Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of One Grain of Rice, by Demi

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

One Grain of Rice

A Mathematical Folktale

by Demi

Scholastic Press, 1997. 36 pages.
Review written May 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
Mathical Hall of Fame

One Grain of Rice was recently chosen for the Mathical Books Hall of Fame, so I thought I should catch up – I missed this one when it was published. Yes, I’ve heard the tale in different versions, so I knew what to expect: a lowly person outwitting an autocrat with the power of exponential growth, asking for one grain of rice the first day, twice as much the next day, and doubling each day for thirty days.

This version has Demi’s exquisite artwork. The lowly person in this story is a clever peasant girl named Rani who devises a plan to feed hungry people. I also like the way the tyrant hoarding rice reforms and everybody’s happy at the end. It’s a picture book, after all.

As for the math – there’s a chart at the back that shows how many grains of rice Rani gets on each of the thirty days, so kids can see the exponential growth. I like the way the story doesn’t pretend that someone counts out each grain (couldn’t be done in a day!), but shows progressively bigger baskets transporting the rice. On the final day, two hundred and fifty-six elephants show up on a giant fold-out page bringing the contents of four royal storehouses.

I’m afraid during a pandemic is an especially good time for kids to have a basic understanding of how exponential growth works. It starts out very small, but can grow to very big if you keep on doubling. This classic book makes the ideas memorable, understandable, and beautiful.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 Eclipse Chaser, by Ilima Loomis

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Eclipse Chaser

Science in the Moon’s Shadow

by Ilima Loomis
with photographs by Amanda Cowan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 80 pages.
Review written April 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Eclipse Chaser is part of the wonderful Scientists in the Field series, which uses the tagline, Where Science Meets Adventure. These books show actual scientists on actual expeditions. They explain what the scientists are trying to figure out, the importance of their endeavors, and the obstacles, challenges, and successes they meet with.

This book features the scientist Shadia Habbal and her expedition to get vital scientific information during the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. This makes the book especially pertinent, since many of the readers, like me, will have experienced that eclipse themselves.

It tells about the many other total solar eclipses Shadia has seen, how that gives her an exceptional look at the sun’s corona, and about some of the breakthroughs she has discovered in her previous work. Shaddia is studying solar winds, and to do that, she uses special filtered cameras that show the location of certain elements in the sun’s corona, as well as photos of certain iron ions that give the temperature in the corona where they’re present.

The book is full of photographs. There’s plenty of drama about setting up all the expensive equipment to take photographs in a short period of time. Since I was present for a solar eclipse in Germany in 1999 where clouds covered the sun in the last minute before totality, I was extra appreciative of those worries. We were told about past expeditions where weather wiped out all their plans.

It’s all fascinating information that helped me understand better why solar eclipses are so important for scientists. There are several photos of the sun’s corona taken during eclipses to help you grasp what they can find out and understand what they’re talking about with the term “solar wind.”

A map in the back of paths, dates, and durations of solar eclipses between 2011 and 2060 says there’s going to be another total solar eclipse in America in April 2024. We’ll want to prominently display this book on our library shelves when that event approaches.

ilimaloomis.com
amandacowanphotography.com
hmhbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 The Oldest Student, by Rita Lorraine Hubbard & Oge Mora

Friday, April 30th, 2021

The Oldest Student

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
illustrated by Oge Mora

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 23, 2020, from a library book

I know a book is worth reviewing when I can’t resist telling my coworkers about it. This is an amazing true story, beautifully told in a picture book.

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848. Of course slaves weren’t allowed to learn to read. She was freed when she was fifteen years old, but there was still hard work in her life. Now she was too busy to learn to read. She was given a Bible and planned to learn to read some day, but at the time she had work to do.

This picture book shows her busy life bringing up children, working in people’s homes, and raising money for her church. She’d bring her Bible to church, but she still couldn’t read it.

Mary had her three sons to read to her. But they died before she did. Her eldest son died when he was ninety-four, and Mary was alone at 114 years old.

So Mary learned to read.

She went to a class in her building, and at 116 years old received a certificate that she could read. The US Department of Education heard about her and declared her the nation’s oldest student.

Mary felt complete. She still missed her sons, but whenever she was lonely, she read from her Bible or looked out her window and read the words in the street below.

From then on, Chattanoogans honored Mary’s achievement with yearly birthday parties. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent well wishes on Mary’s 118th birthday, and in 1969, President Richard Nixon did the same. Mary was now 121 years old.

I love the way the book finishes, with an illustration of a friendly crowd clustered around Mary:

Each year, before her birthday celebration came to an end, someone would whisper, “Let’s listen to Miss Mary.”

The shuffling and movement would fade away until not a sound was heard.

Then Mary would stand on her old, old legs, clear her old, old throat, and read from her Bible or her schoolbook in a voice that was clear and strong.

When she finished, she would gently close her book and say,

“You’re never too old to learn.”

The endpapers show photos of Mary after she’d learned to read. The whole book is full of the wonderful Oge Mora’s joyful cut-paper illustrations. I’m amazed at how she conveys so much personality with simple shapes.

This book is a delight. There’s even a picture of Mary’s first airplane ride. A whole lot changed during her lifetime! And the message is clear: You’re never too old to learn.

ritahubbard.com
ogemora.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 Geometry Is As Easy As Pie, by Katie Coppens

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Geometry Is As Easy As Pie

by Katie Coppens

Tumblehome, 2019. 62 pages.
Review written April 17, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

What a fun book! It covers simple geometry topics such as symmetry, tessellations, polygons, angles, parallel and perpendicular lines, and relates them all to pie.

With every single concept covered, we get the question, “How does this relate to pie?” Here’s an example:

How Does Radius Relate to Pie?

When it comes to serving only one piece of pie, the first cut is typically from the center point of the pie to the crust. This cut represents the radius of the pie. That cut, like the radius, could be made in any direction to the circumference, as long as it is from the center point of the pie to the crust.

Here’s another such question with an especially good answer:

How Do Geometric Formulas Relate to Pie?

Suppose someone asks you how to make a pie and you just read them a recipe out of this book. Will you really understand pie-making as well as if you’d actually made the pie yourself? In the same way, rather than just memorizing geometric formulas, it’s important to work with and understand the mathematical ideas behind the formulas. In this book, the thinking behind mathematical concepts is explained first, before we give you formulas. In the same way, we hope you actually try to make the pies you read about in this book!

The book is illustrated with many, many photos of luscious-looking pies, and yes, a variety of recipes are included. I’m a little ashamed to say I did not try any of them out. But I may have drooled over the photos.

katiecoppens.com
tumblehomebooks.org

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 This Is Your Time, by Ruby Bridges

Friday, April 16th, 2021

This Is Your Time

by Ruby Bridges

Delacorte Press, 2021. 58 pages.
Review written March 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I got to hear Ruby Bridges speak at ALA Virtual Midwinter Meeting in 2021, and it was so moving to hear her talk about what it was like to confront racism when she was only six years old, the first black child to attend a white school. Her parents didn’t tell her what would happen, only that she was going to go to a new school and needed to be on her best behavior. At first, when she saw all the people, she thought it was a Mardi Gras parade. She talked about how the year continued. Even though she got to go to the school, all the other children were kept away from her. But her wonderful teacher, Mrs. Henry, made her feel welcome and eventually made sure that she got to be with other children.

This book is simple, written to kids and illustrated completely with black and white photographs. Some of the most disturbing photographs to me are where photos from the 1950s are placed side by side with photos from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

The words to go with those pictures are simple, suited to a child’s understanding. She begins by explaining what her first grade year was like.

I felt safe and loved, and that was because of Mrs. Henry, who, by the way, looked exactly like the women in that screaming mob outside. But she wasn’t like them. She showed me her heart, and even at six years old I knew she was different. Barbara Henry was white and I was black, and we mattered to each other. She became my best friend. I knew that if I got safely past the angry crowd outside and into my classroom, I was going to have a good day.

Then she goes on to talk about the Civil Rights movement and how she has talked with kids across the country.

I have not witnessed hatred or bigotry when I’ve looked into your young eyes. Regardless of what you looked like or where you came from, I saw some of my six-year-old self in you. You did not care about the color of each other’s skin, and I have loved seeing that because I saw hope. Hope that most people don’t get a chance to see, and I thank you for sharing that.

Ruby Bridges also reveals that her own eldest son was murdered. She has a special heart for black lives lost too soon.

She encourages children to keep protesting, keep working for change. Her message is not confrontational, but encouraging.

“You only need a heart full of grace.”

Really, it is that love and grace for one another that will heal this world.

It is that love and grace that will allow us to see one another as brothers and sisters.

It is that love and grace that will allow us to respect the many ways God has made all of us unique and will allow us to turn our stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

Ruby Bridges didn’t have a lot of choice about her fame when she was six years old. But now as an adult, I appreciate that she’s encouraging children that they can have a part in making this world a better place.

rubybridges.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 Journeys, edited by Catherine Gourley

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Journeys

Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives

Library of Congress Center for the Book
edited by Catherine Gourley

Candlewick Press, 2017. 226 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

This book is a collection of fifty-two letters written by young readers to authors about how their lives were touched by the authors’ books. Here’s an excerpt from the Foreword:

Over the years that Letters About Literature has invited young readers to share their personal responses to authors with us at Center for the Book, we have learned that children often approach reading with reluctance and that writing about what they read is often a challenge and, for some, a struggle.

This volume of letters is a showcase of young minds and hearts inspired and at times healed by the power of an author’s words. As the letters so poignantly illustrate, not all books are right for all readers. Likewise, two readers can interpret and respond to the same book quite differently. For some children, finding that right author, that right book, is in itself a bit of a journey. Once a reader finds that author and that book, something remarkable occurs. Readers discover themselves within the pages of the book. They begin to feel and to understand.

The letter-writers range in age from fourth grade to twelfth grade. Almost all of them are deeply personal. Since the editors chose from twenty-five years of letters, this isn’t a surprise. Each letter is showcased with a short description of the author and book they responded to.

I’m going to include a few random excerpts from letters. It’s not hard to find good quotations:

About Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi:

I want to be a writer that opens up doors for people. I want to set scenes and describe occupations that not everyone can become. People may not have the physical or mental capabilities to be an astronaut, race-car driver, teacher, dancer, or baseball player, but for a time, I want them to experience what each of those professions would be like.

I am a ten-year-old boy. I have mild cerebral palsy, but for one cool fall afternoon, I became Crispin, living in the Middle Ages. Thank you for that gift.

About The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak:

I used to be afraid. I used to wake up screaming and seeing a yellow star sewn onto my clothing. I have read many books about the Holocaust, but none of them struck me like The Book Thief. Instead of pain and fear, it is a book that focuses on courage, kindness, the power of words, and hope.

About the Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling, from a girl who’d been forbidden to read them:

You have given the world a gift, Ms. Rowling. You have given millions of people a friend, an adventure, and a happy ending that never ceases to amaze. So now, I thank you. Thank you for giving a little girl and her siblings someone to admire and dream about. Thank you for teaching the children of this world how magical love is, and most of all, Ms. Rowling, thank you for giving me Harry.

From a high school student about The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien:

When the soldier eventually kills himself, I was jolted awake. Why are death, war, and loss such taboo subjects? Why must we bury them down deep inside, cover our fears and uncertainties with a strained smile, and ignore a whole part of ourselves? No longer was I going to hide the past and the pain. I wouldn’t give up because people were unwilling to listen. I would spin words into poetry and attempt to define the indefinable. Circumstances had broken my heart, weighed down my shoulders, and given me a lifelong burden to carry. Yet I was unwilling to succumb to the same fate as the disillusioned soldier. I would not be shattered.

Your last story simultaneously opened fresh wounds and gave me the first real comfort since my mom’s death. I cried when Linda died. It was tragic. She was so young. I thought of my mom and it was almost unbearable. However, I realized from your book that stories could keep a person alive. Stories allow us to visit the past how it was: untainted in its beauty and unmarked by death or struggle.

And I love this one, about The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros:

“We are tired of being beautiful.” Thank you for writing those words. I was thinking them. I felt their unspoken pressure until they broke off your page and got stuck in my heart. That was your trick, I suppose. You wrote what everyone was thinking. You are so far away from me, so different, and still you spoke to me and I understood you. You knew me all along.

I am not fat anymore. I never was, I suppose, or maybe I still am. But I’ve stopped thinking about it and I am fine. “I am too strong for her to keep me here forever,” you wrote. I know that by “her,” you meant Mango Street, but I read it as “my body” and “my mind.” My heart came back together then, and I have you to thank for that. You didn’t tell me how to pull myself back together; you just showed me that I could. I was tired of trying to be somebody else’s definition of beautiful, and you told me that was okay. Beauty is not in the beholder, but in she who is beheld.

If you’ve ever wondered whether books can truly change lives, I highly recommend reading this book.

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candlewick.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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 The Pig War, by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Alison Jay

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

The Pig War

How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share

by Emma Bland Smith
illustrated by Alison Jay

Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills & Kane), 2020. 28 pages.
Review written February 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

The Pig War is a delightful picture book about an actual skirmish between England and America over the fate of San Juan Island in 1859.

San Juan Island is an island off the coast of the Pacific northwest, whose ownership was not made clear in the Oregon Treaty between America and Britain. Both countries laid claim to it, and both countries had settlers.

One day in 1859, an American settler saw a pig rooting in his potato patch and shot it. The owner of the pig was British. He demanded an outrageous sum for the pig, and a dispute began. Soldiers and ships were called in, and the United States and England were on the brink of war.

This book turns the dispute into a folksy tale. It humorously shows how these things escalate, but also boasts the achievement of the two countries agreeing to share. In the Pig War, no one died except the pig.

I like this section where the book explains how things escalated:

Now, the two bosses, Harney and Douglas, may or may not have been cranky. We don’t know. But we do know that they were both – it must be said – on the hotheaded side. Harney promptly dispatched a company of sixty-four men, under the command of Captain George Pickett. The Americans must have sighed a breath of relief. Such a fearsome display of power would surely make the Brits back off.

Simple, right?
Not quite.

Because just two days later, a British ship, highly armed, commanded by Captain Geoffrey Hornby and loaded with several hundred men, steamed into the bay.

Oh, dear.
What started as a Pig Incident and turned into a Pig Argument was fast escalating into a Pig Situation.

There are detailed notes at the back, and you learn that you can visit the sites of the American Camp and the English Camp today.

These creators turn an unfortunate incident into a delightful story of cooperation and cool heads.

emmabsmith.com
calkinscreekbooks.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 Code Cracking for Kids, by Jean Daigneau

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Code Cracking for Kids

Secret Communications Throughout History, with 21 Codes and Ciphers

by Jean Daigneau

Chicago Review Press, 2020. 129 pages.
Review written December 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a nice solid book on codes and ciphers for upper elementary through middle school kids. It’s got activities – the 21 codes and ciphers from the subtitle – but it’s also heavy on the history of how secret communication has developed, all the way up to talking about how cryptography works today and how important it is in computer applications.

The library got three new books on codes at the same time, and together they make a nice picture of how kids can use codes but also how the world around us uses them. This one doesn’t have any cartoon illustrations, but uses historical photographs, so it’s got a less playful approach, while still full of ideas for how kids can try out what they’re learning.

In fact, the first activity this author suggests is making a cryptologist’s kit – assembling materials used in making and breaking codes into a backpack. As more activities are presented, they usually suggest something to go into your cryptologist’s kit.

The codes and ciphers presented here are rooted in history. They begin with spies and the codes they used, as well as thinking of other languages and writing systems as a kind of code. Some of the historical items the reader gets to make are an Alberti Cipher Disk, invisible ink, a Jefferson Cipher Wheel, a message hidden inside an eggshell, a St. Cyr Slide Cipher, semaphore flags, and a secret book compartment.

When I was in junior high, I’d read about the tap code used by American POWs in Vietnam and used it to send messages with my friends. This is the first book I’ve seen that includes that cipher. In general, this one has more to say about codes in the present day than the other books I’ve read for kids.

There’s a lot of good information here, and lots of ideas that interested kids can take much further.

chicagoreviewpress.com
ipgbook.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 All Thirteen, by Christina Soontornvat

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

All Thirteen

The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

by Christina Soontornvat

Candlewick Press, 2020. 280 pages.
Review written March 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 John Newbery Honor Book
2021 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
2021 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
2021 Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book

Wow! I had checked this book out but had decided not to read it, because it’s long, and I thought learning about an incident faraway on the other side of the world wasn’t all that compelling. I’m so glad that watching it win Honor after Honor at the Youth Media Awards – including Newbery Honor, which is rare for nonfiction – convinced me that I was mistaken and should take another look. And author Christina Soontornvat won an incredible two Newbery Honors in the same year, also getting one for her novel A Wish in the Dark.

I was so glad I did. Christina Soontornvat tells the complete story of the thirteen boys on the Thai soccer team who got trapped in a cave and had the whole nation, even the world, rally round to save them. Having read the book, I now understand how they got trapped – the treacherous geology that brought rainwater suddenly and unexpectedly into the cave. I also understand what an incredibly difficult task it was to rescue them – the people in charge honestly thought five to eight of the boys would die.

What I remembered about the news event was that one rescuer – a Thai Navy SEAL – did die in the rescue process. I now understand why cave diving is so much more treacherous than open sea diving and how that could have happened, even to an expert diver.

The author was visiting family in Thailand when the boys got trapped, so she was able to express and understand what the people there were thinking and feeling about the rescue, and how hundreds of people pitched in to help without pay.

It was an international team that saved the boys, including American Navy SEALS and British cave divers. But the author tells about the many Thai people that were involved, including those who worked to divert streams flowing into the cave and drain water coming out of the cave, which was also crucial to making the rescue possible.

Believe it or not, I was so taken up with this story, I dreamed about it one night when I was in the middle of the book!

This book is long, with lots of text, but the text is broken up with photographs or charts or sidebars on almost every spread. This is more for middle school or high school readers than younger kids, but whoever picks it up, once you start reading, you’re going to be drawn in.

candlewick.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 Dark Hedges, Wizard Island, and Other Magical Places That Really Exist, by L. Rader Crandall

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Dark Hedges, Wizard Island, and Other Magical Places That Really Exist

by L. Rader Crandall

Running Press Kids (Hachette), Philadephia, 2020. 122 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book

What a fun idea! This book tells about thirty-seven places in the world that have legends about them. The author tells the legends as if they actually happened, and who’s to say they didn’t? With each place, there’s at least one photograph.

I was hooked because the book begins with the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, one of my favorite places I ever visited during ten years living in Europe. I’ve only been to four of the other places, but it certainly expanded my list of places I’d like to go.

Here’s an excerpt from the author’s note to the reader at the front of the book:

Take a stroll among the shelves of your local bookshop, search your favorite websites, or download the latest app and you’re bound to discover a trove of helpful travel guides. They will lead you to the finest hotels, tell you which dishes to order in restaurants far and wide, and explain which shops sell the most authentic souvenirs. You’ll find lists of museums acclaimed for their exhibits, maps of city blocks renowned for their architecture, and suggestions of venues famous for their concerts and sports matches. They are all very useful, ideal for the practical traveler.

This is not that sort of book.

Herein lies a guide to our world for fans of the fantastic. On these pages, you’ll find places that seem the stuff of dreams – a remote island where dragons roam, distant shores where giants have battled, ancient castles enchanted by fairies – but that are, in fact, very real. They are places you can actually travel to, destinations you can explore, if only you know the way. Many are steeped in myths and legends from long ago that have been passed down over the centuries, while others have histories more fascinating than fairy tales.

This book may be responsible for giving imaginative kids the travel bug.

runningpress.com/rpkids

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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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