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Michael Elsohn Ross (1952–) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

review books cycles series

Born 1952, in Utica, NY; Education: Attended University of California—Irvine, 1970–71; University of California—Berkeley, B.S., 1974; California State University—Fresno, teaching credential, 1981. Politics: "Green." Religion: "Pantheist." Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, bird watching, botany, cross-country skiing/hiking/backpacking, Breema bodywork.

Career

Children's author and naturalist. National Park Service, Yosemite National Park, CA, ranger, 1976–77; Yosemite Association, Yosemite National Park, naturalist, 1977–; educational director, Yosemite Guides, 1999–. Mariposa County Schools, Mariposa, CA, teacher, 1981–84; Life Lab Science Program, Santa Cruz, CA, curriculum developer, 1988–92. Merced Canyon Committee, vice president, 1985–86; El Portal Child Development Center, chair, 1990–91. Member, Children's Literature Council of Southern California.

Member

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, California Native Plant Society.

Michael Elsohn Ross (Photograph reproduced by permission.)

Honors Awards

Outstanding publication citation, U.S. National Park Service, 1988, for Yosemite Fun Book; first place, National Park Service Publications Competition, and honorable mention, American Association of Museums Publications, both 1994, both for The World of Small; Notable Children's Book selection, Smithsonian magazine, 1995, for Sandbox Scientist; first place, National Park Service Publications Competition, and honorable mention, American Association of Museums Publications, both 1996, both for The Happy Camper Handbook; Young Readers Award, Scientific American, 1996, for Cricketology; Best of the Best citation, Chicago Public Library, 1996, for Rolypolyology; California Arts Council writers fellowship, 1997; honorable mention, National Park Service Publications Competition, 1998, for A Kid's Golden Gate!; Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, National Council of Science Teachers/Children's Book Council, 1998, for Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice, and 2001, for Pond Watching with Ann Morgan and Exploring the Earth with John Wesley Powell; Eureka book list, California State Library Association, 2001, for Nature Art with Chiura Obata; Best Books for Children citations, Science Books and Films, all 1998, for Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice, Wildlife Watching with Charles Eastman, Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood, Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner, Cater-pillarology, and Ladybugology, 2002, for Cricketology and Rolypolyology, and 2003, for Kitchen Lab and Indoor Zoo; Honor List citation, Voice of Youth Advocates, 2000, for Children of Northern Ireland; Young-Adult Top-Forty listee, Pennsylvania School Librarians, for Pond Watching with Ann Morgan; California Reader's List California Collection, 2000, for Wormology and 2003–04, for Wormology and Millipedeology; Best Books of the Year selection, Bank Street College, for Pond Watching with Ann Morgan, Millipedeology, and Spiderology, and 2003, for A Mexican Christmas; Independent Publisher Award finalist for best multicultural nonfiction title, 2003, for A Mexican Christmas; Arizona Young Reader's Award in Nonfiction nomination, 2007, for What's the Matter in Mr. Whisker's Room?

Writings

Cycles, Cycles, Cycles, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1979.

What Makes Everything Go?, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1979.

(With David Gaines and Becky Shearin) Mono Lake Color and Learn Book, Mono Lake Comm., 1981.

(Illustrator) Deborah Durkes, Easy Day Hikes in Yosemite, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1985.

Faces in All Kinds of Places, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1986.

The Yosemite Fun Book, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1987.

Become a Bird and Fly!, illustrated by Peter Parnall, Mill-brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1992.

The World of Small: Exploration with a Hand Lens, illustrated by Cary Michael Trout, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1993.

The Happy Camper Handbook (activity guide with flashlight and whistle), Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 1994.

Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids, illustrated by Mary Anne Lloyd, Chicago Review (Chicago, IL), 1996.

Cricketology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrations by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Rolypolyology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrated by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Snailology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrated by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Wormology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrated by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Caterpillarology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrations by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Ladybugology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrations by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrations by Laurie A. Caple, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrations by Laurie A. Caple, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Wildlife Watching with Charles Eastman ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrations by Laurie A. Caple, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrations by Laurie A. Caple, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

A Kid's Golden Gate!: Guide to Family Adventures in the National Parks at the Golden Gate, illustrated by Scott Ramsey, Golden Gate National Parks Association (San Francisco, CA), 1997.

Fish Watching with Eugenie Clark ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrations by Wendy Smith, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Millipedeology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrated by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Spiderology ("Backyard Buddies" series), illustrated by Darren Erickson, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Nature Art with Chiura Obata ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrated by Wendy Smith, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Pond Watching with Ann Morgan ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrated by Wendy Smith, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Exploring the Earth with John Wesley Powell ("Naturalist's Apprentice" series), illustrated by Wendy Smith, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.

Children of Northern Ireland ("World's Children" series), photographs by Felix Rigau, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.

Earth Cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2001.

Life Cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2001.

Children of Ireland ("World's Children" series), photographs by Felix Rigau, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Children of Puerto Rico ("World's Children" series), photographs by Felix Rigau, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Body Cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

Re-cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

Mexican Christmas, photographs by Felix Rigau, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Toy Lab ("You're the Scientist" series), illustrated by Tim Seeley, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Junk Lab ("You're the Scientist" series), illustrated by Tim Seeley, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Kitchen Lab ("You're the Scientist" series), illustrated by Tim Seeley, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Indoor Zoo ("You're the Scientist" series), illustrated by Tim Seeley, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

Salvador Dali and the Surrealists for Kids, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 2003.

Snug as a Bug, illustrated by Sylvia Long, Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 2004.

What's the Matter in Mr. Whisker's Room?, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Baby Bear Isn't Hungry, illustrated by Connie Powell, Yosemite Association (El Portal, CA), 2006.

Mama's Milk, illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 2007.

Also principal author and developer of science-teacher activity guides Great Explorations, Earth Is Home, and Changes around Us, published by Videodiscovery, 1992.

Sidelights

Michael Elsohn Ross is the author of dozens of books for young readers, most with an emphasis on nature and science. Ross is known for his engaging style and obvious enthusiasm for all aspects of the natural world. In addition to stand-alone titles such as Snug as a Bug, Baby Bear Isn't Hungry, and What's the Matter in Mr. Whisker's Room?, he has contributed to several book series, including the "World's Children" books, which help inform young readers about their contemporaries elsewhere in the world, from Northern Ireland to Puerto Rico. In a series of books dealing with natural cycles, Ross introduces readers to the many rhythms to be found in nature, while the "You're the Scientist" books provide a creative outlet for budding experimenters.

Born in Utica, New York, in 1952, Ross grew up dreaming of becoming a cartoonist or artist. "During my youth in Huntington, New York," the author once commented, "the countless hours I spent browsing New Yorker cartoons seriously molded my impressionable mind. By the time I was ten I was drawing my own cartoons. I thought for sure that I was headed for a career in art, but I was sidetracked when I attended University of California—Berkeley, and became intrigued by, of all things, bugs! I got a degree in conservation of natural resources with an emphasis in entomology and environmental education." Graduating with honors and going on to earn his teaching credential, Ross pursued his love of nature, which led him to work as a ranger in Yosemite National Park for a time. Then he went into the classroom and worked developing curricula for a number of years before leaving to write full time; he was inspired to do so by seeing the voids in many science subject areas.

"Nobody had ever written a kid's book about cycles," Ross once commented. "Each day, each year, each breath is a cycle. Without these circular patterns life would cease. I had been teaching five-to eighteen year olds about cycles for several years. They enjoyed learning about life cycles, water cycles, and nutrient cycles, but they only knew about cycles because I was their teacher. What would happen if I wasn't there? There wasn't a book to take my place, so when a friend encouraged me to write one, I got out my pen and started writing and illustrating Cycles, Cycles, Cycles. My employer, the Yosemite Association, a nonprofit publisher and educational organization, was anxious to publish it. It took only a month and a half to complete the book, and after [many] years it is still selling and doing its job of teaching kids about cycles."

Ross's writing soon led him into nature studies in general. His fanciful picture book Become a Bird and Fly! follows the adventures of young Nicky, who loves to watch birds and wants to try flying for himself. Nicky, with the help of a neighbor, slowly turns into a pelican, soaring in the wind. When he awakes from this pleasant dream he is simply a boy again, but in his hand he holds a feather. Jim Jeske, writing in Booklist, felt that author Ross and illustrator Peter Parnall have created "an enchanting story." The author meets his goal of creating a book to help youngsters prepare for a productive outdoor experience in The Happy Camper Handbook. A contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review felt that this work serves as a "nice guide for campers of all ages," and is "sturdy and small enough to carry in a backpack." Covering topics from equipment to clothing, and from setting up camp to map reading, Ross's book also includes a flashlight and rescue whistle.

Other picture books by Ross that contain science facts couched in an entertaining story include Snug as a Bug and What's the Matter in Mr. Whiskers' Room? Curling up for the night is the focus of the first title, in which Ross shows how everything from bugs to slugs to bumblebees take their daily rest. In Kirkus Reviews a critic praised the author's "whimsical rhyming couplets" as well as the "lush watercolor illustrations" by Sylvia Long, and predicted that young children will "connect with the [book's] homey, comforting theme." An inspiring teacher who encourages his eight students in hands-on study is the focus of What's the Matter in Mr. Whiskers' Room? Reflecting current educational standards in science, Mr. Whiskers arranges his lessons around seven science centers, each of which present an interesting experiment that reveals an important scientific concept. Praising the author for including information on how adults can set up similar learning experiences, the book was cited by School Library Journal critic Sandra Welzenbach for "encouraging students to learn through interacting with one another as well as with adults" as part of the learning process.

In Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids Ross provides a wealth of hands-on activities for budding scientists. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan concluded that "preschool and primary-grade teachers and parents will find this an upbeat, practical guide to science activities for young children." Another hands-on title, Toy Lab uses Silly Putty, Slinkies, and building blocks to illustrate basic physics concepts, such as gravity and waves, in a manner that will "pique youngsters' interest," in the opinion of School Library Journal reviewer Peg Glisson. In The World of Small: Exploration with a Hand Lens Ross presents an introduction to the world of the miniscule by the use of a hand-held lens, one of which is included with the book. Reviewing the title for Publishers Weekly, a contributor called the book an "ingenious package" and praised Ross for his use of "humorous language and oddball perspectives." The same reviewer concluded that The World of Small is a "source of entertainment and reference that could keep some enthusiasts busy for years." J. Baldwin, writing in the Whole Earth Review, dubbed the book "irresistible" and the "perfect gift for a kid you like."

In the eight titles in the "Backyard Buddies" series, Ross introduces readers to insects and invertebrates from snails to ladybugs, and from caterpillars to millipedes, all in a user-friendly and light manner. Reviewing Cricketology and Snailology in School Library Journal, Karey Wehner found the series installments to emphasize "hands-on learning," with each title describing how to collect, house, and care for the animal in question. These simple guides also explain observation techniques for the backyard naturalist, as well as the behavior and life cycle of each creature. Caterpillarology and Ladybugology "encourage kids to observe and inquire into the lives of our most commonly found creatures," remarked Arwen Marshall in a School Library Journal review of the two titles. Marshall also noted that what sets these books apart is the author's "aim to foster children's natural curiosity and get them to think about the world around them." Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke noted that in Caterpillarology and Ladybugology, "Ross conveys the pleasure and fascination of studying one creature carefully," and that he also includes "semihumorous tips for convincing parents to accept critters in the house." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that in Ladybugology Ross "includes some good facts about ladybugs and their care, defining their scientific names and covering some lady-bug lore." In a review of Millipedeology and Spiderology, Patricia Manning noted in School Library Journal that these books "will be enthusiastically received by students and teachers alike."

Ross has contributed many titles to the ongoing series "Naturalist's Apprentice," which feature books about naturalists and their fields of study. Part biography and part field guide, the titles in this series deal with birds, beasts, bugs, and plants. Many of the naturalists featured are members of minority groups, allowing Ross to Part of the "Backyard Buddies" series, Ross's Caterpillarology is an enticing guide for budding etymologists that suggests basic experiments and presents a wealth of facts. (Text copyright © 1997 by Michael Elshohn Ross. Photograph copyright © 1997 by Brian Grogan. Published by Carolrhoda Books. Reproduced by permission.)address social themes as well as scientific ones in his text. "Ross takes an innovative approach to biography, using the lives of these pioneering naturalists as a framework on which to hang an introduction to nature study," wrote Ruth S. Vose in a School Library Journal review of both Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice and Wildlife Watching with Charles Eastman. While Nice grew up at the turn of the twentieth century, a time when women generally stayed in the home rather than pursuing careers, she nonetheless managed to combine child rearing with her passion for bird watching and making a detailed study of bird behavior. Likewise, Charles Eastman, born into the Dakota Nation, became a physician and ardent nature lover. Writing in School Library Journal, Frances E. Millhouser called Ross's Pond Watching with Ann Morgan a "unique combination for biography and natural history," while Patricia Manning, also writing in School Library Journal, deemed Fish Watching with Eugenie Clark a "sparkling addition to a lively series."

African-American zoologist Charles Henry Turner and self-trained female botanist Alice Eastwood are featured in two other "Naturalist's Apprentice" installments, Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner and Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood. Reviewing both titles in Booklist, Phelan concluded that "effective writing and attractive presentation should encourage readers' enthusiasm for studying nature." A Kirkus Reviews contributor found Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood to be a biography that "lovingly presents the life" of the renowned botanist. Though self-taught, Eastwood ultimately became the curator of botany at the California Academy of Sciences and at age of ninety-one was honorary president of the Seventh International Botanical Congress in Sweden. Another contributor for Kirkus Reviews called Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner a "well-researched biography of a lesser-known scientist, complete with project ideas that extend the book's usefulness." Turner had to overcome many obstacles in his career, being the first African American in his college class, the first to serve on the faculty of his university, and the first to become a member of the St. Louis Academy of Science.

Moving from science to art, Ross profiles another person who overcame prejudice in Nature Art with Chiura Obata. The life of Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata is covered, from his early days in Japan to his move to California. Covering Obata's use of Asian techniques to depict the nature of his adopted country and the irony of the artist's internment during World War II, Ross creates a "well-written, historically illuminating biography [that] will inspire appreciation of the beauty and wonder in nature," according to Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld. A related title, Salvador Dali and the Surrealists: Their Lives and Ideals focuses on the early-twentieth-century Spanish painter whose dreamlike images have intrigued art fans as much as has his colorful and eccentric life story. Calling the book "respectful and thorough," Horn Book reviewer Nell Beram noted that Ross follows Dali's creative evolution from impressionist to cubist and surrealist, and cites the man's wide-ranging influence on fashion, literature, and film. Beram praised Ross for presenting "admirably succinct and lucid interpretations" of Dali's "often flummoxing work," and in School Library Journal Cris Riedel dubbed the text "eminently readable" and "crisply written."

Ross revisits the theme of nature's cycles that he addressed in earlier books in a series which includes Earth Cycles, Life Cycles, Body Cycles, and Re-Cycles. Reviewing Earth Cycles in Booklist, Gillian Engberg noted that Ross uses "clear language suitable for beginning readers" to explain the "Earth's cycles of rotation" and deemed the book "direct, simple, and ideal for classroom support." Appraising the same title in School Library Journal, Eunice Weech commented that Ross The cycles of day to night, as well as seasonal shifts and the changing face of Moon are the focus of Ross's Earth Cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore. (Text copyright © 2001 by Michael Elsohn Ross. Illustration copyright © 2001 by Gustav Moore. Reproduced in the U.S. by permission of Gustav Moore, in the rest of the world by permission of Millbrook Press.)deals with his subject in "easy-to-read but expressive language." The functions of the human body with regard to growth, respiration, and circulation are just a few of the things covered in Body Cycles, while in Life Cycles Ross maps the live cycles of a mushroom, grasshopper, and sunflower using what Booklist reviewer Lauren Peterson praised as "clear, direct language." Re-Cycles covers the cycle of regeneration as it plays out in the soil and water, and covers composting and the other recycling practices that allow people to participate in the cycle. The book's inclusion of fact boxes combine with "a generous assortment of color illustrations" to "clearly illustrate" the regeneration cycle, according to Booklist contributor Shelle Townsend-Hudson.

Somewhat of a change of direction for Ross are his titles for the "World's Children" series. Reviewing Children of Northern Ireland, School Library Journal contributor Tammy K. Baggett noted that Ross's book allows readers "to learn about another country through an exploration of the daily lives of children living there." Accompanied by full-color photographs, each text examines the lives of children both in and out of school and provides some historical background to the country in question.

"What impresses me years later is that I wrote a kids' book without knowing much about children's literature," Ross once remarked. "Ignorance was bliss, because I wrote and illustrated free of the constraints of trying to fit a mold. I created with kids in mind, and because I was a teacher I had ample opportunity to listen to kids. This process started me off on the path of creating unconventional science books. Ideas for new books are not a problem. They simply grow out of my life and work."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 15, 1993, Jim Jeske, review of Become a Bird and Fly!, p. 924; February 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids, p. 936; March 15, 1996, p. 1260; March 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner and Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood, p. 1132; July, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Caterpillarology and Ladybugology, p. 1880; December 1, 1998, p. 680; February 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Nature Art with Chiura Obata, p. 1021; January 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Earth Cycles, p. 964; August, 2001, Lauren Peterson, review of Life Cycles, p. 2112.

Children's Playmate, July-August, 1996, p. 14; November 1, 2002, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Re-Cycles, p. 502; November 1, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists: Their Lives and Ideas, p. 510.

Ross uses the transformations of a mushroom, sunflower, and grasshopper to help young readers understand the process of growth in Life Cycles, illustrated by Gustav Moore. (Text copyright © 2001 by Michael Elsohn Ross. Illustration copyright © 2001 Gustav Moore. Reproduced in the U.S. by permission of Gustav Moore, in the rest of the world by permission of Millbrook Press.)

Horn Book, January-February, 2004, Nell Beram, review of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists, p. 106.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997, review of Flower Watching with Alice Eastwood, p. 1712; December 1, 1997, review of Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner, pp. 1778-1779; January 15, 1998, review of Ladybugology, p. 117; April 1, 2004, review of Snug as a Bug, p. 337; August 15, 2004, review of What's the Matter in Mr. Whiskers' Room?, p. 812.

Kliatt, March, 2004, Jennifer Baldwin, review of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists, p. 35.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 17, 1995, review of The Happy Camper Handbook, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1993, review of The World of Small: Exploration with a Hand Lens, p. 82.

School Library Journal, February, 1993, p. 78; March, 1996, p. 132; July, 1996, Karey Wehner, review of Rolypolyology and Wormology, pp. 80-81; August, 1996, Karey Wehner, review of Cricketology and Snailology, p. 160; March, 1998, Arwen Marshall, review of Caterpillarology and Ladybugology, pp. 202-203; March, 1998, Ruth S. Vose, review of Bird Watching with Margaret Morse Nice and Wildlife Watching with Charles Eastman, p. 241; February, 1999, p. 39; July, 2000, Frances E. Millhouser, review of Pond Watching with Ann Morgan, p. 121; July, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Fish Watching with Eugenie Clark, Millipedeology, and Spiderology, p. 121; August, 2000, Andrew Medlar, review of Exploring the Earth with John Wesley Powell, p. 206; June, 2001, Tammy K. Baggett, review of Children of Northern Ireland, p. 136; July, 2001, Eunice Weech, review of Earth Cycles, p. 98; January, 2002, Michele Capozzella, review of Life Cycles, p. 124; February, 2002, Linda Greengrass, review of Children of Puerto Rico, p. 126; August, 2002, Martha Gordon, review of Body Cycles, p. 179; February, 2003, Peg Glisson, review of Toy Lab, p. 168; December, 2003, Cris Riedel, review of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists, p. 173; June, 2004, Rachel G. Payne, review of Snug as a Bug, p. 118; October, 2004, Sandra Welzenbach, review of What's the Matter in Mr. Whiskers' Room?, p. 148.

Scientific American, December, 1996, pp. 121-122.

Skipping Stones, March, 2000, p. 34.

Whole Earth Review, summer, 1993, J. Baldwin, review of The World of Small, p. 124.

ONLINE

Michael Elsohn Ross Web site, http://www.bugauthor.com (May 18, 2006).

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