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…take the Birthday Party Pledge! Today is our official launch day. If you haven’t already visited the BPP site, please stop by and take the pledge. If you’re a book blogger, grab the code and add our button to your site. If you know others who could benefit from the many lists on our site, spread the word! Our team has compiled book lists with dozens of multicultural titles in all genres: poetry, historical fiction, books boys love, graphic novels, speculative fiction, books girls love, chapter books, LGBTQ, picture books, sports books, and non-fiction.

About Us:

The Birthday Party Pledge emerged from an ongoing conversation between authors, educators, librarians, and book bloggers. We wanted to promote children’s books by authors of color, and we wanted to encourage the building of home libraries in low-income communities. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, less than 5% of all books published annually for children in the US are written by people of color. Many publishers insist that they can’t find more writers of color and/or claim that the market doesn’t exist for books about children of color. Yet a study conducted by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation revealed that many adults want to purchase multicultural books and are simply unable to find them:

Nearly eight in ten (78%) U.S. adults believe that it is important for children to be exposed to picture books that feature main characters of various ethnicities or races—but one-third (33%) report that it is difficult to find such books, according to a recent survey that was commissioned by The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children.

Some parents simply can’t afford to buy books, and we encourage all families to draw on the resources available at their local public library. In other cases, buying books for children is a matter of shifting priorities and redirecting resources. Compared to video games and other toys, books are relatively inexpensive (and can often be purchased “like new” from online resellers). Buying books locally puts money back into your community, and we encourage you to support those independent bookstores that carry multicultural books.

The BPP has two goals:

1. To encourage childhood literacy in order to promote a lifelong love of books.

2. To assist adults in providing children with books that truly reflect the diverse society in which we live.

Take the pledge today!

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I have to say I was more than a little concerned when I saw the anti-Amazon vitriol on Facebook last week—especially when those angry sentiments were coming from people responsible for reviewing books for children. I wrote my own post about it, but I was thrilled when Debby Dahl Edwardson let me know that she had written an incredibly thoughtful post about Amazon’s recent acquisition of Marshall Cavendish titles, including her own acclaimed novel My Name Is Not Easya National Book Award Finalist that is nonetheless hard to find in your local bookstore:

People can go ahead and say what they please about Amazon but at least they’re not killing our books by not selling them. Amazon is very democratic this way: they sell everything. Yes, the move into publishing is a game changer. But then again, maybe the game needed changing.

I couldn’t agree more. Right now our team is working on book recommendations for the Birthday Party Pledge site. Should we link each title to Amazon.com? Are consumers likely to find these great multicultural books for kids at their local big chain or indie bookstore? Probably not. I really wish people who are concerned with ethical business practices would have more to say about the institutional racism in traditional publishing that marginalizes so many important voices…

An article in The New York Times reports that math scores (on Department of Education standardized tests) have improved over the past twenty years but reading scores have stayed about the same:

Reading achievement, in contrast, reflects not only the quality of reading instruction in school classrooms, they said, but also factors like whether parents read to children and how much time students read on their own outside school. And many children in the United States are spending less time reading on their own.

Since 1992, reading scores have gone up but not by much; in 2011 only 34% of fourth grade students were proficient at reading:

“I’m disappointed but not surprised by these results,” said Sharon Darling, founder of the National Center for Family Literacy, a group based in Kentucky that works to help parents support their children’s educational efforts at home.  “Children spend five times as much time outside the classroom as they do in school, and our country has 30 million parents or caregivers who are not good readers themselves, so they pass illiteracy down to their children.”

That’s not the kind of legacy you want to leave behind. Stay tuned for the official launch of our literacy initiative…

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So I don’t have pink eye, which is good, because I’m reading some really interesting things these days. I’ve already come up with half a dozen new courses that I hope to teach at my new job, and am excited about broadening my field (Black Studies to Ethnic Studies). At a previous job, when I pointed out a disturbing instance of white privilege among my students, I was (of course) asked if I could teach a course on the subject. I refused and resented being asked to take responsibility for “white people behaving badly.” I generally feel like it’s up to white people to teach their brothers and sisters how to act right, even though I’m interested in Whiteness Studies and teach select texts in my classes. And I’m always heartened by white people who make a point of addressing their own privilege and opening the eyes of others. I’m finding more and more bloggers who are speaking out against white privilege, and most appreciate those who invite me to write a guest post but ALSO address the issue themselves on a regular basis (rather than saying, “Here’s a PoC you should listen to, and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.”)

This morning artist Suzanne Broughel posted a note on Facebook that was written by Gail K. Golden, “White Privilege as an Addiction.” Golden argues that like any addict, whites need to seek treatment for their addiction and can start by charting a path to recovery as is done by members of Alcoholics Anonymous:

AA has steps to recovery. I am suggesting that those of us who are called white need to think seriously about overcoming our addictive relationship to power, dominance and privilege and am suggesting our own twelve steps in a lifetime of recovery work:

1 We admitted we were powerless over our socialization into a racist society.

2. We came to understand that working to undo racism could restore us to sanity.

3. We came to understand that we could not do this work alone and made a decision to accept leadership from people of color.

4. We make an honest inventory of how we participate in racist policies and practices.

5. We begin to address these wrongs by learning and teaching accurate history.

6. We pledge to educate ourselves and organize to undo racism, always remaining accountable to people of color.

7. We recognize that this is a lifelong process.  It is a way of life that must be guided by Undoing Racism Principles.

8. We commit to learn how internalized racial superiority has distorted our thoughts and assumptions, and work to clarify our thinking.

9. As white people, we have been oblivious to the racism in our families, schools, offices, faith communities and we seek to address such wrongs wherever possible. If we are gatekeepers, (i.e. control access to resources), we will work to allocate these resources more equitably. [my emphasis]

10. We agree to learn to celebrate our own culture so we do not exploit the culture of other peoples.

11 We will seek to learn how racism was created so we can improve our conscious awareness of the sometimes invisible arrangement that perpetuates racism.

12 We commit to carrying our antiracist message to other white people.

You definitely want to read this entire article; this is one of many observations on white supremacy that I’d love to see remedied: “We tend to argue with people of color about THEIR experience. The idea that we know better is one of the ultimate expressions of the exaggerated sense of rightness.” You might also be interested in Doret’s interview with Stacy Whitman, editor of Tu Books, over at The Happy Nappy Bookseller. Doret asks, “How does an editor edit cross-culturally?” and “Has Tu been doing anything to encourage authors of color to submit their work?” Because it’s possible to promote diversity without achieving equity…

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We’ve had a heatwave here in NYC and I thought I might have pink eye but now I suspect I’ve just been sitting in front of the fan too long! My eyes are dry and I’m ready for a LONG nap but wanted to share some links with you before I hit the couch. My essay,Navigating the Great White North: Representing Blackness in Canadian YA Literature,” has been published in The Centennial Reader. Not sure where they got that video of the sad black girl reading a book, but I guess it’s a nice touch!

The Summer Blog Blast Tour is on, and Doret’s got some great interviews over at The Happy Nappy Bookseller—be sure to stop by and learn more about Neesha Meminger (Jazz in Love) and Ashley Hope Perez (What Can’t Wait). You can find the complete schedule of participating authors and bloggers at Chasing Ray.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Woodson this morning—and THIS time, I made sure I had plenty of batteries. We talked for an hour and I can’t wait to transcribe the footage; stay tuned for a link to the interview once it’s posted on the Ms. Magazine blog (extras to be posted here).

Lastly, after two years of un-/under-/self-employment, I accepted a new position today that will enable me to teach in my field AND stay in my beloved Brooklyn! I also got invited to serve as moderator on a YA panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival…more on that to come. Time for a little shuteye.

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I have to begin with this beautiful trailer for Navjot Kaur’s latest book, Dreams of Hope:

Yes, there’s a place for books like Go the F*** to Sleep (though I don’t really appreciate a black father—Samuel Jackson—being used to voice the supposedly unspeakable thoughts of parents everywhere), but this lovely book is how you want to send your little one off to dreamland. Please do support this indie press! A while back we discussed the possibility of starting a Birthday Party Project—a campaign to get parents to commit to buying multicultural books as presents for any occasion, but specifically for the endless stream of birthday parties that most kids attend every year. Having books in the home and developing the habit of leisure reading impact a child’s academic success—and studies show that black and Latino kids have fewer books at home and read less during leisure time:

One of the things often overlooked in discussions of academic achievement is the importance of leisure reading, not only the quality of it but the volume of it.  There are, in fact, solid correlations between how much reading teens do on their own and how well they perform in school…

When we look at the results broken down by race, more concerns arise.  Table 11 doesn’t separate racial groups into age groups, but the racial groups in general show marked differences that likely are reproduced for the teen category alone.  Whites come in at .31 and .37 hours on weekdays and weekend days, respectively.  Blacks come in at half that figure, .17 and .18, even though blacks have more leisure time than whites (5.61 hours to 5.14 hours per day).  Hispanics have less leisure time (4.89 hours) and pile up even less leisure reading (.15 and .11 hours on weekdays and weekend days).

Edi’s got a list of new releases if you’re putting together a summer reading list for the teen in your life. And there are lots of great books that didn’t get their fair share of the spotlight last year—be sure to check out Nerds Heart YA. You can also find author interviews at Reading in Color, The Rejectionist, and The Happy Nappy Bookseller. And while you’re there, check out Doret’s great list of LGBTQ novels featuring queer teens of color.

I went to the PEN American Center office today and met with Stacey Leigh—she told me all about the Open Book Program:

Initiated in 1991, the PEN Open Book Program encourages racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. Its committee works to increase the literature by, for, and about African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean, Latin, and Native Americans, and to establish access for these groups to the publishing industry. Its goal is to insure that those who are the custodians of language and literature are representative of the American people.

The Open Book Committee includes writers and publishing industry professionals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Committee discusses mutual concerns and strategies for advancing writing and professional activities, and coordinates Open Book events.

We’re hoping to host a mixer later this month to give people a chance to meet and have their say about topics related to publishing. I’m excited about the possibilities and will post more in the near future, so stay tuned!

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Be sure you stop by Multiculturalism Rocks! because Nathalie’s got a great interview with Torrey Maldonado, author of Secret Saturdays. Father’s Day is fast approaching, and you won’t want to miss this thoughtful piece about absent fathers, substitutes, and the role of comic books in this author’s life. Then swing by Crazy Quilts to hear about a brand new comic book—Static—that Edi discovered. I just watched X-Men 3 a few days ago (my favorite in the franchise) and wondered why all the PoC mutants were homeless/punk/bad guys while all the bright-eyed students at Xavier’s prep school were white…

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It’s BookExpo this week, and I must admit that I woke with a feeling of dread this morning. I’m looking forward to meeting some new people (including Jill from Rhapsody in Books!) but I hate crowds, I’m not good at mingling, I still have to teach, and it’s raining right now. Hopefully I’ll be able to snag a cab so I won’t have to schlep all the way out to the west side.

While BookExpo celebrates all things related to publishing, it’s easy to forget that young readers are part of the equation. If you missed out on donating books to Ballou HS through the Guys Lit Wire book drive, then please consider giving to San Marcos H.S. in Santa Barbara. Click that link to get all the details about Ari’s second book drive to supply deserving schools with books by and about people of color. Here are some of the titles they’re hoping to receive:

Carmen: an urban adaptation of the opera by Walter Dean Myers

Fish out of Agua by Michele Carlo

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles (not out until August so an ARC would be awesome)

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Not out until October so an ARC would be awesome)

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Kira, Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Luminous by Dawn Metcalf (releases in July but an ARC would be greatly appreciated!)

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Please mail the books to

San Marcos High School c/o Helen Murdoch
4750 Hollister Ave
Santa Barbara, CA 93110

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Elizabeth Bluemle is an activist bookseller who’s trying to effect change within the publishing community. Stop by her Shelftalker blog if you know of titles that might fit her criteria:

Stories and nonfiction about racially charged eras and issues of racial identity in our culture are critical, of course. But equally important are mainstream stories—in every genre—that feature kids of color as main characters in a setting that, like most of America, is culturally and racially diverse. Stories about friendship, family, pets, love, character, self-reliance, etcetera, in mysteries, adventures, science fiction and fantasy, for every age child and every type of book, including chapter books, board books, easy readers.

I’ll be interested in seeing how many 2011 titles publishers put forward. Out of the 5000 books published annually for children, how many do you think are “non-race-driven multicultural titles”? I’m working on an essay right now about the challenges I face when trying to be an “ethical author.” How do you act with integrity in a homogeneous industry that seems only to value the bottom line? I want my conclusion to offer solutions, and this is my big idea: every year at BookExpo, the publishing community should come together to focus exclusively on equity. We need librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, agents, art directors, booksellers, marketing directors, book reviewers, book buyers, and literacy advocates to commit to a set of ethical, equitable standards—like those outlined in the UK Publishing Equalities Charter. We need members of the publishing community to become signatories—to make a solid commitment to taking concrete actions AND to posting their results. That way we can track progress and offer support and resources when signatories fall short of their goals. It’s not enough to rely on folks’ good intentions. Not when all the evidence proves that goodwill, if and when it exists, simply isn’t enough.

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Sometimes my students save me. I can get mired in my own thoughts and it really helps to be drawn out, to stop ruminating and start reflecting. This past week we had some really interesting conversations about the death of Osama bin Laden, the memorialization of traumatic events, and reparations. Then I saw on Facebook that Sarah Park posted the reading list for her course on Social Justice in Children’s/YA Literature. I’ve got so much reading to do! So this morning I woke up wanting to revisit the issue of equity in publishing. What would it look like? How can it be achieved? How do I, as an author, publish in a way that reflects my commitment to social justice?

Remember my cousin Bethany J. Osborne‘s fabulous explanation of the difference between equity and diversity?

Diversity is when you invite many different kinds of people to sit at your table.  You look for difference in terms of age, race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, ethnicity, etc.  But equity means addressing the fact that some people come to the table without a fork, some have two plates or none at all, some expect to be waited on, and some are more accustomed to doing the serving.  Equity attempts to ensure that everyone can sit down to eat together on terms of equality.

When I look at the publishing industry today, I see an approach that mirrors the diversity efforts on many college campuses. Debbie Reese posted this useful article (“The Invisible Campus Color Line“) on Facebook a few weeks back and I shared it with my colleagues at work. There was some resistance, but at least half a dozen educators agreed that we’re missing the mark when it comes to institutional equity:

Initially, schools are enthusiastic, pledging their full commitment to ensuring their campuses are free of racial, religious, and gender bias. They willingly participate in surveys that measure students’ perceptions of cross-cultural relations on campus. They throw international dinners, sponsor diversity days, and spend weeks writing and refining diversity statements.

But when [EdChange founder Paul Gorski] begins to suggest the work that he believes really counts—reevaluating policies, reallocating budgets, and ultimately challenging the status quo—they stop returning his phone calls. They hire someone new, and they start again. Since student bodies turn over so quickly, it always looks as if the school is making an effort, even if they’re actually just treading water.

I think it’s safe to say that the publishing industry in the US is “just treading water” when it comes to diversity and equity. And as with college campuses, “Token efforts to ‘celebrate diversity’…often amount to little more than marketing stunts.” If the dominant group holds a huge banquet every year and after much petitioning finally invites three marginalized people to attend the banquet, that’s not equity. If they say, “We love spicy food! Why don’t you bring some of your delicious ethnic food for us to sample?” That’s not equity. Getting invited might make you feel special, but whatever you bring to the table won’t actually alter the power dynamics that determine who holds the banquet, determines the guest list, sets the menu, etc.

But what’s actually achieved by NOT showing up at the banquet, or choosing to hold your own private party someplace else? If you show up at the banquet and try to tell the attendees about themselves, you’ll be shunned and marginalized even further. If you show up, smile, and “go along to get along,” then you’re perpetuating the problem. You’re upholding—and ultimately affirming—the status quo. Is that the price marginalized folks have to pay to get their books out into the world?

As far as I can tell, the only comprehensive plan to reform the publishing industry comes from the UK group, DIPNET.

The aim of the UK Publishing Equalities Charter is to help promote equality and diversity across UK publishing and bookselling, by driving forward change and increasing access to opportunities within the industry…

For many years the industry has spoken collectively of the need to make publishing more diverse yet has not embarked on an industry wide initiative to resolve this issue. “What is widely suspected about publishing has proven true: the industry remains an overwhelmingly white profession…”

That’s true of the big houses and many small presses—even feminist and multicultural publishers. Amazon’s expanding its publishing program, but will it transform or mirror the “all-white world” of traditional publishing? Self-publishing is one option, but there are obvious limitations to going it alone. DIPNET offers these steps to achieving equity in the publishing industry—can you see US publishers signing up for this?

SUGGESTED ACTIONS

  • Wherever possible try to recruit a representative mix of people according to your local demographics. For example 46% of England’s ethnic minority population live in London (source: LDA: ‘The Competitive Advantage of Diversity’, Oct 2005), this should be reflected in organisations based in London.
  • Provide equality training for all staff on a yearly basis
  • Set up a staff equalities working group ensuring a good representation of people in the organisation
  • Create an equality policy that is embedded throughout the organisation in policy, strategy and working practice
  • Monitor the impact of policies through conducting equality impact assessments
  • Make all policies transparent by updating them and making them available to all staff (e.g. via the intranet)
  • Provide equality training for senior managers and board members
  • Make all job applicants complete an equality monitoring form which are monitored on a regular basis
  • Take on a trainee from an underrepresented group by hosting a Positive Action Traineeship
  • Increase recruitment pool by advertising jobs externally instead of informal recruitment methods (e.g. word of mouth)
  • Develop staff from underrepresented groups by providing training and career development opportunities
  • Develop a mentoring programme that supports new staff from traditionally underrepresented groups
  • Develop a mentoring programme that supports staff from traditionally underrepresented groups at transitional career stages
  • Hold an equality themed brown bag lunch for staff encouraging debate and dialogue amongst colleagues in an informal setting
  • Attract and recruit more disabled people to your organisation
  • Score all job applications on the core competencies required for the position to limit the use of informal recruitment methods
  • Make your sites accessible to all your clients and customers by conducting regular accessibility assessments
  • Include an equality statement within job advertisements
  • Ensure that all shortlisted candidates are asked whether they require any ‘reasonable adjustments’ prior to interview to ensure equal opportunities
  • Work towards achieving ‘Two ticks positive about disabled people’ accreditation which guarantees an interview to a candidate with a disability (as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005) and who match the requirements of the person specification
  • Take part in careers events in order to raise the profile of the industry to traditionally underrepresented groups
  • Run an equality themed seminar at a book fair
  • Form a relationship with a local school and run workshops/talks to educate students about the industry
  • Conduct regular surveys to identify satisfaction levels amongst staff
  • Make available a cultural calendar for staff to raise awareness of cultural/religious dates throughout the year
  • Hold a ‘Celebrating Equality’ day to enable staff the opportunity to find out more about their colleagues in an interactive manner
  • Wherever possible ensure authentic representation of people from underrepresented groups (e.g. book cover designs, illustrations, marketing material etc.)
  • Be involved in industry wide collaborations to increase equality in publishing
  • Take part in yearly industry wide reporting through organisations such as Skillset
  • Take on flexible working/condensed working hours to support those with caring responsibilities
  • Bridge the gender gap by encouraging and training more women into management and senior management positions
  • Bridge the ethnicity gap by encouraging and training more people from diverse ethnic groups into management and senior management positions
  • Host an open day so that the general public can find out more about your organisation
  • Encourage members of staff to be involved in seminars/workshops/talks that raise the profile of the industry to traditionally underrepresented groups
  • Identify an Equalities champion on your board of trustees who can be responsible for monitoring action on equality

Last week a friend sent me this article about living an intellectual life outside of the academy; it’s a little pie-in-the-sky, but at least someone’s out there looking for alternatives. That’s what’s needed for the publishing industry…

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I’ve got a lot in my head these days, so let me start with the basics: there are some important events in the kidlit world that you definitely don’t want to miss. Jodie and Colleen shared news of the annual GuysLitWire Book Fair, which enables you to donate books to a library in need. I love this initiative because the school has a say in the process—no one’s dumping unwanted or unsold books onto these kids.

The next event was posted by Doret—the Diversity in YA book tour is coming to NYC!  There will be two events in the city with authors Matt de la Peña, Malinda Lo, Kekla Magoon, Neesha Meminger, Cindy Pon, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Jacqueline Woodson. What a line-up!

Ok, here’s where things get sketchy. I’m writing again, and that means I’m spending most of my time inside. Being productive on the inside often means that I’m cranky and/or blue on the outside. Not ideal when I still have to teach 3x a week and otherwise function in “the real world.” Last weekend I wrote two thousand words about Nyla, a military brat who likes to call the shots but nonetheless finds herself the victim of sexual assault. On base. I’ve wanted to write about rape in the military for a while, but wasn’t sure how the subject would manifest in my writing. I think I’ve figured it out—I’ve got this short piece about Nyla, and it concludes with her stepmother Sachi demanding the kind of justice many victims of sexual assault don’t get in the military.

Then I woke up on Monday and learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid the night before. I looked at all the comments and quotes and links on Facebook and really couldn’t think of what to say. I thought about the two classes I was scheduled to teach that afternoon and wondered how I could connect our course material to the breaking news. Then I checked my email inbox and found three photographs from a soldier I met online; I sent him some copies of Wish last year and he shared them with others stationed in Iraq. Ordinarily, I’d immediately post reader photos to my blog, but yesterday just didn’t seem like the right day. And the more I looked at the photos—especially the one of a soldier holding up a copy of my book with a machine gun slung across his chest—the stranger it felt. What did I expect when I sent those books to Iraq? I wanted to “support the troops” and so I sent books and then Xmas decorations when the holidays rolled around. It felt like a sincere gesture, so why do I now have a problem posting those photos on my blog? You can’t “support the troops” but only imagine them sipping egg nog in the mess hall. I can’t post the “neutral” photos on my blog and withhold the image of the solider with the book AND the gun. So the photos are still sitting in my inbox.

Over the weekend I watched a movie about conscientious objectors to the war in Iraq; I listened to two soldiers (one active, one discharged) talk about hypocrisy. Are you a hypocrite if you insist on the right to object to war yet refuse to acknowledge that that right is defended by those willing to bear arms? The active soldier said, “What would have happened in WWII if soldiers hadn’t taken up arms and fought the Nazis?” And the conscientious objector responded by saying, “What if more German soldiers had laid down their arms and refused to follow orders they knew were unjust?” The active soldier insisted there would never be enough conscientious objectors to end war; in this country we rely upon volunteers who are willing to risk their lives by joining the armed forces. Osama bin Laden is dead and that was brought about by highly trained Navy Seals. Would we need Navy Seals if there were no terrorists? It’s a chicken & egg type of question. And the reality is, we can’t ever get back to the moment/place where war wasn’t necessary. When school girls have acid thrown on them in Afghanistan, I don’t have a problem with US soldiers and guns. But when women soldiers are raped by fellow soldiers? I don’t know what to do about the military. My older brother was in the reserves and I remember being so proud of him in his uniform. I never saw him with a gun. I never asked if he served alongside women. Now I have too many questions…

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