We all grew up with our favorite books and new classics are being created all the time. I recently came across the adorable book, "Percy, The Perfectly Imperfect Chicken" (authored by Rick Reiser, illustrated by Daniel Seward) and was reminded how many of our favorite tales have, um …tails. Animals have long been teachers to children and rightly so.
Innocently, I asked some friends to name a few of their favorite animal-themed children's books and was flooded - FLOODED, I tell you - with suggestions. Here are a few to consider when shopping for kids this holiday season - no batteries required:
A Visitor for Bear (Ages 4-8) - Bear loves his solitude and even has a sign on his door, "No Visitors Allowed." But a persistent mouse visitor eventually convinces Bear he has room in his life for friends after all.
And Tango Makes 3 (Ages 4-8) - Based on a true story about two male penguins, Roy and Silo, living in New York City's Central Park Zoo who are desperate to be fathers. Though they try to hatch an egg-shaped rock, an observant and empathetic zookeeper intervenes and slips in a real penguin egg. Perfect for any 'modern family.'
Animal Boogie (Ages 4-8) - A spirited book that illustrates a simple fact: That everyone likes to "boogie, oogie, woogie!" With a cast of multi-ethnic children and one handicap child, the book uses bright colors and wild jungles to get the party started. Perfect for group storytime. Includes a music score so the text can also be sung. Also, check out all the other great stories from Barefoot Books, a books-for-kids company started by two moms.
Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing (Ages 4-8) - This adorable book cover makes a perfect argument: A porcupine whose quills have poked through her polka-dotted dress. The resulting message: Animals are just fine in the 'clothes' they came with.
Babar the Elephant (Ages 4-8) - First introduced in 1931 by French writer, Jean de Brunhoff, the Babar series has since been translated to 12 languages. Though several readers have commented that "Babar doesn't hold up well" against contemporary cultural perspectives, I think any kid as the right to meet the famous elephant king.
Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? (Ages 0-4) - This delightful book is the final collaboration between the amazing author-illustrator team of Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle, respectively. Kids will love Baby Bear's quest to find his momma and the many North American animals he meets along the way. (See others from this series, including Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?)
Bark George (Ages 4-8) - When George's mom commands her pup to bark, he does everything but. Sure, he moos, quacks, meows and even says, "hello" but no bark. Jules Feiffer makes a hilarious gem about, re, finding your own voice.
Barnyard Banter (Ages 4-8) - Called a "joyful, noisy visit to the farm", this book takes a tour of rural life and all the animals in it. Your host? A lone white goose.
Bear Snores On (Ages 4-8) - Bear sleeps through an impromptu animal party in his own cave and is sad to discover what he's missed. No worries, Mouse - who started the whole shebang - knows just want to do.
Because of Winn-Dixie (Ages 9-12) - Despite Opal's great sadness at being abandoned by her mother, her happy-go-lucky dog, Winn-Dixie, forces her to make friends - all of them rich characters. Great for anyone who believes in the power of animals to make people whole again.
The Berenstein Bears (Ages 4-10) - Over 300 Berenstein Bears books have been published since the 1960s and it's always fun to share our own childhood favorites with the next generation. As one reader pointed out, "They always have fun brother and sister stories."
Bill and Pete (Ages 4-8) – About an unlikely friendship between Pete the Ibis and Bill, a crocodile who lives on the Nile with is mama. A friend tells me, "It's funny and wry and even environmental because of the way the two take care of each other."
Blue Hat, Green Hat (Ages 0-4) - Author Sandra Boynton's hilarious animal characters teaches colors and clothing while sneaking in some "serious silliness."
Borreguita and the Coyote (Ages 4-8) - Borreguita, Spanish for "little lamb", looks like lunch to the sly coyote - but the lamb may be smarter than she looks. Enjoy this stylish retelling of a story based out of Ayutla, Mexico.
The Bremen Town Musicians (Ages 5-8) - This well-worn story from Brothers Grimm has been retold with fresh design and clever prose - all geared toward inspiring young readers to continue.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery (Ages 9-12) - Innocent pet or deadly vampire bunny? When Chester the cat tries to warn Harold, the dog, and their human family, hilarity ensues. Author James Howe also delivers with two spooferific sequels, "Howliday Inn" and "Celery Stalks at Midnight" - just on title alone.
Caps for Sale (Ages 4-8) - First published in 1940, this teaches that great all-time life lesson: Never take a nap under a tree full of monkeys when you have extra hats to sell. The story has repetitive rhythms that the young ones love.
Cat In The Hat (Ages 4-8) - A 1957 classic not only lives but thrives in the world of Dr. Seuss. It makes for an ideal read on a rainy day … as long as they don't' get any ideas.
Charlotte's Web (Ages 9-99) - Author E.B. White's 1952 classic still endures as one of the best friendship stories of all-time. Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider team up to face down the farmer's axe. (I'm getting goosebumps just remembering it all.)
Chester Cricket series (Ages 4-8) - Chester is a country bug who accidentally stows away in a day tripper's picnic basket and ends up living in New York city. He eventually makes a valuable friend (among others) in Lulu Pigeon. Together, they explore the city by air and one book includes evocative descriptions of Central Park and Times Square.
The Churkendoose (Ages 3-8) - Another great barnyard tale that teaches acceptance and tolerance toward those who are different.
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type (Ages 4-8) - Once the cows find a typewriter, they begin communicating their demands to the farmer, "The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets." When the farmer refuses to comply, the cows go on strike. "No milk today." Perfect for any union leader in the making.
Corduroy (Ages 4-8) - Don Freeman's beloved classic about a little girl named Lisa who falls in love with a department store teddy bar missing a button still inspires love in all directions. A 40th anniversary edition of the book lacks nothing at all, except the missing button.
Counting Cockatoos (Ages 4-8) - Lush and eye-tricking illustrations draw the reader in long enough to learn counting, all the while trying to spot those elusive birds.
Curious George (Ages 4-8) - That naughty monkey is still getting in to trouble and why the Man in the Yellow Hat ever leaves him alone is beyond me. So fun!
Dear Zoo (Ages 0-4) - An entertaining "lift-the-flap classic" for the wee ones. The narrator writes to the zoo, asking for a pet and he gets all of the wrong ones … until he gets the right one.
Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct (Ages 4-8) - Edwina, in her hat, pearls and manicured claws, is the last to know of her species status. The title alone makes me laugh so I can imagine how Mo Willems' charmer will affect kids. (Check out other great children's titles from the former Sesame Street writer like "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed" and "Time to Pee!")
Elmer (Ages 4-8) - Okay, so maybe Elmer's not grey like all the other elephants, but where's the fun in that? His wacky checkerboard hide presents ideal opportunities for color and humor.
Everyone Poops (Ages 0-4) - If you are fairly new to Earth, this is a revelation. Also, the book illustrates a notable point: Poop is the great equalizer, there's just no getting away from it.
Flanimals (Ages 5-10) - Written by "The Office" creator Ricky Gervais, this little gem offers such profound puzzlers as: "If a Puddloflaj’s eyes pop out why can’t it pick them up?" A hit in the UK and slowly gaining a fan base state-side.
Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound (Ages 8-88) - Technically, a children's book but I've gifted this to several dog lover friends over the years and it's a hit every time. The individual dog stories are poignant and the hilarious illustrations by famed comic strip artist Berke Breathed are worth five barks.
Franklin in the Dark (Ages 4-8) - What does a turtle do when he's afraid to go inside his shell? He asks advice of other animals, only to discover that each has a fear to face. Perfect for kids who are afraid of the dark.
Frog and Toad Collection (Ages 4-8) - Best friends, Frog and Toad, embark on one adventure after another … and occasionally stop for ice cream. Author and illustrator Arnold Lobel has charmed millions of children over the decades with his warmth and humor.
Giraffes Can't Dance (Ages 4-8) - Oh yeah? Who says? A delightful book that teaches it's okay to dance to the music in your own special way.
Good Dog, Carl (Ages 4-8) - When Mom leaves Carl the Rottweiler in charge of the baby, he knows just what to do - play! An adorable tale about that age-old lesson, "When the cat's away, the dog will play." Or something like that.
Goodnight Gorilla (Ages 3-6) - When the weary zookeeper bids goodnight and locks up all the animal cages, he's unaware that the gorilla has lifted the keys and sets everyone loose. Where do they go? They follow him home, of course.
Guess How Much I Love You (Ages 4-8) - A sweet story about a father's love for his son and a game of measuring said love. A real treasure.
Henny Penny (Ages 4-8) - When a tree acorn falls and bings Henny on her little chicken head, she assumes the worst, hence the famous, "The sky is falling!" line. More relevant today than ever.
Henry and Mudge series (Ages 4-9) - Henry is an only child whose best friend is his big dog, Mudge. With 20+ books to the series, there are plenty of adventures to be had and the books are ideal for transitioning kids from picture books to something more challenging.
Horton Hears a Who (Ages 4-8) - The recent film version of Dr. Seuss's lovable tale of an elephant recognizing - and saving - a micro-world helped bring more fans to this classic. The sweetest elephant since Dumbo.
How Do Dinosaurs. . .? series (Ages 3-7) - Using dinosaurs in place of human children, this wonderful series teaches kids how to (among other things) go to bed without a fuss, how to clean their rooms and, most importantly, how to say, "I love you."
Hugh Pine (Ages 8-10) - A short novel about a porcupine genius who, along with his human friends, generously tries to teach his fellow porcupines about the dangers of the road.
How to Be (Ages 0-4) - A brother-sister tale that lists animals and their human-type traits: i.e. "How to be a Bear: Be brave, curious, and strong." In the end, they get to learn how to be humans - fun!
Hug (Ages 2-6) - Using a one-word title and matching theme, we follow a baby chimpanzee in search of his mother and a rewarding embrace. Delightful and comforting for anyone who has ever needed a hug.
If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (Ages 4-8) - If you do as the title suggests, chances are, he'll just need a few more things, like milk. And bendy straws. In the end, the young boy who provides the cookie learns something about cause-and-effect.
If You Were Born a Kitten (Ages 1-4) - Described as an "unusual homage to the miracle of life," the book illustrates how different baby animals come into the world and how their lives begin.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (Ages 9-12) - A beautiful tale of survival focusing on Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the island, waiting for a rescue.
Jamberry (Ages 0-4) - A young boy and his bear friend frolic through a fruit-filled world, rhyming their way into savory deliciousness. The rhyming is berry, berry fun.
James and the Giant Peach (Ages 9-12) - My personal favorite about a miserable orphaned boy whose life takes a turn for the better when he starts traveling the world on a giant peach. The characters are memorable and to this day, I can taste the peach juice. Possibly one of the best kids books ever written.
Karadi Tales (Ages 4-10) - A series of enriching stories from Southern India which have become extremely popular, all told from a lovable storyteller bear.
Kiss Good Night, Sam! (Ages 0-4) - A perfect bedtime story, especially for those who know how to put off the inevitable lights out. The finale is adorable.
La Cucaracha Martina (Ages 4-8) - Martina, a comely cockroach, rejects one citified suitor after another as she holds out for her musical soulmate in this Caribbean folk tale.
Leo the Late Bloomer (Ages 4-8) - A much-needed tale about a young tiger who is developing at his own pace, much to the chagrin of his impatient father. An homage to late bloomers everywhere.
Little Bear (Ages 4-8) - Little Bear thinks his mother has forgotten his birthday and plans his own, only to discover that Mom would never forget! This is the first of five classic Little Bear books, all illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Little Critter series (Ages 4-8) - Mercer Mayer's beloved character, Little Critter, has been featured in more than 200 books since 1975. The kids must be on to something.
The Little Duck (Ages 4-8) - Henry the duck pops out of his shell and sees a little boy, so naturally he gets attached. But what does he do when the boy goes to school?
Little Miss Spider (Ages 4-7) - Miss Spider hatches and is impatient to meet her mother, but where is she? Her quest leads her to Betty, a green beetle who ultimately adopts her. A great story for us adopted kids who need to understand what's behind being Chosen.
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and The Big Hungry Bear (Ages 4-8) - Here's the premise: What's a little mouse going to do to keep a big, hungry, bear from eating his fruit? A juicy delight.
Little Rabbit's Loose Tooth (Ages 4-8) - A charming tale about what to do when those baby teeth start falling into bowls of chocolate ice cream, including random ideas like, "Wear it on a necklace?"
The Magician's Elephant (Ages 8-13) - From award-winning author, Kate DiCamillo, this engaging tale about a young boy who learns that an airborne elephant may soon change his life.
Make way for Ducklings (Ages 3-8) - This classic tale features a Boston-based Mama Duck looks for safe place to raise her babies. It's really fun to get a city view from the perspective of a duck, especially if they know Boston.
Mama, Do You Love Me? (Ages 4-8) - Set in Alaska, this is an Inuit book featuring traits of indigenous animals. All the while a mother and daughter play games to illustrate the depth and breadth of their love. Gorgeous illustrations by Barbara Lavallee.
Mama Always Comes Home (Ages 4-8) - A reassuring book showing that while Mama may have to go out sometimes, she will always return. Animal examples included, such as a mother cat leaving her babies in the barn so she can go in the house and eat.
Max & Ruby (Ages 4-8) - Rosemary Wells' series of pre-school rabbit siblings, Max and Ruby, has proven to be some of the most popular board books ever.
The Mercy Watson series (Ages 4-8) - Mercy is a lovable pig adopted by the Watson family. Despite her penchant for wacky adventures, they provide lots of love and, more importantly, towers of buttered toast. Also authored by Kate DiCamillo.
Millions of Cats (Ages 4-8) - Wanda Gag creates this hilarious tale about an old man and his wife seeking the prettiest cat to adopt. Faced with millions of felines, the man can't decide and leaves it up to the cats to decide. Cat fight?
Miss Piggy's Guide to Life (9-99) - Thank God for Miss Piggy. She lives by her own rules and is the perfect antidote to all those skinny know-it-alls in the glossy mags - a side-splitting alternative.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Ages 9-12) - Another winner from Kate DiCamillio depicts a china rabbit who ripped from the arms of his adoring owner and cast into the sea.
Mister Dog- The Dog Who Belonged to Himself (Ages 0-4) - A reprinted classic from Golden Books about a pipe-smoking, straw hat-wearing dog named Crispin's Crispian who belongs only to himself. He then meets a boy who also 'belongs' to no one and they team up. A real charmer.
Mother Goose (Ages 2-5) - Hey, diddle, diddle … who doesn't love Mother Goose? This classic granny character has been a staple of children's rhymes and stories since 1650 so she must be doing something right.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Ages 6-9) - One of my favorites from childhood. Perfect for the independent bookworm but great as a read-along too. As Ralph, the mouse, and Keith, the boy, become friends, their secret becomes harder and harder to mask.
Mouse Paint (Ages 0-4) - When three albino mice discover jars of paint, it creates a perfect setting for teaching colors.
Mr. Gumpy's Outing (Ages 2-6) - Mr Gumpy allows all the animals into his boat on the condition that they won't fight, but of course they do and things get soggy.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (Ages 9-12) - Mrs. Frisby is a brave, motherly field mouse looking after her son, Timonthy. A suspenseful tale involves lots of rats, who actually pitch in to help Mrs. Frisby solve a big problem.
Not the Hippopotamus (Ages 0-4) - Another whimsical story from Sandra Boynton depicts various animals running off to do their special tasks … but not the hippopotamus.
Olive, The Other Reindeer - (Ages 4 and up) When Olive the dog hears the lyric from 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' … "all of the other reindeer" he naturally assumes me must be the missing team member. My pal, Maria Niles (who bought the book for herself), insists, "The writing is both simple enough for a child and witty enough for an adult, but what makes 'Olive the Other Reindeer' stand heads and shoulders above the other Christmas books crowding the shelves are Seibold's wonderfully waggish illustrations."
Old Yeller (Ages 9-12) - This classic tale between a young boy and his loyal dog is still a hit with kids. Set in Texas in the late 1800s, is still a heart-tugger.
Olivia the Piglet (Ages 4-8) - Olivia, despite her high-energy antics and distaste for naps, is hard not to love. With her vivid fashions sense and love of Jackson Pollack, Olivia is a piglet for the ages.
Owen and Mzee (Ages 4 and up) - A heartwarming true story about a hippo and tortoise that become friends, told with gentle text and photos. Created at the urging of a six-year-old.
Owl Babies (Ages 4-8) - Another great story that explores the wonderment when momma leaves … the celebration when mama returns, as she always does.
Panchatantra (Ages 11- 14) - Written in 200 BC by the great Hindu Scholar Pandit Vishnu Sharma, Panchatantra means "the five books". It is a "Nitishastra" which means book of wise conduct in life.
The Piggy in the Puddle (Ages 4-8) - A wonderful read-along book (great rhythm) which demonstrates the old adage, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.'
Pigeon series (Ages 0-4) - More brilliance from Mo Willems. The Pigeon series features a bird with feelings, friends and thoughts about the world.
P.J. Funnybunny (Ages 4-8) - The title character and his buddies - Ritchie the raccoon, Buzz the beaver and Potts the pig - are off an another adventure. P.J.'s little sister, Honey Bunny, is her own amusing character in several other books.
Poky Little Puppy (Ages 4-8) - As a kid devastated by the idea of missing dessert, I must've read this story a gazillion times. Still a kid favorite and a great cautionary tale about disobeying your mother.
The Prodigal Cat (Ages 4-8) - Janette Oke's tale gives a glimpse into the many identities of one animal, a great illustration of personality - not to mention a fun read for kids.
Puff the Magic Dragon (Ages 4-8) - Though the song has been a favorite for decades, the songwriters (Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton) never allowed a book until 2007. Of course, the story lends itself perfectly to bright colors and fantastical scenarios.
Rumble in the Jungle (Ages 2-6) - This colorful book depicts a day-long safari and has been known to elicit squeals of delight and applause from rapt - still - children.
The Saggy Baggy Elephant (Ages 4-8) - Truly, it's hard to go wrong with a Golden Book and this is no exception. Ideal for teaching the lesson that nobody looks different, they are exactly as they are supposed to be.
Sally Goes to the Farm (Ages 4-8) - Is there anything more exciting than a dog's nose discovering all the smells and wonders of a farm? Sally meets Molly, another Lab, and the fun begins.
Scaredy Squirrel series (Ages 4-8) - Hilarious tales of an fearful squirrel who carries a First-Aid kit around, just in case. Eventually, he ventures out and discovers a few things about himself … that he can fly, for one thing.
Seals on the Bus (Ages 3-7) - A perfect sing-a-long book that steals its title from that old standard, "Wheels on the Bus." A menageries of animals get on board until the human passengers finally speak up.
Stellaluna (Ages 4-8) - A perfect book for any kid who wants to learn about bats and bugs - not as icky as they might think. Stellaluna is an adorable fruit bat who even befriends baby birds, making life a tad complicated.
Snow Bear (Ages 4-8) - A very sweet book about trusting in a mother's love. When a polar bear cub gets separated, he enlists the help of his arctic animal friends to build "a snow mother" to act as a stand-in until she returns.
Spot series (Ages 0-4) Eric Hill's much-loved "lift-the-flap" series never disappoints with its fully integrated text and illustrations. A delight for the youngsters.
The Story of Ferdinand (Ages 9-12) - One of the bestselling children's books of all time, Ferdinand is the story of a pacifist bull, who prefers sitting under a tree and smelling the flowers. When he meets the wrong end of a bee, his fit is mistaken for a love fighting and he soon finds himself in the middle of a Madrid arena, facing down a bullfighter. Ole!
Tacky the Penguin (Ages 4-8) - Tacky is a loud, non-conformist who refuses to subscribe to mob mentality. The book teaches that it's okay to be different and that sometimes, it's important.
The Tale Despereaux (Ages 8-12) - Meet Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. He's sweet, misunderstood and a little too brave for his size. Sure, they made a movie but, I'm told, there's no comparison to the original book.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Ages 4-8) Beatrix Potter's incorrigible little rabbit is forever getting into Mr. McGregor's garden, much to the delight of generations of children. Will he ever learn?
The Tawny Scrawny Lion (Ages 4-8) - For a 1952 Golden Book, this tale about a lion who opts to eat carrots and fish instead of his friends, it's an amazing pre-cursor to today's vegetarian mindset.
The Three Little Pigs (Ages 4-8) - One of those tales that seem to have been around forever. A great lesson in planning ahead and a big argument for sturdy architecture.
The Tiger Rising (Ages 9-12) - Finding a caged tiger behind the Kentucky Star Motel helps take young Rob Horton's mind off the recent death of his mother. Kate DiMillo's tale about incongruity and the grip of grief will strike a chord with anyone - young or old - with a heart.
Tuesday (Ages 4-8) - In this nearly wordless picture book, kids experience a spectacular amphibian journey. It all happens on a Tuesday evening, "around eight." Gorgeous illustrations.
Two Bad Mice (Ages 3-8) - Beatrix Potter's endless capacity to delight has inspired many a parent to pass along their own childhood memories of the mischievous Tom Thumb and Hunka Munka.
The Ugly Duckling (Ages 4-8) - This Hans Christian Andersen classic is a story that delights young and old. (The tale is being retold on TV now in the form of "Ugly Betty.") As we understand it, "ugly" is in the eye of the beholder.
Uncle Remus stories (Ages 9-12) - Controversial but classic, these stories were first published in 1880 and offered the adventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and Brer Wolf endure.
Velveteen Rabbit (Ages 4-8) - Since 1922, this classic tale has touched many hearts. Modern kids will recognize the original premise of "Toy Story" - that toys simply longed to be loved by kids, just as they always suspected.
Verdi (Ages 4-8) - A young snake thrives on his youth, only to discover that life is somewhat inevitable. A wonderful tale that teaches about snakes and how they live.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Ages 1-3) - Eric Carle's books was, by far, nominated more than any other. It is simply a bona-fide HIT with kids who love to see what the long bug will eat next.
Walter the Farting Dog (Ages 4-8) - The title says it all, really. I mean, is there anything funnier to a kid than farting? No. No, there isn't.
Watership Down (Ages 12 and up) - Richard Adam's acclaimed novel about a brave bunch of rabbits who flee destruction all the while searching for a magical place called "home."
Where Do I Sleep: A Pacific Northwest Lullaby (Ages 2-6) - The illustrations are gorgeous, the rhyme sweet and the animals are unique to most of children's books - sea otters and bald eagles to moose, gray whales and even anemone.
Where is the Green Sheep? (Ages 0-4) - Readers encounter all kinds of other sheep, asking along the way, "But where is the green sheep?" Finally, she is found at the end, napping.
Where the Red Fern Grows (Ages 9-12) - This 1961 classic shares the adventures of Billy and his faithful bluetick hound who explore Oklahoma's Ozarks with wonder and determination. It should be mandatory reading for all readers, young and old.
Will You Still Love Me (Ages 4-8) - When little Polo discovers that a sibling is on the way, he worries that he may be forgotten. A great book that explains how there is plenty of love to go around.
Winnie the Pooh (Ages 9-12) - Really, all you need to know about A.A. Milne's beloved classic is Pooh's idea of a perfect day: ""What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying, 'Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing."
Yertle the Turtle (Ages 4-8) - One of Dr. Seuss's lesser-known stories which involves a demonstration in the small-yet-mighty prevailing.
You Are My I Love You (Ages 4-8) - Sweet rhyming patterns from this bear-based book say it all from parent to child: ""I am your dinner; you are my chocolate cake. I am your bedtime; you are my wide awake."
And finally, Animal Farm - for the rest of us.
Great blogs that discuss children's books:
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz
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