David Shannon (1959-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1959, in Washington, DC; Education: Art Center College of Design, B.F.A., 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, playing guitar, playing baseball.
Agent—c/o Scholastic, 557 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012.
Author and illustrator of children's books.
New York Times Best Illustrated Book, 1994, for How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball, and 1998, for No, David!; Best Books, School Library Journal, and Blue Ribbons designation, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, both 1998, and Caldecott Honor book, 1999, all for No, David!; Golden Kite Award, 2000, for The Rain Came Down; Booksense Best Picture Book, 2004, for How I Became a Pirate.
How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1994.
The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1995.
A Bad Case of Stripes, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
No, David!, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
David Goes to School, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1999.
The Rain Came Down, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Duck on a Bike, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2002.
David Gets in Trouble, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Alice the Fairy, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Julius Lester, How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? And Other Tales, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
Isaac Asimov, Robbie, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1989.
Isaac Asimov, Franchise, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1989.
Isaac Asimov, All the Troubles of the World, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1989.
Isaac Asimov, Sally, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1989.
Rafe Martin, The Rough-Face Girl, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
Jane Yolen, Encounter, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1992.
Rafe Martin, The Boy Who Lived with the Seals, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.
Mark Shannon, Gawain and the Green Knight, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
Jane Yolen, The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Roger Culbertson, African Folktales, Running Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.
Audrey Wood, The Bunyans, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Jane Yolen, Sacred Places, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
Robert D. San Souci, Nicholas Pipe, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Mark Shannon, The Acrobat and the Angel, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
Rafe Martin, The Shark God, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2001.
Melinda Long, How I Became a Pirate, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2003.
Children's author and illustrator David Shannon's work has appeared in some of the most widely read publications in North America, including the New York Times and Time magazine. As Shannon once explained to SATA: "I got involved with children's books almost by accident. I was amazed at the quality and variety of children's stories, and more and more found myself drawing things I drew as a boy—baseball players, pirates, knights, and Native Americans. I realized that children's books were what I had been working toward my whole life." Shannon has provided the pictures for works by such noted authors as Isaac Asimov, Jane Yolen, and Robert D. San Souci, and has also written and illustrated several books himself.
Shannon knew growing up that he wanted to be an artist, but he did not like the idea of going into the fine arts—he preferred making drawings to accompany the stories he was reading. It wasn't until college that he realized he could make a living doing just that. After he graduated, he spent some time in New York and ended up becoming a regular contributor to the New York Times Op Ed section, then the New York Times Book Review. Finally Shannon's work was noticed by an editor at Scholastic, who asked if he would like to illustrate Julius Lester's How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? And Other Tales, a collection of Lester's adaptations of traditional African and Jewish folk tales. "I accepted, thinking it would be a good break, a one-shot," Shannon confessed in an interview for Publishers Weekly. "Once that book came out in 1989, other editors started sending me manuscripts."
How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? was Shannon's first book, as well as his first job illustrating folk tales, something he has continued to do throughout his career. "The Wonderful Healing Leaves" and "Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky" are two of the dozen stories presented in this compilation. For the tales that are set in Africa, Shannon creates images with "rich, warm, earth tones" that "are particularly evocative," maintained School Library Journal contributor Kay McPherson. A critic for Publishers Weekly termed the book's artwork "striking" and "as full of depth as the stories themselves."
Shannon has also provided illustrations for another adaptation, The Rough-Face Girl, Rafe Martin's version of an Algonquin folktale. The story features a Cinderella-type title character with scars on her face and arms that are the result of her enforced duties as tender of her family's fire at their home on the shores of Lake Ontario. Every young woman in the Rough-Face Girl's community wishes to become the bride of the Invisible Being, but only the one to whom he is visible can achieve the honor. Her vicious sisters try to prove that they have witnessed his presence, but are exposed as frauds; the Rough-Face Girl, however, has seen the Invisible Being and his accouterments in the natural world around her. In a School Library Journal assessment, Susan Scheps called the cover portrait, showing both the title character's scars and beauty, "stunning," and found that the inside illustrations "embody the full flavor of the story." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Shannon's "meticulous research" into Algonquin culture, and commended the "powerful, stylized figures and stirring landscapes." Carolyn Phelan, reviewing The Rough-Face Girl for Booklist, termed the illustrations "striking and often rich in atmosphere."
Shannon illustrated a second Rafe Martin retelling, The Boy Who Lived with the Seals. The work won praise for its presentation of the Chinook legend of a young boy who wanders away from his parents one day, and finds a home with a band of seals in the Pacific Northwest. His parents are saddened, thinking their son gone forever, but one day hear about a boy who lives among the seals, and they steal him away in the dark of night. Shannon's drawings depict the boy's difficult readjustment to human culture and his newfound sense of isolation from the community of his birth. Janice Del Negro, writing for Booklist, found The Boy Who Lived with the Seals "grippingly illustrated," and praised Shannon for integrating the beauty of Chinook artistic traditions. "His striking acrylic paintings impressively conjure the drama and conflict of the story," added Del Negro. Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns called Shannon's images "haunting," and found his pages "reminiscent in their storytelling quality of dramatic murals."
Shannon and Rafe Martin continued their collaboration in the 2001 title The Shark God. A Polynesian tale, The Shark God tells the story of two children who free a shark from a net. In their glee at having accomplished the task, they beat their celebration on the king's drum—the punishment for which is death. The parents of the condemned children pray to the shark god to rescue them, and the shark god responds; he creates a massive storm to destroy the unworthy island, rescuing the children and their parents and helping them travel to another land where they will find a better home. For this tale, Shannon used some Oceanic traditional art styles to capture the character of the shark god. Other characters in the story wear traditional clothing and tattoos, giving the myth a detailed realism. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that Shannon's "powerful Hawaiian figures … look ready to burst forth from the spreads." Mary M. Burns, reviewing the work in Horn Book, considered The Shark God "a real find for story hours and individual readers as well."
Shannon also provided illustrations for acclaimed children's author Jane Yolen's Encounter, which depicts the landing of Christopher Columbus on the island of San Salvador, as told through the eyes of a Taino Indian boy. As the story opens, the boy dreams that the coming ships will bring harm to his people, but his Taino elders ignore the boy's warnings. Shannon's drawings show the youth being captured into slavery by Columbus's men, and the ultimate fulfillment of his foreboding dream. This "visionary style," declared a Publishers Weekly critic, "is an ideal complement" for Yolen's prose. The commentator added that Shannon's "atmospheric illustrations are of heroic proportions and full of contrast."
Shannon and Yolen teamed up for another book, The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, Yolen's lyrical recounting of a true story about the only two women among the dozen outlaws aboard a pirate ship in 1720. When the ship is attacked by a governor's vessel, Anne Bonney and Mary Reade battle the enemy singlehandedly, while the men drink and play cards below deck. All are captured, however, and Bonney and Reade escape the hangman's noose by claiming they are pregnant. A critic for Publishers Weekly termed Shannon's illustrations "ironic in their stateliness" with "a sly humor" that helped make the book "offbeat and grimly amusing." Helen Gregory, writing for School Library Journal, praised the "depth of [Shannon's] art," which she termed "reminiscent of great classic illustrators working in oil, especially N. C. Wyeth."
Shannon has also collaborated with his brother, drawing the images to accompany Mark Shannon's retelling of the age-old tale of an honorable warrior in Gawain and the Green Knight. Based on a Celtic myth, the story presents young, inexperienced Gawain impressing the knights of King Arthur's Round Table by taking up a monstrous intruder's challenge to chop his head off. Gawain succeeds, but the Green Knight simply picks up his own head before departing, reminding Gawain that according to the terms of their agreement, they will meet again in a year's time for another duel. The book follows Gawain's journey to the appointed meeting place and the various challenges he faces along the way, with one variation on the original plot. Hazel Rochman, writing for Booklist, asserted that "the glowing, sophisticated paintings … express the demonic drama of the story." Their second collaboration, The Acrobat and the Angel, is a retelling of a French folktale. After the death of a Pequele's grandmother, the boy, an acrobat, is taken in at a monastery, where he is encouraged to give us his adventurous ways. His last performance, however, is miraculous. The Shannon brothers reveal Pequele as both "humble and larger than life."
Continuing the folk-tale theme of his previous artistic endeavors, Shannon penned realistic, full-color drawings for Audrey Wood's The Bunyans, a 1996 book that follows an entire family of fictional giants across North America. The Bunyans carve out canyons and construct the Rocky Mountains with their frolic; a famed hot-water geyser in Wyoming has its origins here as Mrs. Bunyan's hot-water faucet. "Better than the text is the BIG artwork," noted Ilene Cooper in Booklist, remarking that "this is where most of the humor is." Shannon also illustrated another fable, Nicholas Pipe, modernized by renowned reteller Robert D. San Souci. San Souci recounts an old twelfth-century tale about the title creature, a half-man/half-fish, who lives on land but must touch the sea daily to survive. Nicholas falls in love with Margaret, a fisherman's daughter, whose brother was thought to have been killed by merfolk; because of this, her father forbids her to speak to Nicholas. Though the merman saves both father and daughter during a storm, the fisherman turns Nicholas over to the authorities, and although he is carted away far from the sea, love wins out in the end. "Shannon's stunning acrylic paintings are fitting to this powerful story," asserted School Library Journal contributor Beth Tegart, while a Publishers Weekly critic called Nicholas Pipe "a stylish collaboration."
In 2003 Shannon had a chance to return to illustrating pirates when he collaborated with Melinda Long on How I Became a Pirate. Jeremy and his family are at the beach when a crew of pirates become lost. Unable to pull his mother's attention away from his fussing baby sister, Jeremy joins up with the crew to become their digger. At first, Jeremy is having the time of his life with the pirates, learning sea shanties, talking like a pirate, and ignoring all his manners. But when he tries to teach the pirates how to play soccer, his ball is eaten by a shark, and when bedtime comes around, there's no one to tuck him in. When Jeremy helps the pirates find a place to bury their treasure, he chooses his backyard and returns home, in time for soccer practice. "Shannon plays off the straight text," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, noting that his "gleefully madcap illustrations" exaggerate the fun of the story. In a review for School Library Journal, Laurie Edwards commented on Shannon's use of point of view in his illustrations, showing "a colorful crew of pop-eyed, snaggly toothed pirates seen from a variety of zany viewpoints (including upside down)." Shelle Rosenfeld of Booklist praised, "Shannon's acrylic art is marvelously animated." Shannon described the pirates in an interview with Harcourt Trade Publishers Web site: "I wanted the pirates to be funny, but I also wanted them to be cool-looking and 'piratey.'" He and his daughter Emma named all the pirates in the story while he was working on their portraits. In the same interview, he commented, "Wouldn't it be fun to have a pillow fight with big ol' pirates, but can you imagine how smelly and uncomfortable it would be to sleep over at their house?"
Shannon has also written and illustrated several books himself. The first of these was the children's novel How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball, the story of the villainous Boss Swaggert, a former major-league baseball star who suffered a slump, was booed off the field, and as a result has made it his life's work to eradicate the sport from the planet. He does this by becoming a rich and powerful media mogul, and even has the president arrested for throwing the first pitch of the season opener. With baseball outlawed, spring ceases to arrive, and the world is one long winter where former ballparks are now prisons for anyone who utters baseball-related slang. Into this world comes Georgie Radbourn, a precocious boy who can only, inexplicably, speak in such terms like "Batter up!" Georgie becomes a cause celebre and makes the evil Swaggert a deal: if he can't hit Georgie's three pitches, the sport will be restored. Booklist's Stephanie Zvirin noted the book's "echoes of an Orwellian future," a "strong, bleak vision Shannon conjures up so well in his dramatic illustrations." A Kirkus Reviews critic remarked that at the final showdown, the author-illustrator "gives this contest … an epic feel—plus a broad streak of comedy."
In The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, another story both written and illustrated by Shannon, Mr. Merri-weather suffers the taunts of his neighbor when he puts up just a modest string of lights on his house for the holiday season. Soon he and his nemesis have constructed competing, very elaborate displays that bring a nightly traffic jam of visitors. As a result, the other neighbors turn on the Merriweathers, attacking the Christmas display with common household tools and sporting equipment. "Rarely do pictures have so much narrative in them," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who called the sum of the visual parts "startling." Stephanie Zvirin of Booklist, noting that The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza was aimed at primary graders, remarked that the book has a definite adult appeal in its setup and comedy, while its "brilliant colors, depth, and meticulous details" might lure older children as well. A School Library Journal contributor praised Shannon's "deft phrasing and amazing illustrations," and termed The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza "a singular tale" likely to "provoke discussion, both with its plot and its remarkable artwork."
Shannon tackled the themes of peer pressure and being yourself in A Bad Case of Stripes. Camilla Cream likes lima beans—but all her friends hate them. She wants so much to please others that not only does she deny her bean craving, she begins to find herself changing colors, becoming whatever pattern people command. The doctors aren't able to do anything, and the only thing that happens when Camilla is treated by a medicine man, a guru, and a veterinarian is that she begins to grow fur and berries and her stripes change to peculiar spots. It's only when Camilla admits that she likes lima beans that she can be cured. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book "disturbing," noting that Shannon "juggles dark humor and an anti-peer-pressure message." However Stephanie Zvirin, in her review for Booklist, found Shannon's "over-the-top art" to be "sensational, an ingenious combination of the concrete and the fantastic."
Like The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, The Rain Came Down features a group of tense neighbors; no one in Shannon's story seems happy when the rains come. The fighting of the animals who live in a house result in the yelling of the man who lives there, which wakes his baby, beginning a chain reaction that ends up in a traffic jam and lots of shouting. But when the rain stops, the sun seems to bring out the best in everyone, helping them all to make amends. Shannon's pictures use clothing and settings from early 1960s America, and they are seen from such angles as right in the middle of traffic to a bird's-eye view of the whole town. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly complimented, "Shannon expertly uses vertiginous angles as he builds suspense," and Booklist critic Gillian Engberg called the book a "spirited, beautifully illustrated new work." Although most of the characters depicted are adults, Lisa Dennis of School Library Journal maintained that "kids will just enjoy it as a fun story cheerfully told and amusingly illustrated."
A mischievous duck is the star of Duck on a Bike. When duck sees a bicycle lying around on the farm, he decides he is going to learn to ride it. When he finally does, Shannon shows the reactions of all the other farm animals to duck's new toy; some are envious, like mouse, while cat can't be bothered and horse is sure he can run faster. At the end of the story, however, when a group of children leave their bikes riderless, the animals all do their best to ride. Sheep, cautious and worrying, rides a bike with training wheels; the two pigs ride in tandem; and even little mouse gets a ride on duck's handlebars. "The exuberant fun really takes off in Shannon's crayon-bright paintings," praised Joanna Rudge Long in her review for Horn Book. Marianne Saccardi, writing for School Library Journal, noted that readers will be "chiming in on the repeated phrases," as well as the noises of the barnyard animals. In Publishers Weekly, a critic said of the animal characters, "readers can almost see what they're thinking." Ilene Cooper of Booklist concluded "this whole bright book is tons of fun."
Shannon also has penned another series of stories aimed at an even younger audience. The comical No, David!, for preschoolers, follows a monstrously devious, though well-intentioned, youngster as he conducts all manner of mischief at his home, including running outside naked. Inside, he draws on walls, plays baseball, puts his fingers up his nose, and breaks things. The title derives from David's mother's incessant admonitions; when his antics push her too far one day, he is punished, but the ending is reassuring. Susan Pine, writing for School Library Journal, found that Shannon had created a youngster "whose stick-figure body conveys every nuance of anger, exuberance, and defiance." The book met with popular and critical success, and was selected as a Caldecott Honor book in 1999.
The inspiration for No, David! came from a book Shannon had written when he was only five years old. "His mother sent it to him from her archives … when he was already a successful children's book author and illustrator," explained an interviewer for Publishers Weekly. Shannon used the original book as his inspiration throughout; he'd tried to do the book with more realistic illustrations, but couldn't get them to work. "When I got to doing the paintings, they weren't working," he explained to the interviewer for Publishers Weekly. "The pictures were too flat—they just lay there. I wanted a little kid's style." So David gained the roundhead and pointy teeth that he'd had back when Shannon first drew him. No, David! was so successful and enjoyable to work on that Shannon decided to create first one sequel, then another. He told Miriam Drennan of Bookpage Online, "I'd had so much fun with No, David!, and, while I was working on that, the idea to take it to the next level of authority started germinating; I wanted to keep going with this character." And so, David Goes to School came out, bringing David into a setting with many more kids. David means well, but seems to get everything wrong, from chewing gum in class, writing on his desk, pulling a girl's hair, and starting a food fight in the cafeteria because he cut in line. The reactions of the other students show up in Shannon's illustrations, if not in the text, and reveal who David's friends are at the end of the day. A critic for Booklist commented on Shannon's "mix of tenderness and hilarity," while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that the events would be "eminently recognizable" to young readers.
David's return in David Gets in Trouble shows how David has adopted the word "No" into his own vocabulary: "No! It's not my fault!" The baseball through the window is an accident, the naughty word is uttered because he has heard his father use it, the cat's tail is pulled because David thinks the cat enjoys it, and David's pants are left behind when he walks to school because he just forgot them. "Shannon's artwork is deceptively simple," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist. Adele Greenlee commented in School Library Journal that Shannon's "contemporary stylistic art is just right for depicting the boy's antics and his high energy personality." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly pointed out that "Shannon carefully hews to a child's-eye view of the world," never fully revealing the adults in the story, and including David's own handwritten notes defending himself. "What a blessing he lives on the page and not in our lives," joked a Kirkus Reviews contributor. But as GraceAnne A. DeCandido said in her review of David Goes to School for Booklist, "We know David turned out all right, because he's making these books now."
In an interview for the Children's Book Council Web site, Shannon explained that when he illustrates, he focuses on the characters. "One of the first things I do when I'm illustrating a book is draw the character studies," Shannon told the interviewer. "I try to picture what a particular character looks like, what he is wearing, and what kind of personality he has… Some times it's as if the character stands up off the paper and starts running around my drawing table." Shannon also allows real characters to emerge in his books; in David Goes to School, the graffiti on David's desk features Shannon's dog, Fergus. "He's in all my books," Shannon admitted to Miriam Drennan of Bookpage Online. Shannon and Fergus live with Shannon's wife, Heidi, and daughter, Emma, in Los Angeles, California.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Rough-Face Girl, p. 1533; March 15, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of The Boy Who Lived with the Seals, p. 1321; January 15, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball, p. 939; June 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Gawain and the Green Knight, p. 1832; April 15, 1995, p. 1501; September 15, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, p. 172; September 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of the Bunyans, p. 252; January 1, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of A Bad Case of Stripes, p. 825; September 1, 1998, p. 128; August, 1999, GraceAnne A. De-Candido, review of David Goes to School, p. 2053; January 1, 2000, review of David Goes to School, p. 825; October 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Rain Came Down, p. 447; February 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Duck on a Bike, p. 1013; September 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of David Gets in Trouble, p. 233; September 15, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of How I Became a Pirate, p. 238.
Horn Book, January-February, 1990, p. 79; July-August, 1992, p. 458; July-August, 1993, Mary M. Burns, review of The Boy Who Lived with the Seals, p. 472; September, 2000, review of The Rain Came Down, p. 556; November-December, 2001, Mary M. Burns, review of The Shark God, p. 761; March-April, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Duck on a Bike, p. 203.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1994, review of How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball,, p. 310; October 15, 1995, review of The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, p. 1502; August 1, 2002, review of David Gets in Trouble, p. 1143.
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1989, review of How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have? And Other Tales, p. 68; March 9, 1992, review of Encounter, p. 57; April 13, 1992, review of The Rough-Face Girl, p. 57; April 5, 1993, p. 77; February 28, 1994, p. 85; August 29, 1994, p. 79; April 17, 1994, review of The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, p. 59; May 5, 1997, review of Nicholas Pipe, p. 209; January 12, 1998, review of A Bad Case of Stripes, p. 59; July 19, 1999, Sonja Bolle, "David Shannon: A Merry Prankster," p. 168; November 1, 1999, review of David Goes to School, p. 57; October 16, 2000, review of The Rain Came Down, p. 75; October 15, 2001, review of The Acrobat and the Angel, p. 74; November 5, 2001, review of The Shark God, p. 67; December 17, 2001, review of Duck on a Bike, p. 90; June 24, 2002, review of David Gets in Trouble, p. 55; July 7, 2003, review of How I Became a Pirate, p. 70.
School Library Journal, November, 1989, Kay McPherson, review of How Many Spots Does a Leopard Have?, p. 99; May, 1992, Susan Scheps, review of The Rough-Face Girl, p. 124; April, 1993, pp. 112-13; April, 1994, pp. 113-14; October, 1994, p. 138; June, 1995, Helen Gregory, review of The Ballad of the Pirate Queens, p. 126; October, 1995, review of The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza, pp. 41-42; December, 1996, p. 110; May, 1997, Beth Tegart, review of Nicholas Pipe, p. 124; March, 1998, Carolyn Noah, review of A Bad Case of Stripes, p. 188; August, 1998, Susan Pine, review of No, David!, p. 146; September, 1999, Barbara Scotto, review of David Goes to School, p. 205; October, 2000, Lisa Dennis, review of The Rain Came Down, p. 136; March, 2002, Marianne Saccardi, review of Duck on a Bike, p. 201; September, 2002, Adele Greenlee, review of David Gets in Trouble, p. 206; September, 2003, Laurie Edwards, review of How I Became a Pirate, p. 184.
Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Shirley Lewis, review of David Goes to School, p. 49.
Barnes & Noble.com Web site, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (2002), interview with Shannon.
BookPage Online, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September, 1999), Miriam Drennan, "Back to School with David Shannon."
Children's Book Council Web site, http://www.cbcbooks.org/ (September, 2000).
Harcourt Trade Publishers Web site, http://www.harcourtbooks.com/ (April 1, 2004), interview with Shannon.
Scholastic Web site, http://www.scholastic.com/ (April 1, 2004), profile of Shannon.
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