Kitty & the Starlight Song

Written by Paula Harrison & Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Girl by day. Cat by night. Ready for adventure.

We are super excited to be joining the blog tour for the eighth book in the fur-midable Kitty series Kitty and the Starlight Song. Now if you haven’t yet met junior superhero Kitty and her cat crew, please don’t get your tail in a twist; each of these lovely books can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.

Kitty is an ordinary little girl by day, but by the light of the moon she enjoys magical adventures. Her cat-like superpowers, enable her to scamper across the city skyline with her feline friends. There’s no enemy too big or problem too small for Kitty and her gang of marvellous moggies.

In this cat-tastic tale, Kitty’s feline friend Figaro is hurt as he tries to help her stop a jewel thief, so Kitty organises a paw-some birthday party to cheer him up – his pride is seriously hurt at having to wear a ghastly plastic collar from the vet! Kitty and loyal cat companion Pumpkin collect tasty cat treats and round up all the cats in the neighbourhood to create sweet mew-sic and a night to remember for their friend.

Kitty also has her own struggle to overcome and the book has lovely messages about not letting fear hold you back, you’re braver than you think.

My daughter ‘S’ has just moved into Year 2 and Kitty is right up her street. At just over 100 pages, Kitty and the Starlight Song is super-readable for S who is newly confident and still building her reading stamina. The size of the book is ideal for her little hands too – purrrrfect!

Jenny Løvlie’s illustrations are simply gorgeous, my daughter couldn’t take her eyes off them and there were long pauses during reading as she stopped to take in all the details.

For me, Oxford Children’s has always been a much loved and trusted publisher and they have produced a range of exciting educational activities to accompany the book and take your child’s adventures in reading further. These can be enjoyed at either home or school – brilliant for busy parents and teachers!

So you have a child in Key Stage 1 or lower Key Stage 2, either at home or in class who loves animal stories and beautifully illustrated adventures, Kitty and the Starlight Song is the cat’s whiskers!

My thanks to Liz Scott and Oxford University Press (Oxford Children’s) for inviting me to join the blog tour. We feel so fur-tunate to have discovered Kitty and we’ll definitely be accompanying her on more adventures.

Be sure to check out the other brilliant blogs on the tour.

Freeze

Chris Priestley

To say I’ve been highly anticipating the release of Freeze is an understatement. I was recommended Chris’s previous Barrington Stoke novella Seven Ghosts on Twitter and I can honestly say it’s one of the best, most genuinely spooky set of ‘stories within a story’ I’ve ever read. So when I was emailed the press release for Freeze, I was counting down the days until I could devour it.

Chris is The Godfather of ghost stories and returns with another of his thrilling trademark nested story collections, complete with creepy illustrations. Once you start reading believe me, you won’t be able to stop. This pacey, plot-driven novella is perfect for children and teens who need immediacy in their reading. Each short chapter is packed full of thrills and chills and is deliciously scary.

Maya and her classmates Tomas, Carla and Jason are asked to write creepy stories with a winter theme. Just as the lesson is about to begin, a mysterious hooded figure appears at the library door. The silver coated stranger is allocated a seat next to Maya and the temperature and tone in the classroom literally turns to ice.

The children come up with some brilliant ideas, including a spine-tingling story about sinister snowmen and a frightening tale of rising floodwaters that recede to uncover long-buried bodies. In another of the eerie offerings, ghostly children pour from a derelict factory and take to the ice on a frozen canal, but all the time, the girl in the silver coat gives Maya a strong feeling of unease.

The supply teacher discourages the pupils to use names in their stories and simply call their characters ‘the four friends.’ When each of the stories is read out, the tension builds as Maya finds that she and her friends feature in each of the frightening tales. Everything starts to feel a bit too real and it seems the friends are set to meet a chilling demise.

When ‘Winter’ the girl in the silver coat stands up to read the last and most terrifying tale of the day, the light outside dims and snowflakes swirl. Everything begins to freeze and in a fit of sheer fright, Maya tears the pages from her hands…

It’s as if a spell has been broken; the deathly coldness is gone from the library and so is the girl in the silver coat. Carla, Tomos and Jason have no recollection of her – was she even there at all? Maya convinces the four friends to search the school grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost girl. But the nightmare isn’t over; winter always returns…

Freeze is published on the 2nd September by Barrington Stoke.

If you’ve not read Seven Ghosts, I cannot recommend it enough! Both books are an absolute must for spooky season.

With thanks to Barrington Stoke for the advance review copy.

Scaredy Bat

Jonathan Meres

Illustrated by Anders Frang

Swooping onto bookshelves this very day is the story of a super-sweet little bat and his struggle to conquer his fear of the light. Teased by his two older siblings, he finds the to courage to leave the hollow, venturing out into the Dark, Dark Wood and proving to himself that maybe he’s not a Scaredy Bat after all.

Told in wonderfully lyrically rhyming prose, there’s plenty of places for audience participation – you show me a youngster that doesn’t like a big BOO! in a book! The repeated refrain ‘Scaredy Bat, Scardey Bat, ner ner ner ner ner!’ will delight young readers with it’s hint of mischieviousness, yet we realise the teasing two-some are actually the ones who are scared of the light! There’s opportunities to add actions as we hurry and scurry, swoop,whoop and loop-the-loop. The gorgeous illustrations just speak for themselves.

My two (Big S & Little S) are 8 and 6 years old and still very much love a picture book. I loved seeing them physically turn the book around to read Scaredy’s upside down speech bubbles. Big S said; ‘I like Scaredy Bat because he is resilient. He doesn’t think he can do it (go out in the light) but he faces his fears.’

It quickly became very clear that this Little Bat had made a big impression on them and after only a few readings, they held Scaredy in high regard, alongside some very well-known household names.

When asked if Scaredy Bat reminded them of any other favourite books. Big S straightaway said Owl Babies; ‘because there are 3 brothers and sisters, a small one, a middle sized one and a big one and they all live in a tree. The middle sized one and the big one get worried about Scaredy Bat when he leaves the tree and they are waiting for him to come back.’

Little S was sold as soon as she spotted that Scaredy Bat has a fluffy white rabbit to cuddle just like her! She said the Dark, Dark Wood is like in The Gruffalo and Scaredy Bat’s shadow (The Bogey Bat) is a bit like the Big Bad Mouse.

I can’t wait to take Scaredy Bat into school and introduce him to my Reception class, in fact I’m adding him to my Medium Term planning as we speak! The fabulous forest setting will make a fantastic text for Autumn and Scaredy has provided me with another nocturnal animal protagonist for when we study day and night. Young children are often scared of the dark so I know they will empathise with Scaredy Bat.

Scaredy Bat looks set be a book that gets asked for over and over in my classroom and I’m so glad I was introduced to this terrific little tale.

With thanks to Little Door Books for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Scaredy Bat is published by LittleDoor books and is out today!

Theodora Hendrix & the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle

Jordan Kopy

Illustrated by Chris Jevons

I’ve been so looking forward to the second book in this series! Think Amelia Fang meets The Addams Family with a little bit of The Munsters mixed in for good measure. Spooky season is just around the corner and Theodora Hendrix and her gang of monsters are readying up to get you in the mood as they prepare to celebrate Halloween ‘Battington-style.’

Now if you haven’t read book 1, Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters (MLM) then you really really must! It is absolutely essential that you familiarise yourself with the MLM charter and get to know a little bit about Theodora and how she came to be living with a group of such gruesome folk in the first-place.

But in the meantime, to make things a little bit easier, scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on the link to my review of book one to bring yourself to to speed. We’ll hang around here for you and enjoy some of Chris Jevons’ fabulous illustrations, reacquainting ourselves with the cast of charismatic and quirky characters…

Theodora & Mummy (her ‘mummy’)
Georgie the zombie & Bandit
the masked vampire cat
Helter Skelter the butler & Sherman
Theodora’s spider sidekick (well he’s a tarantula actually)

Righty-ho,now that we’re all caught up and on the same page so to speak, let’s slide open the sarcophagi and find out more about the grave danger (!) Theodora and her fiendish family find themselves in this time.

My absolute favourite element of this series is the mystery narrator. Their razor-sharp wit, dry humour and sarcasm is so on-point and once again had me chuckling away throughout. The enigmatic entity continues to mock grown ups and deliver devilish one-liners, peppering the plot with their pearls of wisdom whilst keeping readers on their toes, puzzling over how they come to witness all the goings-on. I’m zipping my lips now before I unwittingly give away any clues as to their identity as I will not be held responsible for releasing such a monstrously well-kept secret into the world.

Ok, so who’s ready for an Egyptian-themed adventure? After facing down an evil hag, a thieving skele-crow and an army of the undead in book 1, Theodora is certain she can handle anything – that is, until she meets the unpleasant Inspector Shelley and her even more unpleasant pet rat. (Mary) Shelley and Ratsputin have come to spy on the Monstrous League of Monsters, and are determined to shut them down for an alleged breach the MLM charter.

Whilst the putrid pair prowl the mansion, Theodora makes a discovery of her own in The Ancient Curse Breaking Room: a cursed scarab beetle. She needs to destroy it without attracting the attention of the inspector – and fast. The stakes couldn’t be higher: if Theodora fails, her beloved monster family will rot in the dankest, darkest prisons of Transylvania and she will be banished from the mansion forever…

Of course, Theodora can’t succeed without the help of loyal classmate and friend Dexter Adebola. Each with their own reasons, the two youngsters find school a difficult environment and this instalment of the series sees them become stronger together and begin to find their voices and the courage and conviction to be who they want to be.

A real strength of this series is that family, friendship, and fitting-in are themes that run throughout. There’s a real sense of good triumphing over evil in the story and we see an unlikely ally appear, in former school bully, Billy. He teams up with Theodora and Dexter to defeat the most villainous villain of all…More monstrous than all the monsters put together, Ms Frumple, the horrific headmistress of Appleton Primary despises anything that most people would consider fun and does her best to make the children’s lives miserable with her draconian measures.

Jordan Kopy and Chris Jevons are a perfect author-illustrator pairing and their unique blend of horror, humour and Halloween-style hijinks are sure to hook in younger readers.

Yet again I’ve been left dangling like Sherman on one of his spider webs, waiting to find out how some of the still loose ends will be tied up. I’ll be eagerly anticipating the next adventure, which our secret storyteller has hinted may be further afield – check your passport’s in date is all I’m saying…

You can read my review of the first book in the series here

With thanks to Walker books and Netgalley for approving me to read an early e-copy of the book marvellously monstrous book!

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle is published by Walker Books on the 7th October.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes

Brenda Gurr

On your marks…get set…BAKE!

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes is a fantastic series for avid adventurers and budding bakers. With a sprinkle of magic and a dusting of delight, at under 100 pages, it’s perfect for children just gaining their appetite for reading.

Zoe Jones appears to be like any other 9 year old, except she has a big secret – she’s actually Zinnia Jakes, famous pastry chef extraordinaire. Zoe lives with her cello-playing Aunt Jam whilst her restaurant critic dad is away sampling food around the world. There’s also magical cat Coco who always lends a helpful paw in the proceedings – I want a cat that follows me to school everday!

Behind a secret panel in the wall of Aunt Jam’s house is Zinnia Jakes’ top-secret kitchen where Zoe, assisted by best friend Addie and Coco creates her masterpieces.

The Super Spy is the third book in the series, although the books can easily be read in any order. Zoe’s class are having a sleepover in the school library while the parents are holding a spy-themed party in the hall. They’ve ordered a fabulous Zinnia Jakes cake as the centerpiece. Everything is going to plan but the parents set up a spy trap to catch the secret pastry chef in the act when delivering the cake and reveal her true identity – will Zinnia’s cover be blown?

We thoroughly enjoyed trying our hand at baking Zinnia’s chocolate orange hidden picture cake from the story, although as you’ll see from the pics, we could’ve used some of Coco’s magic! I am not Great British Bake Off material at all!

My daughter chose a flower cutter as the shape she wanted to hide inside the cake – next time we’ll use a smaller shape so we don’t have to squash them down!

Even if our attempt isn’t the neatest, the cake tastes absolutely delicious and won’t last long at all in our house. Baking is always a favourite activity and making Zinnia’s cake was lovely family time spent together.

Thank you to New Frontier Publishing for inviting us to be part of the delicious blog tour and bake our little hearts out!

Ghostcloud

Michael Mann

Phwoar! What a debut! Ghostcloud brought together two of my favourite ingredients in a book – dystopia to die for with a healthy stormcloud of the supernatural. And a villain so cruel, twisted and evil she’s up there alongside my most-hated middle grade characters.

This is a remarkable story of one boy’s fight for freedom against all odds; a soul that burns brightly in the darkness and through the mysterious smog that has a choke-hold on London.

Kidnapped and forced to shovel coal underneath a half-bombed, blackened power station 12-year-old Luke’s life is miserable…

I was absolutely hooked from that first line of the synopsis! Thousands of hidden children shovel coal to the furnaces of Battersea Power Station; instead of luxury appartments, it’s a functioning power plant and it’s overseen by the despicable pipe-smoking tyrant Tabatha Margate.

I absolutely adore how Mann has reimagined the familiar London landscape into a steampunk, alternative reality. After the old war with Europe, only two of the battle-scarred Battersea’s chimneys are operational. The Channel Tunnel stands closed and derelict, the Olympic Stadium dirtied and rotting. East London is flooded and beyond Battersea, lie the slums of South London leading into a toxic wasteland known as The Deadzone.

It’s 2 years since 12 year old Luke became a shoveller; 2 years without any contact with his family; 2 years since he last saw daylight. Hard work is the only way out of the plant and he and fellow inmate Ravi dream of winning an illusive amber ticket to freedom, only awarded to the most efficient of workers. But Margate would give Cruella De Vil a run for her money; her wickedness knows no bounds and torturing children is her favourite pass-time. Without that ticket, the boys’ lives look set to end down there, one way or another.

But in the deserted art-deco corridors of the plant’s eerie East Wing, Luke discovers he can see things others can’t – a ghost girl named Alma. I won’t spoil details of the plot but Alma explains Luke is attuned to the supernatural as he ‘knows death.’ With Alma’s help, Luke learns the terrible truth of why children are being kidnapped and forced to work in the power station and he becomes determined to break out. As the despicable Margate unveils plans to re-open the plant’s third chimney, Luke must race against time to find his freedom.

Sheer desperation drips from every page but Luke is one of those people who sticks at things and his ‘it’s not over ’till it’s over’ attitude’ burns brighter than the coal in the furnaces. He teams up with plumber’s daughter Jess (what she doesn’t know about ventilation shafts isn’t worth knowing!) and as small opportunities present themselves, the plot takes on a thrilling Escape from Alcatraz feel. There’s so many heart-in-the mouth moments where I was clinging on for dear life with them, willing them to succeed. As supporting characters go, Jess is absolutely bang-on-the-money and there’s a wonderful unlikely feline hero too.

If their plan to stop Margate is to have any chance of success, ghostgirl Alma is instrumental, but it transpires she could use some of Luke and Jess’ help along the way too. Alma is roaming London ‘looking for her death’ She explains that when a death is sudden or traumatic, souls often block out what happened and remain trapped. Can they help her find closure?

Luke Smith-Sharma is such a well-drawn protagonist with amazing agency. Half-Indian and now half-ghost, he ‘sometimes he wishes he could be one thing properly’ stemming from Mann’s own childhood experiences which are worked subtly into the story.

Although deliciously dark and dystopian, the ghostcloud scenes above the London skyline and Luke’s memories of life before balance this perfectly, as does Margate’s hapless henchman Terence, a constant source of humour throughout.

The plot comes to a blistering climax which I literally read through my fingers with my breath held! But once the coal dust settles, Mann has left a couple of threads conveniently floating like a Ghostcloud on the breeze and I’m keeping everything crossed that the whispers of a possible sequel are true…

Ghostcloud is out on the 7th October, published by Hachette Children’s.

With thanks to Hachette Children’s and Netgalley for approving me to read an advanced e-copy of the book.

How to be a Human

Karen McCombie

Wes drummed his fingers on his lap, tapped his foot on the floor and couldn’t stop grinning. This was THE most astounding thing that had ever happened to him in his entire, not-very-astounding life so far. He was sitting at the front of the top deck on a number 32 bus on the Fairfield bypass NEXT TO AN ALIEN.

Perfect for fans of Space Oddity and My Life as a Cat, this funny and heartfelt book celebrates friendship, family and the ordinary magic of everyday life.

An alien – The Star Boy – is marooned on Earth, awaiting rescue. From the safety of the boiler room of Fairfield Academy he watches humans- in particular Kiki and Wes.

Kiki has just been ‘unfriended’ by the toxic popular crew whilst Wes is a loner and a constant target for school bullies.

But soon studying them from afar isn’t enough and keen to uncover what it means to be a human, The Star Boy follows them into school and into their lives…

The Star Boy’s Earth ‘bucket list’ for his time on ‘terra firma’ is hilarious! Amongst other mundane activities, he longs to visit a discount carpet superstore! He shows extreme delight for things that seem unremarkable to Kiki and Wes (like the feel of a quality deep-pile floor covering between your toes) and makes them appreciate the little things in life.

Star Boy is so comfortable in his own ‘skin’ (details of morphing, invisibility sheilds etc in the story) and has no inhibitions – he is quite frankly an absolute scream! This is so refreshing for Kiki and Wes who both have their own hang-ups. They start to care less about what others think and concentrate on what they have been longing for all along; true friendship.

It’s not long before Wes and Kiki have become totally swept up in finding ways to keep Star Boy secret whilst helping him enjoy his time as an Earthling (and each other) But time is running out for their extra -terrestrial buddy and what does this mean for their friendship after he’s gone?

There’s so much pressure for kids to ‘fit in’ and follow the crowd and this book poses fantastic opportunities for discussion about the friendship dilemmas Kiki faces. As an adult reading the book, it’s so easy to see what the right and kind thing to do is, but as a young teenager, choosing to go against the sneery, highly influential popular crew, where you’re only a fail away from a cruel hashtag takes a huge amount of courage.

I absolutely love Star Boy’s perspective on human life. His view of the world through his data lens is so innocent and uncomplicated and he is so entertaining – even more so because he doesn’t mean to be!

This is such a feel-good read and would make a fantastic class novel from Year 4 upwards.

How to be a Human was published by Little Tiger Press and is out now.

With thanks to Little Tiger for the review copy of this wonderful book.

Stage Fright – Scary tales from the theatre

Rosie Radford

What’s lurking beneath the stage…?

Who still walks the theatre years after the audience has gone home?

School mates Luke and Dev are about to find out when they stumble into a seemingly derelict theatre. The place is deserted, unless you count the spiders, all peeling paint, faded carpets and dusty velvet seats…or is it?

The boys are startled by a strange man, sitting in the box office –  what on earth is he doing there, the place has been abandoned for years? He begins to tell the boys the first of our three spine-tingling stories of the once prestigious Empire Royal Theatre; of a perilous act that took place there in the 1890s. The boys learn of tradgey and betrayal and all the while, there is the feeling that perhaps the theatre isn’t unoccupied after all…

Fast-forward to the 1940 for the second spooky tale, ‘The Ghost Light.’ Despite War raging, an annual Christmas pantomime is being put on at the theatre. School has closed due to the bombings and Mo is helping out her Uncle Jack, as part of the team backstage – this usually involves however being at the beck and call of star of the show and larger than life fairy godmother Lulia Anastasia D’Succo.

But it’s not all pantomime horses and scenery; when a crew member mysteriously disappears and Uncle Jack fails to return from searching for him, it’s up to Mo to solve the mystery. Using the stage’s safety light or ‘ghost light’ Mo peers up into the rafters above – what secrets is the theatre hiding…?

Finally, we finish up in the 1970s for ‘A Strange Exit.’ By now, the theatre has been converted into a cinema and Star Wars is showing on the big screen. Desperate to see the film but not yet old enough, Jules tells his parents he’s going to the early morning kids film – they barely say goodbye, if only they knew…

Jules hides in the auditorium waiting for Star Wars to start but he gets more than he bargained for – will he ever leave the theatre?

Anyone who knows my reading preferences knows I can’t resist a spooky tale and these were no exception. Ghosts, hauntings, unexplained happenings…they were right up my street.

Stage Fright had all the feels of a Barrington Stoke book – I’m a huge fan of their range which due to the novella length and illustrations, hugely appeal to reluctant readers. Short, sharp and full of suspense, a whole scary story can be completed in one or two sittings – perfect for when the nights start drawing in this autumn.

Stage Fright was published on the 11th August by Dinosaur Books. I am thrilled to have been given the chance to review a proof copy of the book.

Rampaging Rugby

Robin Bennett

Rampaging Rugby kicks off a brand new, non-fiction Stupendous Sports series. Humorous but informative, it’s a ‘Horrible Histories’ style introduction to the world of sport, complete with Foreword from former New Zealand All Black, Conrad Smith.

A cartoon-filled guide to the game for 8-12s, it’s full of player tips your coach won’t tell you. There’s irreverent explanations (accurate where it matters) fascinating facts and funny stories. It aims to teach boys and girls about the sport but with a light touch and is just as much about the spirit of the game as the rules.

There’s a chance to learn about the history, players and positions and the match structure, scoring, Do’s (and definitely Don’ts!) My trivia-loving 8 year old was immediately drawn to the facts and stats sections.

Do you know your dummy from your dump tackle or your grubber from your goose step? There’s a handy key words section that explain everything from off loads, overlaps, scrums and sin bins.

There’s so many hilarious details to spot in Matt Cherry’s illustrations and the book has an Asterix meets the Beano feel. Look out for a little flick-book animation at the end of the book – a feature of my son’s much-loved Dogman books.

Rampaging Ruby is well-organised and fabulously funny read for youngsters wanting to find out more about the sport.

And it’s not quite full-time yet…

There’s also a fun pack of resources that accompany the book can be downloaded here

Rampaging Rugby was published on the 5th August by Firefly Press.

Other titles in the Stupendous Sports Series out Shortly:

Fantastic Football

Cool Cricket

With thanks to the team at Firefly press for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

Grow

Luke Palmer

I’ve just finished Grow and I cannot stop thinking about it; unflinchingly honest and unapolegetically harrowing I can honestly say this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Aimed at the Young Adult audience, Grow is a compelling and difficult read, with themes of grief, loss, racism, exploitation and pressure. Josh’s story shows just how frighteningly easily it is for a vulnerable teenager to drop off the radar of everyday society without family, friends and teachers realising before it’s too late.

Every year nursery, primary and secondary school staff have training on Prevent duty; how it aims to safeguard vulnerable people from being radicalised to supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists themselves. This book epitomises why we should always have the attitude ‘it could happen here’ where safeguarding our young people is concerned.

Author Luke Palmer is a secondary teacher and clearly knows the ways of teenagers! The adolescent boys in the story felt like somebody’s son, brother or cousin you might bump into in the street, at the bus stop or at the local footie pitch which made this feel even closer to home.

Football loving teenager Josh’s world is torn apart when his father is killed in a terrorist bombing on a London commuter train. Struggling to cope with grief, Josh withdraws from friends and family and falls into the fold of white supremacist group, The White Lions.

Josh quickly gets drawn into spending hours on his laptop, watching video clips the group email to him and finds his view of the world shifting. His new ‘family’ give him a renewed confidence and purpose in life. The group’s leader, former soldier Carl develops a sickening hold over Josh and what follows is a chain of frightening and often violent encounters. But Carl isn’t the mastermind of the operation, so when pressure comes from the man at the top and an operation to plan a horrific attack is underway, Josh must try to find a way out…

This was a white-knuckle read! I was on a complete rollercoaster of emotions. I was crippled by Josh and his mum’s overwhelming grief, I felt helpless – desperately willing Josh to tell someone or walk away and at times I felt sheer disgust and extremely uncomfortable at what was unfolding.

There were a number of scenes where my heart was literally in my mouth, my adrenaline pumping with pure terror. There’s such a sense of danger in the book and a twist that will shock you to the core.

Although harrowing, there are so many green shoots of hope that spring up throughout the story and Palmer cleverly and delicately portrays this with references to horticulture; a forgotten garden space, unlikely new friendships blossoming, dad’s tree, grandad’s love of gardening and the care and nurturing he and grandma give Josh and his mum after dad’s death… these moments of such tenderness balance out the extreme harness of the gritty plotline.

I’m so glad I read Grow, it’s a must read for parents and teachers and absolutely needs to be on the shelves of every secondary school library.

Grow was published by Firefly Press on the 1st of July.

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