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by Kirsti Call

All three of my upcoming books originated from Storystorm ideas. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, releasing September 1, was the result of a 2018 Storystorm brainstorming session with fellow author Corey Rosen Schwartz. Here a few of our notes:

  • Mootilda: Overreacts to small disasters…refrain “what a cow-tastrophe”
  • cowmooflage, mootif
  • Moo la la
  • Udder disaster into happy ever after
  • Moognificent

Our first couple stanzas started out like this:

Mootilda woke up late one day.
“My nightmare’s over! Phew!
Coyote almost caught me and
I couldn’t even moo!”

She hugged her Meemaw cow who said,
“You’re in an awful state.
You’re drenched in sweat, your bed is wet.
It’s nearly hoof-past eight!”

Needless to say, none of these words made it to the final draft. But they all are part of the Mootilda’s evolution. I love how our illustrator made her come alive!

I wrote COW SAYS MEOW from my 2012 PiBoIdMo list. Back then my youngest was a toddler and still laughed at mixed up animal sounds jokes. COW SAYS MEOW is filled with onomatopoeia, wordplay, and mixed up animal sounds that made all five of my kids laugh out loud when they were little.

And COLD TURKEY is another collaborative effort with Corey Rosen Schwartz.  We both put that title on our Storystorm lists independently. It was definitely meant to be!

I’m grateful for writing challenges like Storystorm—how else would I be known as the lady who writes mooooovelous cow books?

Ha! But out of the 30+ ideas you jot down for Storystorm, how do you select which ideas you think are most worthwhile to pursue as manuscripts?

I love pursuing ideas that hare generated by a great title. I’m working on “Love Stinks!”—I like the title so much that’s I’ve tried several iterations of this story. Right now it’s the unlikely friendship of a garbage truck and skunk. But usually I pursue ideas that have several layers and hooks—like a great title, stinkiness, and trucks for example. In the end I write the ideas that speak to me, ideas that spark more ideas, ideas that I hope will resonate with children.

How do you navigate through a story with a writing partner? Do you go back and forth? Do you write together? How do you make it work?

Writing with Corey is super fun. We meet on Google Docs and message each other during set meeting times. We also text randomly throughout the day when we come up with ideas and write asynchronously when we’re feeling inspired.Since Corey is a night owl and I’m always up early there are times that she’s writing in our doc at 2am and then I pick it up at 5am. There are so many times when we are writing together that we come up with the same idea or wordplay which makes it easy to write together. We also usually agree on what makes the story good or bad. Sometimes we talk over the phone; we laugh all the time when we’re writing together.

Do you have any fun behind-the-cow tales to tell about co-writing MOOTILDA?

Yes! In fact Corey is often in a bad moooood and I’m often in a good moooood.  When we were writing the book we joked about it all the time. We even made mugs that both of us use daily.

Love those! But who gets what mug?

(Kidding!) Thanks, Kirsti, for your success story. I hope it brings encouragement to other picture book writers.

Kirsti is giving away a copy of MOOTILDA when it releases in September!

Enter one comment below to enter the giveaway.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

Kirsti Call is the author of several farm-related picture books. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts, where she makes moosic with her husband and five children.  Kirsti is often in a good mooood!

She is the co-coordinator of ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writer’s Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILITA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuts fall 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @kirsticall.

by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Okay, it is Day 5 of Storystorm so hopefully by now you are getting in a groove and ideas are starting to flow. But if not…don’t panic. There is something you can do.


You can borrow from books, fairy tales, TV, film, nursery rhymes, songs and more.

But the best place to borrow from (or even outright steal!) … is from YOURSELF.

Unless this is your first-ever attempt at story writing, you’ve got a potpourri of past ideas to pore over, ponder and pick apart.

Check your files. Your notebooks. Your sketchpads. Review Storystorm lists. Look at manuscripts. Reread old drafts. New drafts. Unfinished drafts.

  • Reuse a character

Have you already created a character (or two) that you love? Write another story for him/her/them. It can be a sequel or a prequel or something entirely unrelated.

  • Recycle a plot

Do you have a storyline that still resonates with you, but perhaps isn’t marketable enough on its own? Keep the essential arc and change the characters. Replace your MC with a ninja or a narwhal or whatever will give it new life.

  • Repeat (it’s okay to cheat!)

Tara is very lax about the rules here. If an idea from the past still appeals to you, put it down again! (Hint: If you see an idea pop up over and over, that story definitely wants to be written!)

Over the years, I have gotten quite good at this thievery thing.

I’ve stolen from my own Storystorm lists.

In 2009, I put this down:

25) fractured fairy tale with a surprise twin? Goldilocks has a twin sister or Little Red? (Little Pink?) Tawnylocks?

I never attempted a draft.

In 2010, I still found the idea of a surprise twin to be appealing. This time I nailed it!

11) ***Twinderella–a fractioned fairy tale (Cin and her sis share everything. Each does half the chores, half the washing, half the ironing, and each takes half the fairy godmother’s goodies, but when they each spend half the night dancing with the prince, they have a problem.)

I’ve filched from my own manuscripts.

My second story ever was about two animals who lose each other while out in the woods. Since every kid has lost his mom at Target at least once, I really liked this premise. But it just didn’t seem to have enough of a hook.

Fast forward to Storystorm 2014. I was looking back at my 2013 list and I saw I had one truck idea after another. I really did want to write a truck story, but none of the plot lines seemed right. That’s when it dawned on me.. What if I took my lost story and changed the characters to trucks? Mack and Rig are offroading when one of them takes a wrong turn.

This led to a two-book deal with Scholastic for TWO TOUGH TRUCKS.

So, go ahead. Pinch. Poach. Pilfer.

The property belongs to you, so you might as well plunder away!

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of many rhyming picture books, including THE THREE NINJA PIGS and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD. She lives in Warren, NJ with her two kids and her better half. Corey hopes to one day have grand-twins. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @CoreyPBNinja.  

Corey is giving away of copy of her newest book, TWINDERELLA.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Most of my picture book ideas have come from my own children. Unfortunately, they are getting older so I am a little short on material lately. I can no longer rely on them to say things like “Mommy, come quick, Josh is in the oven!” or “Today my class is going to a burrito farm!” (Best I can tell, that was a trip to an arboretum?)

Now that eavesdropping isn’t effective anymore, I need other strategies for generating ideas. One method I frequently employ is titlestorming. I sit down with my writing partner, Becky Gomez, and we try to come up with a list of fun titles.

I am a very language-driven writer (as opposed to plot or character-driven) so very often these titles incorporate wordplay.

There are all sorts of ways to play with words.

Clever Combos

One option is to create a new word by combining two existing words. Tara, the queen of wordplay, did this with her debut title THE MONSTORE. Other fun fusions include ORANGUTANGLED by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, THE Aaron Zenz, and MOOSETACHE by Margie Palatini.

monstorefrontcover orangutangled hiccupotamus1moosetache

Hokey Homonyms

Another way is to replace a word with its homonym. In 2009, I came up with the idea TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS. But I didn’t move quickly enough. Sudipta beat me to it. Other examples of this include Keith Baker’s LMNO PEAS and Tara’s upcoming 7 ATE 9.

tywrecks lmno-peas 7ate9cover

Go for the Rhyme

This, of course, is my favorite technique. In 2010, I came up with GOLDI ROCKS & THE THREE BEARS and TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE. But it also works with stories that are not fractured fairy tales. Here are just a few that come to mind:


Get Crazy Creative

Then there are all sorts of crazy ways to get creative that defy categorization. Invent words. Experiment with spellings. Play with pronunciations. Take a figure of speech and make it literal.

yeti poultry hogwashpete-pizza

So, give those titles a twist. Let the syllables slip, slap, slide off your tongue and see what sort of fun comes out.

corey-author-photoCorey Rosen Schwartz is the author of several rhyming picture books and fractured fairy tales., HENSEL & GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS, in which two chicken sisters defeat a fox and rescue their parents, is the latest of her punny titles. Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick-butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ. 

Visit her online at and follow her on Twitter @CoreyPBNinja.


Corey is giving away a signed copy of HENSEL & GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


Words Book Storeby Corey Rosen Schwartz

Are you having trouble getting to 30 ideas? If you are, the reason is most likely because you are censoring yourself. DO NOT LISTEN to that internal voice saying “No, don’t put that one down. It’s too overdone. Or too bland. Or too half-baked!” (Okay, I did not mean for there to be any food analogies here, but now that there are, maybe I should run with it?)

PiBoIdMo is the one time that I focus on quantity over quality. Your ideas do not have to be irresistible.   They can be too vague, too corny, too irreverent, or too __________ (substitute your own preferred flavor of criticism here).

It doesn’t matter!

WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING from soup to nuts!

It does not need to be a hard-boiled synopsis. It can be just a title, a trait, a concept. Any tiny morsel is worth recording. If I waited for a full-blown plot to hit me, I’d never get to #2 on my list.


Oh, did I say that already?   Well, I’m sure some of you are still going to hesitate. “I can’t just write down a character name, can I?” YES, YOU CAN. And you should.

Think of it as collecting ingredients.  The more ingredients you have to choose from, the more concoctions you can whip up.

Once you have a substantial list, then you can get cooking!

Look at your list. Look at last year’s list. Which ingredients can be combined?

In 2009, I was obsessed with Goldilocks. Here are two ideas from my list:

  • Fractured fairy tale with a surprise twin? Goldilocks has a twin sister, or Little Red? Little Pink? Tawnylocks? Brownilocks?
  • Using fairy tales to teach fractions. Goldilocks and the three and a half bears? How can you have half a bear? Bear in Mommy’s tummy? Could mama bear deliver right in the middle of the story?

Neither idea went anywhere, but those two concepts nagged at me…twins, fraction, twins, fractions…both seemed like topics I wanted to pursue.

And then during PiBoIdMo 2010, it hit me—the perfect way to combine the two!


Cinderella and her twin sister share everything. They each do half the chores—the chopping, the mopping, the baking. They each take half the fairy godmothers goodies. But when they each spend half the night dancing with the prince, and they both fall in love, they have a problem. After all, you can’t split a prince in half. Or can you?

pibo red

PiBo Wolf

So WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. And let it all simmer.

And soon you’ll be ready to get cooking!


Corey Rosen Schwartz has cooked up a potpourri of fractured fairy tales and rhyming picture books. She lives with her husband and two children in Warren, NJ and as irony would have it, she is utterly useless in a kitchen!

Twitter: @CoreyPBNinja




ninja red high res

Corey is giving away a signed copy of her latest fractured fairy tale, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!


Let me take you back to the first year of PiBoIdMo—2009. (For those unindoctrinated, that’s Picture Book Idea Month. Wait, can a picture book writer even use a highfalutin word like unindoctrinated? Or highfalutin?)

Well, it’s 2009 and my good friend Corey Rosen Schwartz is having trouble meeting the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. She despises her ideas. Corey takes her frustration out on Facebook, where all passive-aggressive complaints go to get their wings. She shares several titles on her idea list which feature the precocious blondie:

  • Goldifox and the Three Hares
  • Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
  • Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

She posts these same titles on her blog under the caption “Goldi on the Brain” (a serious affliction for fractured fairytale writers). And you know what? Everyone on Facebook and the blog LOVES the third idea. (Remember the Rule of Threes?) One person, Beth Coulton, even offers to collaborate. They write it together and it gets bought by Putnam in 2010.

And so, a book is born. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just wanna pinch its cheeks?


The concept is clever—the Three Bears form a band but they can’t find a lead singer who can hit the high notes.


They hold Idol-like auditions and the fairytale characters just don’t cut it. Sorry, Little Red, you’re not going to Hollywood. No golden ticket for you.


(I wonder if Papa Bear is supposed to be Simon? But Simon wouldn’t dare don a bandana, right? V-neck tees are much more his style. Maybe Papa is Keith Urban.)

Meanwhile, Goldi wreaks havoc in their studio.


She even drools on their keyboard!


What are the Bears to do? They have to get rid of the golden-haired menace!

Or do they?

Well, you can find out right here. Because I’m giving away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to one lucky winner! Just leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck, music fans!

And congratulations to Corey, Beth and Nate on the release of their new book!

by Corey Rosen Schwartz

So, you have your list of 30 or more ideas. Now what?


First of all, DON’T STOP. Your mind is fertile right now. This is when most of my ideas come… the week after PiBoIdMo.

The pressure is off, but the brain is still in idea-generating mode.

Take advantage of it. Keep your list in a handy place and add, add, add.


Check your list twice. Then check last year’s list. And the one from 2011. What pops? While some ideas may seem too overdone or too dull, there are likely to be two or three that jump out at you.

Tuxedo-saurus: too fancy
Hip-Hop-a-Saurus: too dancy
Ho-Hum-a-Saurus: a bore
Sashay-a-Saurus: too prancy
Piggy-Bank–a-saurus: too finance-y
Snooze-a-saurus: a snore
Poker-a-saurus: too chancy
Trig-a-saurus: too advance-y
Slobberdon: yes, score!!!


Look at your best options. Do some research. Have they been done before?

Explore. Check Amazon to see what competing titles are out there.

One year I had Panda-monium on my list. Done. Another, I had Dino-snores. Also done. Better to find this out BEFORE you begin.

This brings me to my final point…


Once you’ve got a solid manuscript, shop it to editors and/or agents.

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks was one of my favorite ideas from 2011. I wrote a draft, but wasn’t happy with it and put it aside. Turns out, I was too slow. Someone has now beat me to it!

So, if you have a winning idea, get rocking.


coreyCorey Rosen Schwartz is the author of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and the upcoming GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE
BEARS. Her singing is extremely pitchy, but she does hold Family Idol and X Factor events in her living room.


Corey will give away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS & THE THREE BEARS (as soon as it releases on Feb 6th).

goldi cover

This prize will be awarded at the conclusion of Post-PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

It’s November 17th and I only have four ideas on my PiBo list. You know, little things like “no power for a large chunk of November” got in the way of starting on time. My kids were home from school for two solid weeks and spent a large part of that time crying because Halloween in NJ was canceled for the second year in a row!

But am I worried? No! I’ve been through this before. In fact, this is my fourth time participating in PiBoIdMo so I consider myself quite a pro. I will have no problem getting to 30 ideas by November 30th and here is why… I brainstorm in themes. I pick a topic or concept and run it to ground.

2011 was the year of the MONSTER.

My list looked like this:

  1. Monster – Mistaken identity?
  2. Monster Mash (Monster Math?)
  3. Midnight Monster
  4. Monster in the Middle
  5. Mister Monster
  6. Monster who really wants a brother
  7. Attention Hog (yes, other things creep in! ☺)
  8. Monster who has bad dreams?
  9. Monster who is not ready for something? To move from under a crib to under a bed?
  10. Mini Monster
  11. Mini Me
  12. Monster who eats vowels
  13. Piwate Twouble
  14. Monster who is over-scheduled

I am currently working on #9 and #13.

2010 was the year of the DINOSAUR.

  1. Piratosaur – or Pira-saurus? Plundersaurus?
  2. Pizza-saurus or pasta-saurus – picky eater?
  3. Diapersaurus – toilet training?
  4. Tumblesaurus – dino who is the worst in her gymnastics class (Pike-a-saurus, stretch-a-saurus, bend-a-saurus, tuck-a-saurus) – handsprings, somersaults, cartwheels, splits- they nickname her bumblesaurus
  5. The Drama Queen
  6. Add-a-saurus, Minus-saurus
  7. Dino-snores
  8. Tyrannosaurus Specs – dinosaur who wears glasses

I took at stab at #8, but my real “winner” that year turned out not to be a dinosaur story after all!

2009 was the year of the FAIRY TALE

  1. Three Ninja Pigs sequel with Little red Riding Hood? Ninja Red?
  2. Technology- twisted tale with email, cell phone, digital camera. Goldilocks? Goes to three bears’ house and fixes all their gadgets?
  3. Fractured fairy tale with a surprise twin? Goldilocks has a twin sister, or Little red? Little Pink? Tawnylocks?
  4. Princess who is the bad guy? Could she be the villain in a surprise twist? A princess who is a pathological liar or something?
  5. Goldilocks and the Three Pirate Bears
  6. Goldi Rocks and the Three Bear Band
  7. Goldilocks shows her daughter an album of the three bears and daughter decides to pay them a visit? (tied to #24?)
  8. Using fairy tales to teach fractions. Goldilocks and the three and a half bears? How can you have half a bear? Bear in Mommy’s tummy? Could mama bear deliver right in the middle of the story?
  9. Coldylocks and the Three Polar Bears
  10. Little Red Gliding Hood

So far, three of these 2009 ideas have sold.

I sold #6 in 2010.

Then I sold #1.

And… are you ready for this?

Tara sold #10!

Tara had given me the idea for my Ninja Red story and I knew Tara used to skate competitively, so I suggested Little Red Gliding Hood to her one day. She loved it, wrote it and sold it to Heidi Kilgras at Random House.

So, if you’re stuck, pick a subject you love and run with it!

What’s my topic for 2012? Maybe… the year of the BLACK OUT.

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of HOP! PLOP! (Walker, 2006), THE THREE NINJA PIGS (Putnam, 2012), GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS (Putnam, forthcoming) and NINJA RED (Putnam, forthcoming). Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ.

Corey is giving away a RHYMING picture book critique to a lucky PiBoIdMo’er who completes the 30-idea challenge. This is a fab opportunity for rhymers—after all, Corey’s one half of The Meter Maids!

Leave a comment to enter. If you also complete the challenge and sign the PiBo-Pledge in early December, you’ll be entered to win.

Good luck!

Yes, it’s finally here!

Congratulations to my great friend, picture book champion and critique partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz. And a round of applause for Dan Santat, whom I knew would be the perfect illustrator for this story.

My rating? Five stars, of course. (And I’m not just saying that. It’s a rollicking good read! Just ask the NY Times.)

Order your copy today!

Barnes & Noble

Special thanks to illustrator Kayla Skogh for the Photoshop help! (Check out her illustrative work, she’s amazing!)

by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Last year, I participated in PiBoIdMo. At the end of the month, I had about 34 ideas on my list. Participants were writing to Tara with comments like “Oh, I am jumping out of my socks with excitement to get started developing all these FABULOUS ideas into picture books” and “I have 30+ of the best ideas on the planet and I am certain they will be lining the shelves of bookstores by spring.”

I looked at my list. And I thought “Blech.” I don’t have a single good idea. I was irritable. And jealous. Why is everyone else feeling so motivated and inspired, and I am feeling like an utter failure? I even joked on my blog:

While other people have come up with 30 wonderful diverse ideas for PiBoIdMo, I have a list of 30 pathetic variations on the Three Bears theme.

Goldifox and the Three Hares
Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

Well, the joke is on me. Because guess what? I ended up selling GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to Putnam!

So, here is my humble advice. Don’t dismiss any of your ideas.

Finding the perfect idea is like mining. What may not seem at first to be a dazzling gem, may end up being your diamond in the rough. You have to sift carefully through what you’ve collected. Show your list to some trusted people. Even if you don’t win the agent prize, you can still get feedback. Ask a writer friend or critique partner to view your list. Ask your kids! Get a second opinion. And a third.

I may have missed the initial sparkle, but let me tell you… my blog followers did not. They commented in droves “The GOLDI ROCKS one shines.” I was too visually impaired to see it, but they realized it right away and let me know I’d struck gold.

And keep your list going all year. Add to it, when the littlest inkling crosses your mind.

GOLDI ROCKS was idea #28.

You never know when you are going to hit your jackpot.

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of Hop! Plop!, an Eric Carle Museum Picture Book of Distinction. Her next book, THREE NINJA PIGS, is due for release in 2012 (not soon enough in Tara’s opinion). It will be followed by GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS, which would never have been conceived were it not for PiBoIdMo. Corey spends her free time Facebooking all the funny things that come out of her five and six year old’s mouths. (You never know what comment will inspire a PB!)

Corey has generously donated a picture book critique as one of the PiBoIdMo prizes. A random winner will be chosen in early December, from those who have completed the 30-ideas-in-30 days challenge.

I am not like most writers. Ideas don’t just slam into me while I am out for a walk. I don’t get “Aha!” moments while luxuriating in a steamy tub. I have to work hard for my ideas. I have to dig deep to find them.

One of the ways I do this is by brainstorming with a partner. I find it so much easier to generate ideas when I can bounce them back and forth. It’s kind of like tennis. I can’t get a rally going without a partner.

Here is a sample of a very condensed brainstorming session with my partner, Becky.

ME: Jordan came home from school today with a new expression, “Flip Flop. Over the Top.” It’s how they learn to put their coats on. Catchy, huh? Love how it rolls off the tongue. What can we do with it?

BECKY: Hmm…over the top? The top of what? A fence? A wall?

ME: Could be a wall? What goes over? Football? Frisbee?

BECKY: How about a baseball. Two characters are playing baseball and one hits it over the wall. How do they get it back?

ME: Try climbing, scaling?

BECKY: Jumping on a trampoline?

ME: Shooting each other out of a cannon?

BECKY: Catapulting.

ME: Grabbing onto a bunch of balloons and flying over.

BECKY: All of the above?

We may use none, some, or all of the ideas in the end, but I am convinced that when it comes to brainstorming, the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. In other words, ideas will be triggered when we are together that NEITHER of us would have come up with if we had both brainstormed independently.

Give it a try sometime.

Can’t find a partner? I am always up for a collaboration!

And if you’re wondering how our characters get their ball back in the end?

They dig a hole…and go UNDER!

Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of Hop! Plop!, an Eric Carle Museum Picture Book of Distinction. Her next book is due for release in 2012 (not soon enough in Tara’s opinion). She attended Brown University and has a Masters in Deaf Education from Gallaudet. Corey lives in New Jersey and spends a lot of afternoons at playgrounds with her five-year-old daughter, Jordan, and four-year-old son, Josh. Corey has no free time, but if she did, she would spend it scuba diving!

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