like a sausage all covered in mustard.’ and Buster McNally had started calling him Hot Dog Hal. And hot he truly was but even in the sunniest of situations Hal just would not take that blanket off;

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well it did, so he insisted have “a nice biscuit chocolatey smell.”
So besotted with this object of his was he that Hal found all manner of ways to keep it close to his person …

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none of which impressed Nipper or Buster and off they all trot for a game of hide-and-seek. Before long though down comes the rain and the canine crew are forced to take shelter in an old windmill. And as the thunder crashes and lightning flashes, good old Hal is ready to accommodate his pals beneath that comforter of his. But then disaster strikes leaving the creatures stranded.

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Maybe that old blanket is about to come into its own after all … But a torn, tattered blanket is no use to any self-respecting dog –

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or is it? …
This crazy canine romp is delivered in appropriately frisky style in Peter Bently’s rhyming text and wonderfully portrayed in Tom McLaughlin’s suitably silly sausage dog scenes.

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Friend or Foe?

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One little alien built himself a spacecraft and sat inside to read the story.

My Alien and Me
Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Tom McLaughlin
Oxford University Press
When is a human not a human? When he’s a small boy who crash-lands his rocket on another planet and meets the inhabitants, thus becoming the alien centre of attraction in this amusing story. The narrator is a small creature whose dad is an expert on UFOs and his mother eager to offer hospitality to a shipwrecked earthling visitor. This earthling finds his new-found friend’s school something of a trial, especially when it comes to such things as eating lunch with toes not fingers, or black-hole bungee jumping.

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Life is not peachy for either party concerned especially when …

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When night comes the small narrator starts feeling somewhat sad in his tummy and wants to talk. It’s time to make amends: but where has that little alien gone?
All finally ends happily leaving space for a return visit…

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And, it all goes to show that we need to accept people for what they are, and celebrate our differences and our unique individuality. Equally importantly we need to find out as much as possible about those whose world views differ from our own: that way comes understanding and the likelihood of harmony.
The important themes embedded in this amusing story are delivered in a straightforward, gently humorous manner by the author who turns the But Martin idea upside down, in effect. Tom McLaughlin ‘s visuals are wonderfully upbeat and his delightfully quirky scenes speak volumes about the feelings of the two main characters.
This one will definitely go down well in early years settings and younger primary classrooms as well as with individuals around the age of that little alien.

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Crunch!
Carolina Rabei
Child’s Play pbk
Crunch (aptly named because he just loves to eat) is a guinea pig and a rather appealing character at that. His life is pretty good: judging by his somewhat rotund appearance he’s more than amply fed and he has a comfy bed but something seems to be missing though he knows not what.
Then one day he finds himself sharing his breakfast with an uninvited guest,

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a mouse named Cheddar. All the little mouse wants is a small share of the tasty meal but Crunch is having none of it – or rather all of it. “No way! My food is MY food!” he tells Cheddar in no uncertain terms even when offered a hug in exchange. I suspect his feast didn’t taste quite so good after that encounter …

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especially as we learn that Crunch’s conscience is starting to trouble him. He’s managed to keep his food but in so doing has lost a friend. Time to move outside your comfort zone Crunch;

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you might just find something much more valuable than a mere meal.

 

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Beautifully visualised in subtle colours, lovely characterization and a delightful story that offers plenty of food for thought. I love Carolina Rabei’s attention to detail and the gentle humour of her illustrations large and small.

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Who Wants a Dog?

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The Cloud Spotter
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsury Children’s Books
Franklin (aka The Cloudspotter) is something of a loner who spends his time watching the clouds, all kinds of clouds that he sees through his various optical devices. Indeed it’s through these that he gets his adventures: underwater,

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as a racing car driver, even as King of the Castle. All is well until along comes The Scruffy Dog; seemingly she too is searching for something, not his clouds, hopes the Cloudspotter. But that canine becomes a shadow and even gets herself into Cloudspotter’s adventures. And that’s when a decision is made. The Scruffy Dog must go. She does – skywards ; but is being alone all that The Cloudspotter had hoped? Or is there room in his life for …

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especially another cloudspotter.
Quirkily delightful characterisation, offbeat visuals and, as with Tom McLaughlin’s The Story Machine, a splendid celebration of the power of the imagination and of friendship. All my readings have elicited positive responses from 5s to 8s.

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I Have a Dog
Charlotte Lance
Allen & Unwin
I’ve never wanted to own a dog – far from it but I have to admit to being enchanted by the exuberant, shaggy canine owned by the narrator of this offbeat, captivating little book. I’m just glad he’s not a member of my household. Pretty much everything is inconvenient so far as the boy is concerned from the moment he wakes, when he has breakfast, gets dressed, engages in a spot of excavating …

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or just wants to play. And really, that’s all his pet wants to do.

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On occasions however this inconvenient creature can be highly convenient – he’s pretty useful when something accidentally gets broken, he’s a great flight launcher, disgusting dinner demolisher, cuddle on the sofa during scary TV programme companion/comforter and finally, bed-wrecker…

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Charlotte Lance uses a muted colour palette for her gently humorous watercolour illustrations of the canine-caused chaos and the contrasting companionship; and by making the patterned text minimal, allows the visuals to do most of the talking. It’s just the thing for dog lovers and anyone needing a reason not to become a dog owner.

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Pictures Pack a Powerful Punch

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International Book Giving Day is coming up soon. You can down load this lovely poster and also bookplates from the www.bookgivingday.com

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The Story Machine
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury
Visual story telling can be as powerful and exciting as stories told with words: this book is a celebration of the power of pictures to tell stories.
Elliott is a small boy who takes pleasure in finding things but he is mystified when he comes upon a strange machine in a box; a machine with no ON/OFF button that neither bleeps nor buzzes. When he accidentally makes it work, out come strings of letters, letters that make words. Could it be a story machine perhaps? Elliott sets to work. Despite his best efforts though, his words just keep on getting jumbled up and that’s truly dispiriting. Not for long though, for what should emerge from amongst all those letters but a picture. And that’s just the start of things; Elliott is soon producing pictorial images almost non-stop and best of all, his pictures tell a story. Then disaster – the story machine suffers from excess usage and grinds to a halt. So, is that the end of Elliott’s story telling? Happily not for it is then that he discovers something even more exciting and more important than the machine. It’s he himself, not the typewriter that is the creator of the stories, and a pretty good storyteller he is too.

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This unusual book is based on the author’s own memories as a boy with dyslexia combined with discussions with children in schools. Many of the boys among his audiences told him that they disliked writing stories but enjoyed drawing and comic-making so McLaughlin set out to show them and many others like them, that they are indeed storytellers, they just use a different medium for their stories. His cleverly constructed pictures with their iconic images formed from typed letters offer an alternative approach, removing the straightjacket of the more conventional practice.
My experience as a teacher of young children has shown me that many boys (not just those with dyslexia) most certainly are imaginative story tellers but they later come to dislike story making because, rather than being allowed to continue using their preferred iconic mode (telling their stories in pictures), they are forced into using the symbolic mode too quickly. Sadly many of them, like those Tom McLaughlin talks of, never think of themselves as storytellers; indeed thanks to the pressures of the education system, they are often made to think of themselves as failures in this respect. I hope that this book will go some way to demonstrating to such children that this is far from true.
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 Here are examples of boys in KS2 from a school I’ve been in recently, who don’t find writing easy but are given regular opportunities to create stories that are largely pictorial. They love doing so and clearly think of themselves as makers of stories.

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