Archive for February, 2021

Review of Solving for M, by Jennifer Swender

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

Solving for M

by Jennifer Swender
illustrations by Jennifer Naalchigar

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 243 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
2020 Mathical Book Prize Award Winner, Ages 8-10

This book begins with Mika starting middle school in 5th grade and wondering why her math teacher insists on them keeping a math journal. She doesn’t think of herself as a numbers person, but as an art person. Still, her art teacher tells them “Drawing isn’t in the 5th grade curriculum” and instead they make collages from found objects. She does more drawing in math class than in art class.

And the book takes us through Mika’s year with the unconventional math teacher, new friends, and pages from Mika’s math journal, which mostly give a nice visual explanation of math concepts. Mika’s mother, unfortunately, has a medical incident and may have cancer, and then that cancer may have spread, so when Mika thinks about probability, that’s what’s on her mind.

I’m not sure I would have liked having to do a math journal instead of just solving problems when I was in 5th grade. But this makes a nice book for kids who don’t, actually, think of themselves as numbers people. It shows how much math is part of life. And Mika’s story is a good one, trying to cope with her mother’s diagnosis and make new friends with her former best friend assigned to a different pod.

There is, alas, one error in the portrayed journal pages! The book is so good except for that!

When the class is talking about subsets, Mika draws pictures of various sets and subsets. These are shown on pages 135 and 136. In the first one, she’s got a picture of her Mom in a Melanoma Support Group. Set A = Mom, old guy 1, old guy 2, old guy 3, old guy 4. Then she’s got new brackets around the picture of her mother and says Set B = Mom.

But alas! In the subset notation, it says that A is a subset of B, instead of what it should be, the other way around! This has strong potential to confuse lots of kids. It’s the *only* math mistake in the book, and not a major plot point, and I really really really hope they will fix it in subsequent printings. Once that mistake is put right, it’s a wonderful book that kids will enjoy and that might open their minds about math!

I admit, I’m surprised it won a Mathical Prize with that error in there. Though the library tends to buy early printings, so maybe it did get fixed? And it’s one tiny error and they shouldn’t hold against it the beautiful demonstration of how math is part of life and artists can help make that understandable. Also, I’m sure the committee appreciated the bigger picture that this book shows that it doesn’t take some kind of natural-born genius to enjoy and appreciate math.

jacobsandswender.com
rhcbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

You Should See Me in a Crown

by Leah Johnson
read by Alaska Jackson

Scholastic Press, 2020. 7 hours, 18 minutes.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review
2021 Stonewall Honor Books

Okay, I’ll confess: My Cybils panel chose this book as a finalist in Young Adult Fiction, and I hadn’t read it yet. I knew that a lot of people liked it, but I took a gamble that other books would rise above it – and this time, I lost out. So I felt obligated to see what my group was recommending, and I wasn’t sorry.

I do have a hard time with the premise of the book: That there’s a town in Indiana where Prom is everything. There’s a six week campaign period for prom queen and king. Candidates are expected to do volunteer activities, have good grades, and appear in promotional events, with many of these weighted into who gets to be on the court. In fact, the winning prom queen and king get a $10,000 scholarship.

Really? To me, it seemed completely unbelievable and just invented as the set up for a book about an unlikely prom queen. And how trite is that?

But I reflected that I know nothing about how serious prom might be in a rural county of Indiana. In fact, I don’t know much about prom, having gone to a small Christian high school decades ago. Now they did further destroy believability by mentioning the year – No, you didn’t go to prom in 2020 – but that was a mistake a few other young adult novels made this year. Who knew when the book was being published that it couldn’t actually happen in 2020?

However, after my colleagues chose the book as our finalist, I was willing to set aside my skepticism. Before long, I found myself making excuses to listen to more of the audiobook, which was good for getting puzzles done!

The story begins as Liz Lighty learns she did not get the scholarship she’d auditioned for to go to the college her mother attended – the one she’s wanted to go to all her life, but especially ever since her mother died of sickle cell disease. Her brother and some friends decide she should run for prom queen – and the $10,000 scholarship. Liz doesn’t even want to tell her grandparents she didn’t get the scholarship, because she’s afraid they’ll sell their house to support her.

Trouble is, Liz’s friend has a way to track her school’s social media app, and Liz is currently next-to-last out of 25 candidates for prom court. On top of that, she’s got social anxiety, she’s black, and she’s queer. She’s not a “legacy” candidate with parents who were on the prom court when they were in high school.

But the story gets much more interesting in the people Liz interacts with along the way. There’s a new girl who doesn’t seem to care about other people’s expectations. She’s also beautiful. Then there’s the guy who was her best friend in middle school but rejected her on the first day of ninth grade. He’s running for prom king and Liz starts remembering what it was like having him for a friend.

This ends up being a timely novel about friendship and expectations and even romance. You get to caring about Liz and her family and root her on in her quest to make it to Pennington College by way of prom queen.

ireadya.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Consent (for Kids!), by Rachel Brian

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

Consent
(For Kids!)

Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU

by Rachel Brian

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 64 pages.
Review written January 28, 2021, from a library book

What a perfect idea! Rachel Brian, the creator of the viral short video Tea Consent has made this little graphic novel explanation of consent in a completely kid-friendly way.

It turns out you don’t have to talk about sex to explain that you are in charge of your own body.

The book begins by explaining boundaries. That different people may have different boundaries, and that you may have different boundaries for different people, and those boundaries may change. The cartoons show things like high-fiving, hugging, and waving. It covers things like tickling, tackling, and pinching. What may be fine for one person may not be fine for someone else.

They’ve thought of more issues about consent than I would have ever realized are there, and it’s all done in a child-friendly and empowering way. I like the page where they show that someone’s outfit does not tell you if they consent. It shows a kid dressed in a bathing suit standing by a pool. But after she stops some kids from pushing her in, she says she doesn’t plan to swim at all. She just likes wearing the bathing suit and is planning to wear it to dinner. (This is all done with speech bubbles.)

The book also covers finding who you can trust, earning trust, and listening when other people talk about their own boundaries.

I was going to say that I’m sad this book needs to exist, but once I think about it, I’m not sad. Why, it does even me good to be reminded that I’m in charge of my own body. And I love that kids are getting taught that even when they’re young.

[Hmm. Where should I put this review? I hadn’t made a category in Children’s Nonfiction for Current Issues. I think for now, it fits best with the books in The Arts.]

LBYR.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Milo Imagines the World, by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

Saturday, February 27th, 2021

Milo Imagines the World

by Matt de la Peña
pictures by Christian Robinson

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written February 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Milo Imagines the World reminds me of the book by these collaborators that won the Newbery Medal and Caldecott Honor, Last Stop on Market Street, because it’s also about a boy taking public transportation.

This time it’s the subway. And the picture in the subway station puts me right there with Milo and his older sister, who is looking at her phone, as are many people in the station.

When Milo gets on the subway, we’re told:

These monthly Sunday subway rides
are never ending, and as usual, Milo is a shook-up soda.
Excitement stacked on top of worry
on top of confusion
on top of love.
To keep himself from bursting, he studies
the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives.

We see the imaginative pictures that Milo draws about the people on the subway.

When a white boy in a suit with a perfect part and bright white Nikes boards the train, Milo imagines him as a prince going to his castle.

More interesting people board the train, including a bride and a crew of breakers.

When Milo and his sister get off the train, we see them going through a metal detector and visiting their mom, who’s wearing an orange jumpsuit, in a room with guards and other families spending time together. To Milo’s surprise, the boy in the suit is there, too. That makes Milo rethink some of his imaginings.

But the book ends with Milo showing his mom a picture of their family at home, together, eating ice cream on their front steps.

This book works on many levels. It’s about a subway ride, imagination, having things in common with others, seeing beyond stereotypes, and having an incarcerated parent. But I’m going to approach it as a great story. And that’s how it’s going to be able to reach kids who will benefit from all those other levels.

mattdelapena.com
theartoffun.com
penguin.com/kids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Eager to Love, by Richard Rohr

Friday, February 26th, 2021

Eager to Love

The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi

by Richard Rohr

Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014. 294 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Ever since I read Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ, I’ve also been reading the daily meditations he sends out from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This book explains the Franciscan tradition and Christian mysticism. He looks closely at Francis of Assissi’s life and teachings as well as those that followed him – and focuses on what that can mean for Christians today.

It’s hard for me to describe this book, except to say it’s lovely and uplifting. I’m not sure I fully grasped all the implications. I’ll write out the very beginning, to give you some of the flavor:

Francis of Assisi was a master of making room for the new and letting go off that which was tired or empty. As his first biographer said, “He was always new, always fresh, always beginning again.” Much of Francis’s genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not tired, and so he was never tired. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.”

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness – and holiness. The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare, carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusions. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by it. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

In this book, I want to share with you one of the most attractive, appealing, and accessible of all frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified it, Francesco de Bernardone, who lived in Assisi, Italy, from 1182-1226.

This isn’t a book of history, though it does tell the reader much about the teachings of Saint Francis and his followers. But the approach is talking about how we can incorporate these ideas into our own lives. It’s ultimately a challenging and uplifting book, and at some point I want to read it again and see if I can absorb more of it.

At its heart, this is a book about getting better at loving. Here’s a paragraph from a chapter specifically on Francis that shows where the title came from:

If your only goal is to love, there is no such thing as failure. Francis succeeded in living in this single-hearted way and thus turned all failure on its head, and even made failure into success. This intense eagerness to love made his whole life an astonishing victory for the human and divine spirit, and showed how they can work so beautifully together.

cac.org

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Black Brother, Black Brother

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 239 pages.
Review written January 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Donte and Trey are brothers in a biracial family. Trey has white skin and looks like their dad. Donte has black skin and looks like their lawyer mom. They both attend a Middlefield Prep, with Trey a couple years ahead of Donte, who’s in middle school. Trey is far more popular than Donte.

As the book opens, Donte is sitting in the principal’s office, waiting to be punished for something he didn’t actually do. When they won’t even listen to his side and he gets angry, the police are called and Donte is arrested and taken from the school in handcuffs.

Donte’s mother is a lawyer. She’s going to go farther with his case. But Donte is especially angry at Alan, the kid who threw the pencil, a kid who’s blatantly racist. That kid is also the star of the fencing team.

Then Donte learns that a black Olympic fencer lives nearby and works at a Boys and Girls Club in Boston. Donte decides to learn to fence, in hopes of beating Alan at his own game.

The book is good at explaining the art of fencing to the reader – the mind game aspects as well as the physical aspects. We’re rooting for Donte as he learns to look beyond personal vengeance and think about how to work for justice.

It’s not a long story, but it grips the reader, and points out some contemporary issues. In a note at the back, the author mentions some awful stories of black children being arrested at school for minor offenses. I hope the book itself will help open eyes and open hearts.

lbyr.com

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Review of Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Everything Sad Is Untrue

(a true story)

by Daniel Nayeri

Levine Querido (Chronicle Books), 2020. 356 pages.
Review written February 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Michael L. Printz Award Winner

I felt like I scored when this won the Printz Award. A friend had recently recommended it highly, so I had it checked out already, and didn’t have to wait to get it on hold. Even with that strong recommendation and winning the top award for Young Adult books, I was not disappointed when I read this book, and I agree with the acclaim.

The subtitle says this is a true story, but it’s presented as fiction. We learn at the back that the author told the story of his life as a refugee from his own perspective when he was twelve. Since he wasn’t able to verify facts, he went with his memories and changed some details – and called it fiction.

The style makes this book memorable and delightful. He writes it, telling the reader the story, as his younger self told stories to his class when he was twelve. To give you the idea, I’ll show you the beginning:

All Persians are liars and lying is a sin.

That’s what the kids in Mrs. Miller’s class think, but I’m the only Persian they’ve ever met, so I don’t know where they got that idea.

My mom says it’s true, but only because everyone has sinned and needs God to save them. My dad says it isn’t. Persians aren’t liars. They’re poets, which is worse.

Poets don’t even know when they’re lying. They’re just trying to remember their dreams. They’re trying to remember six thousand years of history and all the versions of all the stories ever told.

In one version, maybe I’m not the refugee kid in the back of Mrs. Miller’s class. I’m a prince in disguise.

If you catch me, I will say what they say in the 1,001 Nights. “Let me go, and I will tell you a tale passing strange.”

That’s how they all begin.

With a promise. If you listen, I’ll tell you a story. We can know and be known to each other, and then we’re not enemies anymore.

I’m not making this up. This is a rule that even genies follow.

In the 1,001 Nights, Scheherazade – the rememberer of all the world’s dreams – told stories every night to the king, so he would spare her life.

But in here, it’s just me, counting my own memories.

And you, reader, whoever you are. You’re the king.

I’m not sucking up, by the way. The king was evil and made a bloody massacre of a thousand lives before he got to Scheherazade.

It’s a responsibility to be the king.

You’ve got my whole life in your hands.

And I’m just warning you that if I’m going to be honest, I have to begin the story with my Baba Haji, even if the blood might shock you.

But don’t worry, dear reader and Mrs. Miller.

Of all the tales of marvel that I could tell you, none surpass in wonder and coolness the one I am about to tell.

That gives you an idea of the style, which continues the entire book. In a somewhat rambling but completely charming way, Khosrou, who was renamed Daniel so Americans could pronounce it, tells the story of his Persian forebears and life in Iran, how his mother became a Christian and they had to flee, and how things are completely different now in Oklahoma.

But that summary doesn’t convey the power and poignancy of this story.

His mother is portrayed as the hero of the book – utterly unstoppable. The stories inside the book range from tragic and frightening, including their time as refugees before they got permission to come to America, to more garden-variety encounters with unkind kids in Oklahoma, to mythic tales of Daniel’s ancestors. He was a small child when he had to leave his home country and extended family behind, and he conveys that child’s perspective.

He also weaves themes through the narrative so that I want to read it again to see what I didn’t catch the first time. I think next time, I’ll listen to an audiobook, because that will suit the style perfectly.

levinequerido.com

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Review of Unspeakable, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Unspeakable

The Tulsa Race Massacre

by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Carolrhoda Books, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written February 23, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book tells about the Tulsa Race Massacre simply, in a way that will haunt you.

The book begins with pictures and text about the prospering and thriving Black community in Greenwood, Oklahoma. We see the train tracks between the Black and white communities in Tulsa, and hear about all the businesses in Greenwood, some the largest Black-owned in the nation. The business district was called Black Wall Street.

Each section starts with “Once upon a time in Greenwood…” and we hear of all the thriving businesses and opportunities and see pictures of happy people enjoying them.

There were also several libraries, a hospital,
a post office, and a separate school system,
where some say Black children
got a better education than whites.

Another page shows the “grand homes of doctors, lawyers, and prominent businessmen.”

A little past the halfway point in the book is a turning point in the story, on a page mostly dark:

But in 1921, not everyone in Tulsa was pleased
with these signs of Black wealth – undeniable proof
that African Americans could achieve
just as much, if not more than, whites.

All it took was one elevator ride,
one seventeen-year-old white elevator operator
accusing a nineteen-year-old Black shoeshine man
of assault for simmering hatred to boil over.

The accused man was put in jail, and the white-owned newspaper urged readers to “nab” him.

There was a confrontation on May 31, 1921 of two thousand armed whites with thirty armed Black men trying to protect the accused. That was the beginning.

But then the mob turned on the rest of Greenwood and burned homes and businesses. They blocked firefighters from putting out the fires.

These pages don’t show pretty scenes.

Once upon a time in Greenwood,

up to three hundred Black people,
including Dr. Jackson, were killed.

Hundreds more were injured.
More than eight thousand people

were left homeless.
And hundreds of businesses

and other establishments
were reduced to ash.

After details about the massacre, the story part ends with Tulsa’s Reconciliation Park as it exists today.

There are detailed notes at the back and endpapers with a photograph of the devastated and desolate community – all the more hard-hitting after seeing the pictures of the community when it was thriving.

This is a sad story I only heard about last summer. It’s a story that Americans should know, and this book presents the difficult truth in a way that children can grasp.

lernerbooks.com

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Review of Outside, Inside, by LeUyen Pham

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Outside, Inside

by LeUyen Pham

Roaring Brook Press, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written January 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

It gives me pause that the pandemic has been going on long enough for a top-quality illustrator to have a wonderful book about it published.

Here’s the text for the first several spreads:

Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed.

Everybody who was OUTSIDE . . .

. . . went INSIDE.

Everyone.
Everywhere.
All over the WORLD.

There are lovely spreads about the people inside and outside hospitals, as well as talk about the empty parks, playgrounds, and schools, and the animals that came out to play.

It talks about the many things we did inside while waiting.

It talks about WHY we did this. “But mostly because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” According to the Author’s Note, the images on this page are of actual people who died of Covid-19, along with people who love them.

I got to hear the author speak about this book at ALA Virtual Midwinter meeting, and she couldn’t talk about the hospital pages without crying. Though the book itself comes across as full of hope. There’s a black cat on each page, leading the reader through the book – the perfect choice, because cats can go anywhere.

I love the spreads at the end that bring it home:

On the OUTSIDE,
we are all different.
[Here the image is of many homes, in architectural styles from all over the world, and children from all ethnicities looking out the windows.]

But on the INSIDE,
we are all the same.
[Now the sun is setting and the silhouetted, happy children all have red hearts radiating out from them.]

The final metaphor is that Spring will come soon. There’s a wonderful spread of people outdoors, close to each other, and featuring a child giving an older relative a huge hug.

May that day come soon indeed.

This is a lovely book about hard things that fills the reader with hope. There’s lots to talk about, but the actual text is simple enough for a very young child. The book feels universal, featuring people all over the world, and it will still make for lovely reading even when this pandemic is long past.

leuyenpham.com
mackids.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Bibliostyle, by Nina Freudenberger

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

Bibliostyle

How We Live at Home with Books

by Nina Freudenberger
with Sadie Stein
photographs by Shade Degges

Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2019. 272 pages.
Review written November 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a book for book lovers to drool over, a book that makes me feel so much better about my book hoarding habits!

This is a coffee-table book with large, lavish photographs – of other people’s extravagant personal book collections. And between profiles of home libraries, there are interludes with photos of notable book stores.

This volume is written by an interior designer, so the focus does lean toward the look of the home libraries and how they fit into the design of the homes. But she also does talk with the owners and we hear about the types of books that they own and cherish.

The Introduction to this wonderful volume reveals that creating it was a labor of love. Here’s how that page ends:

In choosing our subjects, we were not merely interested in the beautiful and perfectly curated rooms, the most extensive collections, or those shelves filled only with rare first editions – although there’s plenty of beauty on display. This book is not about unattainable libraries, any more than it is about perfectly decorated homes. Rather, it’s about the power of books to tell stories, in both the literal and figurative sense. As we found repeatedly, surrounding yourself with books you love tells the story of your life, your interests, your passions, your values. Your past and your future. Books allow us to escape, and our personal libraries allow us to invent the story of ourselves – and the legacy that we will leave behind.

There’s a famous quote attributed to Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” If I suspected this before, I know it now. I hope you’ll find as much pleasure in discovering these worlds as we did.

There’s a wonderful international aspect to this book, with personal collections from places as far flung as Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, Lisbon, and Isle of Wight. The features are gathered into sections titled “The Sentimentalists,” “The Intuitives,” “The Arrangers,” “The Professionals,” and “The Collectors” – but what you have consistently are shelves and shelves of books woven into people’s homes and lives. Oh, for a built-in bookshelf like the ones found in these pages!

I began by reading this book slowly – looking at one personal library per day, but there were lots of holds and I had to turn it back in. So the next time it came to me, I was more purposeful about getting through it – but it was still a delight. I may have to purchase my own copy. And the next time I get someone to help me move, I could show them this book and say, “See, my book hoarding could be a lot worse!”

clarksonpotter.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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