The Kid Approved, Most Wanted Books for Christmas

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Is it just me, or as a teacher do you feel obligated to give books as gifts, for EVERY occasion? Yes. OK, I'm glad I'm not alone. Even if you are not a teacher, books are the gift that keeps on giving. By presenting a child with a book, you are helping to share not only a story, but hopefully develop a family experience and memory.

In my family, for Christmas, we have started the tradition of giving something we want, something we need, something to wear, and something to READ. I hope this list of books will help you select a title to share with the little ones in your life. I should add that these books are not just great gifts for the kiddos in your family. They would make great additions to your classroom library. You could have a 12 days of Christmas Book Celebration by adding one new title to your classroom library each day leading up to your Holiday Break.
My students helped me pull this list of Holiday/Winter themed books together. Some of the books are their go to favorites, some were at the top of their wish list from the Scholastic Book Club flyers, and others are books that I just could not deny having a place on this list. 
I'll Love You Forever by Owen Hart
I have a very hard time passing up a book about Polar Bears (it is my school mascot). But, beyond that, this book is perfect for the child who has your heart forever and always. The Polar Bear reassures Cub that no matter what changes throughout the seasons, the love they have for each other will always stay the same. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Ages 2-5)

This is a New Release (released November 14)! If this book is anything like the first Hoot and Peep book, it will not disappoint. It is described as a story about sibling owls experiencing the first snowfall. When waiting for the snow to fall, Peep does not have patience like her older brother. However, Hoot knows that the snow is worth waiting for. This would be the perfect book to share with siblings. (Ages 3-5)

Maple and Willow's Christmas Tree by Lori Nichols
Here is another book about siblings! There is also a small collection of Maple and Willow stories, so these books may be great gifts throughout the year. In this story, Maple and Willow set out to find their first REAL Christmas Tree. They are so excited, until it is time to decorate the tree. When Maple gets close to the tree, she has an allergic reaction and the tree has to go outside. In typical sibling fashion, the girls have a falling out. But the story does have a happy ending, so don't worry. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-5)

The Mitten by Jan Brett
The book that needs no introduction! The Mitten is a classic winter tale, and loved by so many. Don't forget to share your favorite stories with the little ones in your life. My son loves this story, and it is one I shared with his pre-school class. Before reading to his class, I made felt board pieces with clipart images and transfer paper. Then I gifted his teacher the felt board pieces and a copy of the book. Boy was she thankful. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-7)

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
As a Caldecott Award winning book, it is no surprise the illustrations in this text are simply stunning. Here is another classic winter tale to share. This is the story of a father and his daughter who go "owling" and together enjoy the simple activity of a special night together. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 3-7)

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert
This is the book to get for the child you are trying to restore "the magic" in. I remember being in first grade when "that kid" told me there was no Santa. I was a puddle of mess on the floor when I came home. My mom went through a very elaborate plan to get me to believe again. If only there was this book, it probably would have saved her a lot of time and scheming with my grandparents, aunts and uncles (bless my mother)! In this story, the little Nordic girl, Anja, wishes to be one of Santa's elves. You experience her journey and her encounters with Arctic animals along the way. (Age 3-7)

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Beuhner
These will be the "Frosty the Snowman" for the current generation of young believers. The young boy in the story wonders why his snowmen look droopy, so he imagines a night of fun and excitement for them. The rhyming story is great for the pre-school or young school aged child. The Buehner's have written more Snowmen books that will surely keep your kiddos laughing and enjoying the holiday spirit (Snowmen at Christmas, Snowmen at Play, Snowmen at Work, Snowmen All Year). This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 4-7)

Immi's Gift by Karin Littlewood
This is a sweet story of an Inuit girl, Immi. When Immi goes ice fishing, hoping to catch even just one fish, she finds herself "catching" special treasures day after day. The Arctic animals are amazed with her finds, and come each day to share stories and befriend the young girl. But eventually, Immi's igloo starts to melt and it is time for her to move on. Before going, she drops a special treasure into her fishing hole, hoping that someone on the other end will find it. (Age 4-7)

'Twas Nochebuena by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
A classic Christmas story we are all familiar with... that shares Latino tradition. In this story your reader can follow a family through their night of celebrations. Spanish words are perfectly placed throughout this story, and it makes for a great tale you will want to read again and again. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 4-7)

Hanukkah Bear by Eric Kimmel
Eric Kimmel, has recreated his famous story of The Hanukkah Guest into a more kid friendly version. Bubba Brayna is known for making the best potato latkes, but she is nearly blind. So it is quite understandable when she mistakes a bear for her rabbi. She tries to take his coat, and attributes the bear's growls as a blessing over the Hanukkah candles. This is a funny story to be enjoyed by all. (Age 4-7)

The Christmas Truck by J.B. Blankenship
I was very excited to come across this book because it shares a beautiful story about what the Holidays are truly all about, selflessness and family. As a family, (Dad, Papa, and their son - yes, there are two dads) sets out to to celebrate their own family tradition, things don't go quite as planned. So, they make a new plan to help out someone they have never met, and save Christmas for them. This book is the perfect blend of a great message and a little humor.  (Age 4-8)

Mooseltoe byMargie Palatini
This is another story that is good for a laugh. Moose wants Christmas to be perfect, but in all of his preparations, he forgets to get a Christmas tree. As a result, he allows his family to decorate him by hanging decorations from his antlers and his moosetache. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 5-7)

Here is another Caldecott Award winning book, so you know you could buy this book based on the pictures alone. It is also another title written by Eric Kimmel, who seems to really understand the slightly twisted-traditional Hanukkah stories that are perfect for kids. However, that is not all this book has to offer. Each year, holiday-hating goblins come to ruin Hanukkah by breaking dreidels, throwing latkes, and ruining the menorah. But this year, Hershel (a traveler) comes to town and devises a plan to break the spell and save Hanukkah forever. This is a great story that parallels the ancient Hanukkah story, with a warm and humorous twist. (Age 5-8)

Sneezy the Snowman by Maureen Wright
The laughs just keep coming with these great titles. Sneezy is a snowman with a cold. He makes several attempts to warm up, but we all know what happens when snow gets warm... Thankfully he has the help of three children (and two cardinals) who rebuild him and attempt to make him comfortable. (Age 6-8)

Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou first read this poem at the White House tree lighting ceremony in 2005. In this story, a family comes together with their diverse community to celebrate the promise of peace during the holidays. The illustrations in this book are just beautiful! If you are looking to add this book to your classroom library, you may find that this book is more on the religious side, which I know is OK for some, but not for all. Use your judgement about what is best for your class. (Age 6-10)

I told you I could not resist a book about Polar Bears, and my students beg for any Magic Tree House story. In this story, Jack and Annie are sent to the Arctic to solve the final riddle to become master librarians. They encounter cracking ice, a seal hunter and a polar bear, but will they solve the riddle to make it home? 
AND...if one Magic Tree House story isn't enough, the Fact Tracker companion text is a must. Many of my students love non-fiction and these fact trackers are a great way to motivate them to read. If using them in the classroom, they could serve as kid friendly research texts. (Ages 7-10)

Magic Tree House: Merlin Missions by Mary Pope Osborne
As the Magic Tree House series celebrates 25 years, they have started to reorganize the series. The "new" Merlin Mission texts are geared for more experienced readers. In this first book, Christmas in Camelot, Jack and Annie receive an invitation to spend Christmas Eve in Camelot. However, their invitation turns into an adventure to save Camelot. 
AND...there are a few other Merlin Mission titles for your older readers that would look great wrapped up with a bow this holiday season. Some of these books have a companion Fact Tracker too, so your non-fiction fanatic can enjoy learning more details about Jack and Annie's adventures. (Age 7-10)

As the children in our life get older, it can be hard to motivate them to read. Many of my boys had this book at the top of top of their wish list. So, if you have a reluctant reader, or an older elementary boy you are shopping for, this book is sure to keep the stressful holidays fun and full of laughter! This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 7-11)

Ellray Jakes is a series about an African-American boy struggling to fit in. In this holiday book, Ellray is faced with the struggle of being proud of his community and being the center of attention. He is challenged with a few dares from his friend, but then attention is turned on him for all the wrong reasons. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 8-10)

Weird but True Christmas by National Geographic Kids
Here is another title for an older more reluctant reader, or for the fact finder in your life. Even Christmas has some weird but true "secrets" that could make family time around the fireplace a little more interesting. This book is on the small side,  so it could even make a great stocking stuffer. This book is currently in a Scholastic Book Club flyer. (Age 8-12)
Compiling this list, with the help of my students, has been a lot of fun! In the process, I have added many new titles to my classroom and home libraries. I have also gotten some early Christmas shopping done for my niece and some of our close friends' children. I hope they like the stories as much as I do, but more importantly, I hope they enjoy reading together. If you have more holiday titles that you love, please share them in the comments!
Before you go, here is a FREE printable holiday book wish list. You can have your students fill out the wish list while looking at the Book Club flyers. Or, your children could write in their most wished for titles while searching online or at your local book store. Either way it will help to encourage the gift of reading this holiday season.
Happy Holidays!

How You Can Motivate 21st Century Readers with Technology

Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.

"You are not old until you feel old," is something I would say to my grandparents when I was a little girl. And gosh darn it, I certainly do not feel old, until my students start showing me up with their awareness and fluency of technology! The world our students are growing up in, is NOT the world we grew up in, no matter how old you are. But, it's our responsibility to equip our students with the skills that will be crucial to their success later in life. No pressure! ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜‰
Before I share my four tips with you, I think it is important to share a little about "What are 21st Century Skills?" I feel like the phrase '21st Century Skills' is thrown around a lot, and has gotten a 'bad rep' as just a buzz word. But, I took some time in my third year of teaching (once I finally felt like I could get my head above water) to really try to better understand what everyone was talking about when they said "21st Century Skills". The website linked above was a big help, and I encourage you to check it out. In quick summary, they are the skills that will allow our students to be technologically savvy, strong communicators and superior critical thinkers.

Flip the format

Like I said, our students are growing up (and will work) in a different world than ours. They have a wealth of technology literally at their finger tips, and therefore unmatched access to information. We can help support them by introducing a variety of text formats. Playaways, Podcasts, eBooks, and even self-created audiobooks can help our students become more aware of the ever growing and changing technological world of theirs. 

Sharing our love of literacy is an imperative first step, but we have to continue exposing our students to the different technology tools that can also support them in their reading journey. Playaways, audiobooks, and text to speech tools, can help bring equity to our classrooms by allowing struggling readers to access information that would have caused them much frustration. Podcasts are a great way to expose our students to different viewpoints, and can help to develop students' critical thinking. One of my favorite lessons ever, was when I pushed into a fourth grade classroom. The students were listening to a podcast about a colonial trade (presented by tradesmen of Colonial Williamsburg), and taking notes for research. My struggling readers were never so engaged and actively participating, because all of a sudden, they were on an equal playing field.

Promote Creativity and Innovation

Following my students' extensive research of their colonial trade, it was time for them to 'show what they know'. They were given the chance to create a cartoon, with self-recorded voice overs. They included facts about their trade, and shared opinions about why their trade was important to colonial villages.

Here is a list of websites and apps that your students could use to make videos to 'show what they know'. My students used Toontastic, which is sadly no longer available. However, Animoto is another student friendly site that I have used in the past, which can accomplish the same outcome of creating animation.

You can further promote creativity and innovation by:

      Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.
    1. giving up control to the students. By allowing students to spread their wings and take charge in their learning they will learn to develop their curiosity. 
    2. encouraging discussions. Students can learn best from each other, and the conversations will help them to begin developing the life long skills needed to work on a professional team. You can support your students in this process by providing sentence frames for accountable talk.
    3. providing time for reflection. When students are given time to critically reflect on the work they have done, they are able to consider things they would have done differently and open up the doors to more growth. 
    4. celebrating wins. Students deserve to know their work and effort is appreciated and recognized. Taking time to celebrate wins, even the small ones, will give your students the motivation and encouragement to keep taking creative risks. 

Collaboration is Key

A little side note: my husband works at a high level technological research university, and he often comments that his students struggle to work in teams. It has been his job, to teach leadership courses that would help these future engineers to develop stronger collaborative skills, and support them in working with a team. 

So, how can we help our students develop the skills they will need later in life? Teach them how to work collaboratively with their peers! We can incorporate daily opportunities for our students to work together. Even our youngest kiddos, can start by working together to complete a puzzle. We can progress them further by asking them to put the letters of the alphabet in order. We can ask our 2nd graders to become 'experts' on a topic, and then work with a partner to share facts that can later be used to complete an activity.  Our 4th/5th graders could complete a similar activity but on a grander scale with the whole class (World Cafe protocol). By requiring our students to rely on another, they can rise to the occasion to be a teacher, and a listener.
You can check out more collaborative protocols to use in your classroom here.

Taste of the "Real World"

I may be in the minority as I confess, I still hand write my shopping lists each week. There is just something about having a growing list on the fridge that everyone can add to (or forget to add to) each week as we run out of things. It's my system, and I like it. However, other than maybe a thank you note, when was the last time you hand wrote something of substantial meaning?

So, let's give our students more of what they will experience in the "real world" - TECHNOLOGY to help them complete a task. Most of our students are pretty savvy with playing games, drawing pictures, even my three year old can capture a pretty good picture. But these activities are not helping them to communicate with others to share their message or point of view.

You can incorporate technology and encourage teamwork with the use of a collaborative "whiteboard" like Padlet or Boardthing. With my littles, I have them work together to see how many phonics based words they can find during their independent reading. For my upper grade students, I propose a question, they can respond on the whiteboard, and their peers can read their response, before leaving feedback.

Is it just me, or does the world not function without Google Apps? I remember when my school finally converted to Google Accounts, I thought the skies opened up and rained Skittles (like only red ones too)! We can begin introducing our students to GAFE (Google Apps for Education) right away. My littles use Google Apps to complete word work activities (GOODBYE LETTER MAGNETS), my older students and I collaborate on their writing, and all of my students use graphic organizers on their devices to illustrate what they learned from a text.
Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.
By introducing these different forms of technology, we can make great steps to expose our students to the types of experiences they will have in the future. 

Find out how using technology in the classroom to can help promote 21st Century Skills with your readers.

I am by no means a 21st Century classroom expert, but I am trying and learning as I go. Each year, I challenge myself to get better at promoting innovation, creativity and collaboration with my students. Please feel free to share ways you have encouraged 21st Century skills in your classroom. I would love you to share your successes with us, so we can all be motivated to try something new or different this year!

Three Things to Help You Become a Better Teacher

Hopefully you are finding yourself rested and relaxed after taking a well deserved break from the classroom. In the midst of all our "resting and relaxing," I know we were also pinning, instagramming and dollar spotting our way into this school year.  There is just no easy way to turn off the teacher brain. But...'Tis the season to really start thinking about your next group of students.  So, I am here to share with you a few more ways, that aren't so #InstagramMadeMeDoIt worthy, that you can do to make this the best school year ever. 

Build Connections

For two years, I was the ONLY reading teacher in my district. My island was very lonely. It took me almost a year (a very sad year, where I wanted to leave the profession all together) to realize that I needed help. I needed to find like minded people who understood my struggles, and shared the same passion for teaching, and that could lift me up when I needed it. Social media was not enough, clicking a like button or saving my favorite ideas were motivating, but not inspiring. 

So, my first bit of advice, is to FIND YOUR PEOPLE! Which, good news, you have already started doing. You have some how stumbled upon my blog - if this is your first time here, I hope stay to look around and get to know me a little bit. If this is not your first time here, welcome back! I hope you have found the tips and strategies I share to be helpful. Please, whether you are a new friend, or a long time friend, reach out and let me know you are here. I want to connect with you. If there is another blogger you like, reach out and email them too. Our community is large, but it can be very tight. You are never alone, and other teachers are your best resources. 

A few years ago, I attended a conference that briefly spoke about "capital" in education. Yes, like the actual wealth or value of resources available in education. It is no surprise that the schools that invested in their "professional capital" - their teachers, their professional development, and their well being showed positive achieving outcomes. This almost seems like a no brainer, but this is what motivated me even more to truly make friendships with some of the teachers I admired on social media.  If you are interested in reading more about "professional capital" you can check out this link HERE.

Set Goals

Rome really was not built in a day, week or year... and your classroom won't be either. My second bit of advice is to take things SLOW. I know we all have a lot of ground to cover, so we strive for immediate perfection. However, I don't think that ultimately benefits our students. So, rather than spreading yourself thin, dig deeper, and do it REALLY WELL. Take time to get to know your standards, curriculum, and students. 

It is OK, to be OK while you are building your toolbox. Consider setting a goal for yourself each month, and work to become an "expert" in that area. The month before school, you may choose to research your plans for a classroom management system. Next month, you could set a goal to "nail down" your phonics instruction. Then following month, set a goal to improve your math instruction. You can do this by seeking out the guidance of colleagues, requesting to attend professional development sessions (or finding them free online), reading professional texts, etc. I have followed this "tip" every year, and it allows me to improve on one thing, and not overwhelm myself with "all the things."

Please don't read "take is slow" as permission to "take it easy". The purpose of setting goals, is to identify the areas in your classroom that will promote the most success for students. It may be based on areas of academic need for your students - for instance maybe your students this year need help in an area where your past students really succeeded, so it is time to brush up on that area. Or maybe it is an area in need of improvement based on an evaluation from last year. No matter what it is, set your goals, with the clear purpose of improving your professional practice and the success of your students. Then execute, you and your students deserve only the best! 

Don't Forget to Take a Break

As the good 'ole saying goes "Happy Wife = Happy Life" and we all know the truth this statement carries. But, we are talking about ourselves as teachers, not as parents, or spouses, or friends.... but maybe we should be? Being a teacher is only part of our identity. We have to honor the other parts of who we are, so we can be the best teachers possible. Don't forget to take time for your family, your friends and most importantly yourself. Do some soul searching to find out what really recharges your batteries. Is it running, crafting, reading, working in a garden, volunteering with animals? Whatever it is, do more of it. Schedule time on your weekends not just for lesson planning, but for you. 

I struggle with this the most. As teachers, we give so much of ourselves and there is often little time for us to be "selfish" so we can do something we love - even if it is just taking a nap (no judgements)! But, when I do take a break. I always head back to school on Monday feeling like a better version of myself. I take more risks that week, and my students have more fun learning. It is really a win, win. 

I hope you are ready to tackle this year head on, and make it the best year ever! In the comments, please share other tips you have, or ways you like to "take a break"
We are all in this together, and I look forward to hearing from you. 


How to Teach Decoding by Teaching Syllable Types

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

If you teach/have taught 2nd grade, I'm sure this story is going to resonate pretty closely with you. If you don't teach 2nd, stick with me for a moment, because I (and your students) need your help. 
As a reading intervention teacher, I am (in part) responsible for assessing all students in September. We use these universal screenings to determine what students qualify for services, and what students we should keep a closer eye on, because they may need support in the near future. Well, after years of doing these assessments, I can tell you this happens EVERY YEAR, and quite often it happens to more than one student. 

UMM....what happened? 

help your students to feel successful with the big words by teaching decoding with syllabicationA little 2nd grader, let's just call him Noah, assesses well on the September assessments. He was never on anyone's radar in 1st grade either, so things are looking good. He is placed in a reading group that suits him well, and for the first part of the year, he is keep up with all the new material. BUT...then all of a sudden by mid-year, he is starting to struggle. He is not progressing in his reading level, he is becoming increasingly frustrated and less confident. 

(In my personal opinion) The demands a mid-year second grade text puts on our students is a huge jump from what they are used to. All of a sudden, multi-syllabic words appear and some of our kiddos, like Noah, crack under the pressure.  They do not have the strategies to move from single syllable words to multi-syllabic words! Yikes.
Well, the good news is, we can combat this struggle, and even be proactive in giving our students the tools they need to be successful with decoding multisyllabic words! 

Teaching decoding through syllabication is much easier than it sounds, and it is something even our Kinders can handle (K and 1 teachers, I told you I needed your help!). Starting this early awareness of consonants, vowels and syllables, will help develop automaticity in recognizing syllables as our students encounter more difficult texts.

It may be as simple as having your Kinder circle the vowel in a CVC word, and then talking about why the vowel makes the short sound (because it is closed in by the consonant). Then once they have a strong background on CVC words, give them a two syllable word to try like 'catnip' or even a three syllable word like 'fantastic'. They WILL rise to the occasion.

In first grade, as we are teaching all of the vowel patterns, encourage your students to continue circling the vowel patterns because it will allow them to see the patterns as a single sound unit. Even if your students are not 100% ready for "the big words" LET THEM TRY! The language you will use with them will help to support them in a few months, or maybe even next year when they are ready.

empower students to decode multisyllable words with a systematic strategy

Learning about syllables also helps with vocabulary acquisition. So many times I have seen a student not being able to decode a word or actually just get the word "out of their mouth". Being able to hear the word, is half of being able to understand a word. Do your students succeed more with verbal vocabulary than written vocabulary? Don't worry, mine do too, and decoding strategically can help. 

The process I use with my students, is very predicable, and once my students have the process down, it only requires a little fine tuning when applying it to the different vowels sounds (vc/cv, v/cv, vc/v, silent e, vowel teams, diphthongs and r-controlled vowels). 

I have put together a video tutorial to share this decoding strategy with you. You can follow along with this video tutorial to learn how to instruct your students on the seven different syllable types and help them to become determined decoders.  The video is hosted on Teachers Pay Teachers, and free for you to watch. It is a streaming video, so you will need internet access to watch. Also included is a supporting document that supplements the video, and will help to provide you with guided practice when learning more about this systematic approach to decoding. 

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.
Table of Contents
1:26 - Syllable Types
1:49 - Let's Get Started
2:04 - Closed Syllable VC/CV
4:08 - Closed Syllable VC/CV with blends and digraphs
6:10 - Closed Syllable VC/CV 3 syllable words
8:30 - Open Syllable V/CV
10:10 - Open Syllable V/CV or Closed Syllable VC/C
11:50 - V/V
12:32 - Silent E
15:41 - Vowel Teams
17:38 - R-Controlled Vowels
18:55 - Diphthongs
20:48 - Consonant + le
22:10 - Frequently Asked Questions
24:28 - Wrap up and closing

empower students to read multisyllable words with a systematic strategyI teach this strategy to my students in isolation. I feel they need the explicit instruction and guidance to manipulate the sounds. If they are new to this strategy in 2nd grade and above, like I said, it is not too late for them, but they need to re-learn what counts as a vowel sound. This means I circle back and re-teach the vowel sounds in single syllable words, but quickly moving to multi-syllables words.

I also teach my students how this strategy can support them while reading a text. All my students need is a pack of post-its and a pencil. Because we can't write in every book, they simply write the word down and follow the same procedure to decode the word. I give each of my intervention students a pack of fun post-its to take back to the classroom, so they can transfer what we do in group, to the classroom.

This strategy is not one that is meant exclusively for the intervention setting! I have been fortunate enough to push into some classrooms, and a few times the classroom teacher has overheard my decoding lesson during small groups. They have opened the doors of their classroom, admitted they did not know how to take students from single syllable to multi syllable words, and allowed me to teach a whole class lesson on decoding.

My friends, some of our students will "just get it" and they won't NEED this instruction. However, others would benefit from this strategy as it unlocks the countless words they will encounter.

This video tutorial can help you to provide your students with a systematic approach to decoding multi-syllable words.

This is a very passionate topic to me, because I get so sad when a skilled reader doubts their ability to read the big words, only because they do not know a reliable strategy to use yet. So, as I step down off my soapbox, I want to say thank you for joining me! I hope you will give this strategy a try in your classroom, or intervention groups. And again, please know I am here to support you. Feel free to reach out, and don't forget to come back to share your success stories once you've tried it!

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