Hooray for Hanukkah! New Kids’ Books for the Festival of Lights

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THE BEST NEW
CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR HANUKKAH

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel cvr imageThe Itsy Bitsy Dreidel
Written by Jeffrey Burton & Chani Tornow
Illustrated by Sanja Rešček
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)

The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel, a glossyl, sturdy 16 page board book, illustrated with lush jewel tones and cheerful winter scenes, stars a charming yellow dreidel little ones will love. As the story opens the dreidel is out “for a little spin” and then heads inside as sundown arrives. Anyone familiar with the Itsy Bitsy Spider nursery rhyme (and who isn’t?) will be ready to sing along as this happy dreidel gets ready to celebrate with his family. From watching Dad cooking jelly donuts and latkes in oil to feeling awe as Mom lights the menorah, this excited itsy bitsy dreidel experiences the joy of the Jewish Festival of Lights just like young readers do every year.

Way Too Many Latkes cover imageWay Too Many Latkes: A Hanukkah in Chelm
Written by Linda Glaser
Illustrated by Aleksandar Zolotic
(Kar-Ben; $17.99 Hardcover, $7.99 Paperback, Ages 3-8)

I love the zany tales that take place in the Jewish folkloric town of fools known as Chelm and Way Too Many Latkes is no exception. This picture book will have kids grinning from ear to ear at the  humorous over-the-top antics that Faigel and her husband Shmuel get up to when she realizes that this year she has forgotten the recipe to make her delicious latkes. So what chaos ensues when Faigel hasn’t got a clue how many potatoes she needs to cook? Shmuel suggests he visit the wisest man in Chelm, the rabbi. And when the rabbi recommends using them all, the couple follow his advice. Naturally Faigel then wonders how many eggs to use and how much onion and again and again, Shmuel asks the rabbi. Soon the couple have hundreds of Faigel’s famous cooked latkes and not enough mouths to eat them. Surely the learned rabbi must know what to do with so many. While older readers and adults may know the outcome, little ones might not, only adding to the comical spirit of this satisfying story. Glaser has created a tale that is filled with fun and latke love. Zolotic’s artwork of muted browns, blues, greens and grays transports readers back in time to an early 20th century Eastern European village that many of our grandparents or great grandparents would find familiar. A great Hanukkah read!

Little Red Ruthie A Hanukkah Tale cover imageLittle Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale
Written by Gloria Koster
Illustrated by Sue Eastland
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I really like Little Red Ruthie, a clever new take on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Reimagining it from a Jewish holiday perspective only makes it that much more enjoyable. Now snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket and get ready for a cold Hanukkah day in the woods as Ruthie makes her way to Bubbe Basha’s house. It’s time for their annual latke cooking. Soon she is confronted by a menacing and hungry wolf and is forced to summon up her Maccabee courage. She spins a tale about being too skinny to eat and suggests he wait until after the holiday when she’ll be plumper. The wolf buys it, but his growling stomach gets the better of him so after she has gone, he reneges his promise. Perhaps, he thinks, a nosh of Bubbe Basha will stave his hunger off before dining on Little Red! While I would never have entered the cottage having spied the wolf inside, Ruthie does. She once again fights her fear and stalls the wolf by cooking up a batch of latkes while recounting “the tale of the Maccabees’ victory.” As we all know, latkes can be very filling and sleep inducing. Before long the intruder has reached latke capacity and yearns for some “fresh forest air.” After the wolf’s departure, both Little Red Ruthie and Bubbe Basha can at last relax while relishing the first night of Hanukkah and all the remaining latkes. Sure to be a hit with the 4-8 crowd, Koster’s fractured fairy tale delivers all the treats of the original story and includes some fun new tricks, too! Eastland’s illustrations are charming and capture Little Red’s plucky personality to a laTke!

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas picture book cover imageQueen of the Hanukkah Dosas
Written by Pamela Ehrenberg
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

Author Pamela Ehrenberg’s engaging new picture book called Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas celebrates siblings, diversity and the joyous role traditional food plays in different cultures, in this case Indian. With Hanukkah approaching as the story opens, an older brother narrator describes his younger sister Sadie’s penchant for climbing, even in the Indian supermarket. Fortunately, his version of the dreidel song succeeds in getting her to climb down. “I had a little dosa; I made it out of dal.” By page three readers learn the family is a blended one with an Indian mom and Caucasian dad. Rather than making latkes together, this family prepares dosas, a crispy pancake popular in South India that’s cooked in coconut oil. When everyone except a napping grandmother gets locked out as cousins arrive, Sadie’s climbing capability comes in handy. Colorful artwork complements this entertaining story and readers will easily smell the food cooking with each page turn. Recipes for dosas and the sambar served with it are also included. Read my interview with author Pamela Ehrenberg on page 28 in December’s JLife magazine by clicking here.

Dreidel Dog Mensch pets in box from Mensch on a Bench pkg image

 

Dreidel Dog
(www.themenschonabench.com; $19.99, Ages 3 and up)

Meet Dreidel Dog, the newest member of the Hanukkah family. Find him happily at home beside The Mensch on a Bench. Mensch’s best friend makes a perfect plush companion when giving The Itsy Bitsy Dreidel or any of the other terrific Hanukkah books reviewed here. Whether it’s for Hanukkah or for a Bark Mitzvah, this cuddly, dreidel-spotted Dalmatian is the perfect gift on its own or paired with a book. Plus, this cute canine’s bandana even has a secret pocket to hold your dreidel! Adopt your own Mensch pet today. Find more info at www.themenschonabench.com.

 

Click here to see reviews of Hanukkah books from 2016.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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More Than Enough: A Passover Story by April Halprin Wayland

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MORE THAN ENOUGH:
A PASSOVER STORY
Written by April Halprin Wayland
Illustrated by Katie Kath
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

 

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Get ready for Passover with More Than Enough. In her new picture book, April Halprin Wayland captures the many joyful experiences children feel at Passover.

I found myself singing the story, moving easily and eagerly from page to page with More Than Enough’s perfectly paced melodic text. How apropos given that Wayland was inspired to write this picture book because of the Dayenu song, her favorite part of the Passover seder. In the author’s notes she explains, “For me, Dayenu’s message – being grateful for the blessings in each moment – goes beyond Passover.”

interior kitten MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Accenting every two or four lines is the word dayenu, reminding readers to savor the special moments and to count our blessings big and small. Whether wandering through the local farmers market with their mom while looking for Seder ingredients, or getting a new kitten from a shelter, the brother and sister narrators enjoy every moment of the lead up to the Passover holiday.

 

Interior rain MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Together with their parents, the siblings help make Charoset, a Passover dish symbolizing mortar. They then prepare to go to their grandma’s house for the Seder. Wayland takes readers through the Seder traditions so even those unfamiliar with Passover will find they’ve gotten a better understanding of this important Jewish celebration.

 

interior 4 MORE THAN ENOUGH

Interior artwork from More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland with illustrations by Katie Kath, Dial Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Ending with our narrators’ full tummies and a Passover sleepover at Nana’s, More Than Enough is a heart-warming story and a welcome addition to any family’s holiday book collection. Jews and non-Jews will appreciate the glossary Wayland’s provided to introduce young readers to interesting Passover vocabulary. She’s even included  the song sheet for Dayenu for those who’d like a go at playing the song on their own.

Illustrator Katie Kath’s wonderful water colors are so cheerful and convey the excitement that children experience as Passover approaches. I especially liked all the Seder spreads with family gathered around Nana’s dining room table. Those illustrations took me back to the years of celebrating at my aunt’s house with my Nana, some of the sweetest memories I have of holiday time spent with family. I know readers will feel the same way, too.  Dayenu!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Talia and the Very Yum Kippur by Linda Elovitz Marshall

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TALIA AND THE VERY YUM KIPPUR
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli
(Kar-Ben Publishing; Hardcover, $17.99; Paperback, $7.99, Ages 3-8)

 

TaliaYumKippurcvr.jpg

When I was a little girl, probably the same age as the main character in Talia and the Very Yum Kippur, I always thought that Yom Kippur was actually called “Yum” Kippur, at least that’s how everyone in my family pronounced this most holy of Jewish holidays. So, I couldn’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to write a “pun-driven story of misheard words and malapropisms” like this “Yum” Kippur themed story, but I’m glad that at last someone has!

Author Linda Elovitz Marshall who, according to this picture book’s jacket flap, “raised her four children, a small flock of sheep, … on a farm in a historic farmhouse overlooking the Hudson River in upstate New York,” has chosen a similar setting for this charming tale. Only this farm’s inhabitants are Talia’s grandparents. Talia happily helps her grandmother prepare the food for the traditional Break Fast, a meal beginning at sundown immediately following a 24 hour fast of atonement by those over age 13.

The whole time Talia’s helping her grandmother, she’s thinking that the food-in-the-works is for breakfast, the morning meal, having misunderstand the correct name of the holiday. Talia’s confusion begins early on in the story and deliciously builds which will keep children turning the pages to see how everything works out. Who can blame a little girl for eagerly awaiting what she hopes will be the “Yum” Kippur breakfast of scrumptious kugel along with all the other tasty dishes?

The best part about Talia and the Very Yum Kippur is that, in addition to the humor of the play on words, Marshall introduces young readers to the meaning of this important holiday “… when Jews fast and pray and think about how to be better people.” While we fast, we take the time to think about our transgressions and pray for forgiveness. After learning this from her grandmother, Talia digs deep and apologizes for a lamp she had broken but had blamed on her doll. Grandma, too, asks for forgiveness for having yelled at her granddaughter upon seeing the broken lamp.

Assirelli serves up a selection of gorgeous folkish-looking spreads that pair beautifully with Marshall’s prose. Since Yom Kippur is in the fall, the artist has chosen autumn hues to pepper the pages making this special season come alive.

“Thanks to Talia and her grandmother, they all enjoyed a very sweet YUM Kippur.” And speaking of sweet, don’t miss the yummy recipe for Talia’s YUM Kippur Kugel included in the back matter!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 


Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands by Samuel Caraballo

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A Celebration of Family!
 Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia /
These Hands: My Family’s Hands

by Samuel Caraballo with illustrations by Shawn Costello
(Piñata Books, $17.95, Ages 5-9)

Estas-Manos-cvr.jpg

Love of family is celebrated in this heart warming and delightful bilingual picture book. Author Samuel Caraballo’s moving depiction of a young girl’s deep appreciation of her family truly touched my heart! Interwoven throughout the text are symbols of the indigenous people of Latin America with explanations of these symbols at the back of the book. Here is an opportunity for a child to learn about Latin American culture or perhaps these images are wonderfully sweet reminders to a child who is already familiar with them. For me it was a wonderful education! For example the young girl narrating the book says to her mother:

Your hands, the most tender!
When I am scared, they soothe me.
When I am hungry, they always feed me.
When I am thirsty, they give me the most refreshing water.
They give me warmth when I shiver with cold.
Mom, your hands are like rose petals!

I learned that rose petals represent tenderness in Latin America, which is so appropriate. The image of my own sweet mother immediately came to my mind as I remembered her loving care of me in exactly this way. The strong hands of the little girl’s dad who lifts her up every time she falls, the friendly hands of her siblings that encourage her with applause, the happy hands of her grandma who teaches her to lift her spirits by dancing, and the wise hands of her grandfather who teaches her to care for the earth are all described in delightful, vibrant language. In return for the care her family gives her the little girl promises that, when she is a woman, she will always be there for her family.

La-rana-int-spread.jpg

Interior spread from Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia/These Hands: My Family’s Hands by Samuel Caraballo with illustrations by Shawn Costello, Piñata Books for Children © 2014.

Shawn Costello’s warm, joyous illustrations are paired so well with the endearing text. My favorite illustration is the one on the cover that depicts the strong bond of love between the little girl and her grandpa as they both try to reach for the brightest star in the night sky! It is truly magical!

Fans of Munch’s Love You Forever will find much to appreciate in this story of the closeness of family ties, and children will feel comforted knowing that the beautiful love of their family is always there for them. Estas Manos: Manitas de mi familia /These Hands: My Family’s Hands reassures them that they will always be surrounded with family who will provide a circle of protection, fun, and wisdom. This book is a wonderful addition to any library, encouraging young children to learn to appreciate the beauty of both Spanish and English. For me it brought back many happy memories of my own family in whose loving hands I was so well cared for!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 


Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy

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What Great Personality You Have!

Very Little Red Riding Hood, the first in a series of three picture books by Teresa Heapy with illustrations by Sue Heap, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, $16.99, Ages 4-8), is quite possibly the most adorable retelling of a classic fairytale.

Very-Little-Red-cvr.gifJust as in the original fairy tale, Very Little Red Riding Hood is going to visit her Grandmama. In this version, Red, a wee toddler, is taking her suitcase and red teddy bear with her for a sleepover. Along the way, Red meets Wolf, but instead of being afraid, she’s excited and gives him a big hug. Heapy chooses her words wisely, and masters the voice and diction of a toddler. Heap’s illustrations show the wide-eyed innocence and playful antics of a child that age.

Red captures the wolf’s heart and wraps him around her very little finger. They pick flowers for Grandmama, but “Foxie” as she calls the wolf, doesn’t get it right.

“NOOO!” screamed Very Little Red Riding Hood.
“Not LELLO flowers. RED!” So they picked some red flowers.

Between carrying her suitcase and the flowers, and playing chasing games all the way to Grandmama’s, Wolf is tired out by the time they arrive. Red is still bubbling over with energy. Grandmama is reluctant to let the wolf into her house, but Red, like many toddlers, manages to get her way again. The wolf comes in for a cup of tea, and stays to play hide-and-seek, to dance, and to draw. Grandmama and Wolf are very tired and want Red to go to sleep. But, Red misses her Mummy, bursts into tears, and can’t be consoled by her Grandmama, who turns to the wolf for help. Wolf gives it a try, and just when you think he’s going to eat Red … well, that wouldn’t be a very good ending for a children’s book especially just before bedtime, now would it? Not as sweet an ending as a good tickle, a lot of laughter, a sleeping toddler, and a happily ever after.

Click here for a Very Little Red Riding Hood Activity Kit

NOTE:  This is the first book in a must-have read-aloud series of three, followed by Very Little Cinderella, and Very Little Sleeping Beauty.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Grandmas Rule This Grandparents Day 2014

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Grandmas Rule!

Reviewer Rita Zobayan says, “Whether we call her Noni, Grams, Yaya, Memaw, or another, special name, we can agree that grandmothers are the best. To celebrate Grandparents Day (September 7), here are three books that will make you want to hug your Nana.”

Grandma (Child’s Play, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-8) by Jessica Shepherd deals with Oscar’s experience as his grandmother’s dementia takes hold and she enters a nursing home. The story begins with Oscar describing all the wonderful ways he spends time with Grandma. We love books. I can even read some to her now. We like to smell the flowers we’ve just planted…and to wash the dishes until they shine like diamonds.

But Oscar notices that Grandma is forgetting lots of things and can’t do things that she used to be able to. That’s when Grandma moves into a special home. As Oscar and his family visit Grandma, Oscar notices the differences. It doesn’t look like her house and it smells different too. But Grandma is happy and the people who help her are a lot of fun! We have drinks and cupcakes to share.

Grandma has good and bad days. Sometimes Grandma shouts when people are trying to help her. And sometimes, she’s angry with me too, and I don’t know why. Dad says it’s not my fault, she’s just confused. Oscar figures out a way to help. Grandma is getting very forgetful…so I made a box of happy memories that we can look through together. Oscar still spends lots of time with Grandma in her new home, and he has friends and family to take care of him when he’s sad that Grandma is feeling angry or unhappy or can’t spend time with him. And, in the end, Oscar still knows that his Grandma is the best.

Simply worded and illustrated, Grandma provides relevant and easy-to-understand examples and explanations for children who are experiencing a change in their grandparent’s behavior. A two-page question and answer section helps parents explain dementia and gives suggestions for how grandchildren can help.

9780385753845.jpg.172x250_q85How to Babysit a Grandma (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 5-8) written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish takes a delightful spin on caregiving. Mom and Dad are going away, so their young daughter gets to babysit Grandma! That’s right, she has many tricks to make spending time together fun.

How To Keep A Grandma Busy: Go to the park, bake snickerdoodles, have a costume parade, feed the ducks, do yoga, look at family pictures, swing, play hide-and-seek, make goofy hats, slide, have a dancing-puppet show, read stacks of books, take photos, do puzzles, play cards. As the babysitter, you need to let her choose.

Our young grandma-sitter has advice galore. She fills in the reader with how to play with a Grandma and places to sleep. Under her granddaughter’s care, Grandma has a great time. She remembers to pump her legs when swinging and listens to the five-minute time-to-go warning. Dinner time can be tricky, but, never fear, the grandma-sitter has tricks up her sleeve. Grandma will eat if you arrange food to make silly faces or add sprinkles to anything (Well – almost anything.). In the morning, it is time to say goodbye, but the granddaughter has that covered, too. (Hint: it involves a costume, items to borrow, a special phrase, and a big hug.)

Fun, brightly illustrated, and engaging, How to Babysit a Grandma is a perfect book for children who are anxious about sleepovers. It presents lots of suggestions on activities and empowers children, too.

teacakescover_000Our final book is an oldie but goodie, Tea Cakes for Tosh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012; $16.99, Ages 6-8) written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Grandma Honey is a woman of many talents. She spins stories and bakes delicious tea cakes. Tosh loves spending time with her, listening as Honey tells of courageous great-great-great-great-grandma Ida, who worked as a kitchen slave and whose tea cakes “were the best around.” Although Ida was forbidden to share the delicious treats with her children or any of the other slaves, she risked being whipped to give the children a taste of sweet freedom. Tosh listens to the story over and over.

When Honey begins to forget everyday things, such as where she parked the car or her sister’s phone number, Tosh is concerned. But the worst day was when Honey forgot how to make tea cakes…Tosh looked at Honey’s worried face and checked all of the ingredients she placed on the counter—butter, flour, sugar, vanilla. “What about eggs?” Tosh asked. “Right, that’s it,” Honey said, beaming at Tosh. “You really are something.”

As Tosh comes to terms with his grandmother’s failing memory, he decides to take action. He makes tea cakes at home and memorizes Honey’s story. The next day, Tosh surprises and comforts Honey with his baked goods and recitation.

This heartwarming tale is about the special bond between grandparent and grandchild. Complete with a tea cake recipe, Tea Cakes for Tosh is a beautifully illustrated book that reminds us that sometimes listening can be a precious gift unto itself.

Here’s a link to our recent review of 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Nana in The City by Lauren Castillo and picture books giveaway.

 

 


Picture Books Back to School Giveaway

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Enter our exciting picture books giveaway today!

Out here in California, lots of kids have already returned to school. Others across the country will head back after Labor Day. Either way, parents are looking for new reading material to share with their children and we’ve got a set of three new and soon-to-be-published picture books for you to win courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Clarion Books! Scroll down after the reviews for our Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.

9780544104433_lresNANA IN THE CITY by Lauren Castillo (available in bookstores September 2, 2014) $16.99, Ages 4-8  Now a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book!!

Review: I couldn’t wait to read this book starring a Nana as one of the main characters because I, too, had a Nana and growing up there were no books mentioning Nana (unless you count Nana the big sheepdog in Peter Pan). However, unlike Nana in this story, my Nana did not live in Manhattan (the water towers on top of the buildings along with the subway art shouted the Big Apple to me.)

This picture book’s young narrator goes to stay with his grandmother “at her new apartment in the city.” From the very start, the little lad makes it clear he does not like the city nor the fact that his nana is living there. It may be a busy, loud, and scary place (Castillo’s illustrations depict construction and scaffolding, menacing-looking graffiti and homeless people asking for money) to a child, but to Nana the city is “wonderful – bustling, booming and extraordinary.”

With the help of a knitted red cape, and an eye-opening walk around the neighborhood to see close-up what is really going on, Nana shows her grandson that the city, though busy and loud, is  actually a “perfect place for a nana to live.”

Castillo’s use of primary colors interspersed with blacks and whites conveys the city’s mood and totally complements the text. Whether your child is heading to NYC or any other city for that matter, sharing Nana in the City with them is an ideal way to allay any trepidation they might have about visiting someplace new and different.

9780544233515CREATURE_FEATURES_HICREATURE FEATURES: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (available in bookstores October 4, 2014) $17.99, Ages 4-8 A Junior Library Guild Selection

Review: Creature Features’ authors and illustrators, Jenkins and Page, have come up with an interesting and fun way to engage readers in this nonfiction picture book about all sorts of animals, from the blobfish to the Egyptian vulture, from the axolotl to the thorny devil. There are so many neat new facts to learn and bright bold artwork to enjoy. By addressing each creature individually  …

Dear red squirrel:

Does that fur on  your ears help you hear better?

children will feel as if the first-animal (can’t really say first-person now can I?!) response is directed to them personally.

No. It’s there to keep my ears warm. It falls off in the summer and grows back in the winter.

There is also a spread in the end pages with a chart showing animal sizes compared to humans, a map with the locations of where the creatures live and what their diet consists of.  Check out www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/creaturefeatures to get details on this delightful book.

9780544164666SMALL BLUE AND THE DEEP DARK NIGHT by Jon Davis (available in bookstores now) $16.99, Ages 4-8

Review: Small Blue, a young rabbit, has an active imagination, especially in the deepest, darkest night. It’s then she’s convinced her bedroom is full of “creepy things” like gremlins, goblins and giant hairy spiders. In other words, all types of characters that are intent on preventing a little bunny from getting a good night’s sleep.

But Big Brown comforts Small Blue by offering up a completely new perspective after turning on the light It’s just as likely there could be delightful doggies riding around in a unicycle convention. Or, maybe a smiley spaceman is hosting “a zero-gravity birthday party.”

I love how Davis has introduced a plausible new paradigm for parents to share with an upset or  frightened child. Kids will be empowered by this picture book. They can choose to be scared of the nighttime, preoccupied by all the sneaky things lurking in the dark, or they can re-envision their room as a realm of positive possibilities; a place where doggies, spacemen and yes, even retired sock-knitting pirates parade about, and by doing so welcome the darkness as one big adventure.  And isn’t thinking that way a great way to greet the night?

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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