Monthly Archives: August 2012

We Had a Vampire-Free Night

Yesterday, we celebrated my birthday, which means that I allow myself carbs for that one day each year. Dinner is always the same: linguini and pesto. I grow basil like a crop every year just for pesto. I use the recipe in Moosewood Restaurant’s original cookbook for “Pesto Genovese.” It’s also great on grilled chicken. They have many other fabulous, basic recipes in that cookbook, too: guacamole, blue cheese dressing, and so on. Just a very few, very good ingredients.

Of course, in our family, if a recipe calls for two medium cloves of garlic, three large cloves must be better! So, we made a double batch of pesto with extra garlic and scarfed it down! We’re talking fresh, raw garlic here. Yum! Needless to say, we had no trouble with vampires all night. However, I also noticed that there were five empty chairs to my right at church today, and the couple in front of us got up and left halfway through the sermon. I’m afraid we may have breathed.

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Create Something

A couple of months ago, my friend, Julie, gave me an unexpected gift. She had woven an exquisite purple and blue scarf on her own loom. The warp yarn was a light taupe that ended in long, skinny tassels. It was not just that the scarf was objectively beautiful, but it was twice as meaningful because she had made it herself. It will be months before I can wear it here in steamy North Carolina, but I left it out on my dresser for days, just so that I could look at it several times a day. Julie used to work with me at the library, but has been home for a couple of years and has had time to take all the classes necessary to take her weaving from live sheep to finished product. As far as I know, though, she hasn’t acquired any sheep for her subdivision lot.

Looking at this brilliant scarf, I was seized with the desire to get back to all of my needlecrafts. So many people knit these days that I even asked another friend to teach me to knit. I’ve tried to knit before, but my sweaters would never fit anyone, since they are wide and narrow, wide and narrow. Does this have something to do with my stress level? In any case, I reminded myself that I’ve had an Amish bear claw quilt in the works for almost a decade, so perhaps I should finish that first. You know what’s wrong with hand quilting? Ironing. You have to jump up and down to iron as you go. Nobody thinks of ironing as an art.

J.R.R. Tolkien theorized in his essay On Faerie Stories that human beings create because we are made in the image and likeness of God, who is the Creator. Tolkien called us sub-creators. Within each of us is the urge—the drive—to create. One must admit that he lived up to this in his own life, building a fully-realized world in his stories of Middle Earth.

Most of us do not rise to that level of creativity. We will never be hailed as the new Michelangelo or Shakespeare, and yet we want to make beauty in our lives. It is as if the creative urge in our lives were dry soil, which, if left alone, will grow drier and drier until we are parched and cracked and cannot support life. However, when we create, we work and water that soil so that all sorts of life can spring from it.

Edith Schaeffer, the wife of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book called The Hidden Art of Homemaking. Schaeffer’s belief was that all of us can be artistic within our everyday surroundings by setting a beautiful table, planting a garden, decorating our home, making our own clothes, playing music, or any number of ordinary activities done with love and care.

When I was a stay-at-home mom for seventeen years, I lived this vision to the fullest. I ground organic wheat myself to make all of my family’s bread. I made my own skirts, crocheted my own afghans, made my own jam with berries I picked myself, and canned my own vegetables. I was a veritable Little Red Hen. My herb garden was cut into geometric patterns with walkways in between. I used hand-made paper to create my own Christmas cards. I cross-stitched Christmas stockings and smocked as much as one can as the mother of a little boy. Thank goodness I have lots of nieces. I read like mad, kept a journal, and wrote newsletters for our homeschool support group.

About ten years ago, our lives crashed down around us—I may write about that one day—and I had to go to work. I discovered that a bachelor’s degree and a part-time job would not support us, so I went to graduate school at age 47 and then to a full-time job.  Needless to say, it is tough to do all of those creative things I described in two hours per night, even if you can muster up the energy. Think of the way most people today live their lives. We get up, get ready for work, are away from our homes all day, come home and make dinner, get some laundry done or other chores to get ready for the next day, and hopefully have an hour or so left. Add kids, their school schedule and outside activities, and it’s a wonder we’re still sane. Can you be creative after all that, or will you just be numb? Usually, we opt for vegging in front of the TV.

However, our crazy schedules and the fact that most of us are in sterile work spaces all day does not erase our human need to create. As a matter of fact, it may make the pain of that unfulfilled need even sharper. Three or four years ago, I was depressed and battling malaise, and I finally said to my husband, “I have just got to get my hands in the dirt. I need to grow something.” We had lived here for six or seven years and had never planted a garden. As I’ve said before, our back yard slopes down, so our only option was raised beds in boxes. It worked. We started with four boxes, but working with the soil and then the plants helped to heal my soul. Maybe I can only work in it on weekends and little bit on weeknights, but it’s something.

A few years later, I was determined to learn piano, figuring that I liked music, so why not? I was dedicated for two years, but I only progressed to a point, and then I realized that it was cutting into my reading time, and reading is much more important to me than piano. From this experience I learned that, to be restorative to you, your art must express who you are, not someone else whom you admire. I can be an audience for musicians, rather than trying to join them. I have decided the same thing about painting, despite several classes and some early attempts 30 years ago. Do you remember the movie Benny and Joon? I’m not sure that I’d hang Joon’s paintings in my living room, but they were obviously expressing something deep inside her and allowing her to communicate with her world.

Now I read more, still garden, and am trying to write. Occasionally, if I have enough time and money, my cooking may be creative enough to delight my family. I’ll jump out there and put gardenias in a navy teapot, and, as you can see in the hanging herbs picture above, I painted my bathroom Vintage Teal. No, it is not named after me, thank you very much. One of these days, I’m sure that I’ll get back to that quilt, and maybe even finish it. Who knows? After I retire, I may learn to knit.

What about you? How do you express your soul in a way that creates beauty in the world and satisfies that very human need to create? Do you need more quiet stillness to figure it out? Do you need talent, or just desire? Whatever you need to do, take just one step toward your desire. Water the dry soil of your soul, and we can all watch and rejoice in the life that grows from it.

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Picture Added!

I was able to get a picture of our pepper patch onto the post “What Is It with Guys and Hot Peppers?” below. Take a peek!

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Two Terrific New Titles for Austen Fans

Since I loved Austen when Austen wasn’t cool, I have been heartened by the Jane Austen mania of the past few years. Although we might be on the waning side of that trend, two Young Adult titles came out this summer that are definitely worth your time, whether you are a teen or an adult. They are very different from one another, yet both excellent reads in their own way.

Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, is a delightfully clever mash-up of Austen, Cinderella, and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Althea is sweet, smart, and eminently practical. Since her father died and left them penniless, she’s lived with her passive mother and her two spoiled, gold-digger stepsisters in a castle her father built right smack on the edge of a cliff. Since gentlewomen in her day were not able to earn money, it is up to Althea to make a good marriage in order to save the family fortune. She’s already messed it up once by responding to her first suitor’s offer of marriage and compliment to her beauty with an acceptance and compliment to his wealth. Seems fair to me, but the young man does not see it that way, and Althea realizes that perhaps honesty is not always the best policy.

Time is ticking. Althea is seventeen years old, and she can’t afford to be an old maid, so she sets her sights on Lord Boring. If only he didn’t show up with his boorish friend, Mr. Fredericks, all the time! You can see what’s coming here. How long will it take until Althea is able to do more for her family and servants than just re-use the same tea leaves four times?

If Austen take-offs have been done before, surely post-apocalyptic stories must be done to death! Not when the author is Diana Peterfreund, who offers us something very new and beautiful in For Darkness Shows the Stars. In this science-fiction retelling of Persuasion, we find another young woman with the future of an entire estate resting on her shoulders.

When Eliot North, the heroine, and Kai were children, they were great friends, despite the rigid class restrictions in society since the crash of civilization caused by genetic engineering. Eliot and her family belong to the Luddite ruling class, since they did not participate in science at all. Kai and the other servants on the estate are part of the Reduction, though, and remain in subjection to the Luddites. The upper class believes that the mental incapacity and dependence of the Reduced is God’s judgment for their earlier dabbling in science. Lately, though, some of the Reduced have had children who show intelligence and are beginning to rise up against their masters. When Kai’s father dies and he sees that his life will never change under Eliot’s father, he runs away to join the Cloud Fleet, where he can use his mechanical skills and make his way freely in life.

Four years later, Eliot is exhausted from desperately trying to keep her family and servants fed. She had been secretly trying to breed a new type of grain that would produce a better crop, but when her father finds out, he destroys the field and builds a racetrack on it instead. Eliot cannot complain, since she knows that her experiments were illegal. Her father and sister’s spendthrift habits have driven them to the brink of bankruptcy, so when the admiral of the Cloud Fleet asks to rent part of the estate in which to build a new boat, she agrees, even though the Luddites disapprove of the Cloud Fleet’s continued use of technology. Eliot knows that they must have the rent money to survive another year. When the fleet arrives, one of the officers, Captain Malakai Wentworth, looks very familiar, but shows no signs of recognizing her.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is a richly imagined work of science fiction and romance that succeeds perfectly. It is complex and deeply engaging, and Peterfreund takes no shortcuts, working each thread of the plot to a satisfying conclusion. Although it is a YA book, the characters are not teenagers as we think of them, but young adults with serious responsibilities and tough decisions to make. There are certainly discussion points here in this fictional world’s pitting science and religion against one another, as if they were mutually exclusive. It is fiction, yes, but you may not want your teen to read this excellent story without drawing out the underlying assumptions.

So, curl up in your favorite chair and spend some time with these two absorbing stories.  It’s been a great summer for new books.

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Will Work with Dogs

Our department at work has undergone reorganization four times in the past twelve months. For a while there, the biggest questions were, “Do I do that or do you?” and “Who do I report to now?” As you can imagine, we were not the chirpy library staff we once were. It was a dark and stormy office.

My very wise new manager decided that what we needed was regular visits by her Corgi. She is an adorable dog, very sociable and busy. She seems to have a work schedule of her own, visiting her favorite snack producers all over the building at appointed times. Afternoons are reserved for sports. It is difficult to be depressed when a little furball with bright eyes and astonishingly large ears keeps dropping a pink ball on your feet. Like, thirty times in a row. On the other hand, when you’re wearing sandals, your toes may be a bit sticky by the end of the day.

My former manager, who is still in the same building, brings her dog to work in order to socialize him. He was a rescue dog and is afraid of everything, especially the water fountain in the hall. He resembles the Beneful dog: button eyes and nose, with expressive, fountain-like ears waving around the sides of his head. Wherever his owner is, he is never more than a foot or two from her ankles.

I need a dog like that. We had a beagle, Dan, for ten years, and although we told ourselves that he loved us as much as we loved him, he would escape if he could get an inch of opportunity. He would streak off into the woods or fields and stay gone for hours. Well, he was a hunting dog who didn’t hunt. He’d come back eventually, tongue hanging out and stinking to high heaven. Why do dogs love to roll in hideous smells? When he was in the house, he was the sweetest dog ever, but next time, I’m getting a dog who doesn’t roam.

The building I work in is an administration building, which sounds as if it would be filled with swanky offices—and we do have those—but our section is a big warehouse stuffed with thousands of books and sprinkled with desks. The wipe-clean linoleum floor is perfect for pets and gives off a satisfying click-click-click when little paws go by. I do miss having a dog at home, but at least at work our mascots have lightened the mood. No more tension; now the staff smile as they sneak goodies to the happy dogs under their desks.

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Sunday Odds and Ends

Following up on some earlier posts today.

My search for music continues. I’ve been playing the Kutless CD Sea of Faces, which is not bad. It belongs to my son, Michael, from his archives. I’m thinking of looking into the group Falling Up, which is a Christian band that seems to have moved from hard rock to techno. I’m not sure how I’ll like that, but at least they sound original. When I say “looking into the group,” I mean that I don’t have any money right now, or I’d buy a CD. In the meantime, I have listened to samples of their music on Amazon.

Yesterday, I finished the book They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? There’s an appetizing title for you. It’s a political satire recommended by my brother, and although it’s not my usual genre, it was scathingly funny. The author, Christopher Buckley, wrote Thank You for Smoking several years back. Yes, he’s the son of the late William F. Buckley, Jr., so you know he must be brilliant. This book is not for the sensitive reader, as it has plenty of foul language and sexual situations (no descriptions). Although it is fiction, there are a couple of real people in it, such as Chris Matthews and the Dalai Lama, as well as thinly-veiled stand-ins for Ann Coulter and others. The main character is a lobbyist who is tasked with making Americans hate the Chinese, even though he has no idea why his sponsor wants him to do that. The book title is just one nasty rumor about the Chinese. Very amusing.

After that, I had to return to more familiar territory in reading, so I picked up an advance reader copy of Maggie Stiefvater’s teen novel, The Raven Boys, due out in September. I read a lot of Young Adult books for my job, and I’ve been a Stiefvater fan since her Lament series, so I was looking forward to good things. The first few pages were way more occult than I am usually comfortable with. I can handle vampires—sparkly or not—and werewolves, but witches, not so much. To be fair, the mom in the story calls herself a psychic, so we’ll see. I usually say “no, thanks” to witch stories.

However, I decided to give the book the requisite 50-page trial. In the second chapter, she introduces the titular boys, and their characters are so complex and finely drawn that I cannot leave them on the page. It’s just what one would expect from an award-winning author, so I hope the rest of the book will be as amazing as her earlier titles. It is the first of a series, so I’ll keep you posted.

That’s about as exciting as it’s been around here, except for making Jambalaya to use up some of those peppers that I’ve told you about. Of course, the guys added hot sauce.

Next week is my birthday week! Let’s hope I get spoiled.

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What Is It with Guys and Hot Peppers?

My two guys—that would be my husband and my son—believe that the greatest quality a meal could have is that it is spicy-hot. I have placed carefully crafted plates of chicken fajitas, made with fresh cayenne peppers, in front of them, only to watch them splash Sriracha sauce all over the place and then grunt in manly tones, “Oh, yeah!” Welcome to dinner at my house.

Did you know that the Food Network even has a program called Heat Seekers devoted to this manly art of self-immolation? These two guys go all over the country looking for the hottest food they can find, and then sample it to see if they’ll die. Alright, that is a woman’s interpretation.

Every spring, my husband and I go to the nursery to get the plants and seeds that we need for our garden. Now when I say “garden,” I mean six 4’ x 8’ boxes in our backyard. It’s all we need, and since our backyard slopes downward, it works really well. Inevitably, I will be standing beside a box with a spade in my hand a few hours later, saying, “What are these? I didn’t buy these!” My husband always sneaks in a few extra trays of plants, because he has delusions of farmerdom. This year, he managed to squeeze sixteen pepper plants into one box, and then planted radishes all around them. We have bell peppers (check), cayenne peppers (check), jalapeños (o…kaaay), and habaneros (what!!). Truth be told, they are all doing spectacularly well, but I now have a little mountain of habaneros on the kitchen counter, and I don’t know what to do with them.

A couple of weeks ago, we picked our very first habanero, which David cut into tiny pieces. He sprinkled a few on his nice, normal meal and immediately got the hiccups. He was elated. Hiccups, apparently, are a sign of success. He continued to eat and reported that his scalp was getting itchy. He was beaming. Beaming and sweating. Halfway through the meal, he had to get up to blow his nose. After dinner, he pronounced the habaneros to be “the real deal,” and he and my son congratulated themselves on growing some of the hottest peppers they’d ever eaten.

Is food supposed to be painful?

I am convinced that there is some sort of cosmic contest—invisible to women—wherein the man who burns every molecule of skin off the inside of his mouth wins. He may be in horrific pain, but I’m sure that he will wear his seared mucous membranes as a badge of honor. And maybe grunt, “Oh, yeah!”

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Thank you, Dr. Bernstein

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Really! I don’t worry that Obama was born in Kenya, and I don’t think anyone is listening to my cell phone calls, because if they were, they would have fallen asleep a long time ago. But when I was diagnosed with diabetes and started reading all of the standard literature put out by the American Diabetes Association, I knew that something was amiss.

Suppose you’ve been diagnosed with a liver disease. Do you expect your doctor to tell you it’s fine to drink alcohol? If you have diverticulitis, does your physician tell you, “No more than one cup of nuts and seeds per day?” Of course not! So, when your pancreas is sick or broken, should you eat foods that overtax your pancreas? According to the ADA, the answer is yes.

As you know by now if you’ve been paying attention, I’m a librarian, and the first thing people like me do when life throws us a curve is to find a book. Many books, if possible. In my research, I found the book Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, which really changed my life. Richard Bernstein’s story makes for fascinating reading. He is a type 1 (juvenile onset) diabetic, and as a 20-something engineer, he was very sick. He knew that what his doctor was telling him to do for his diabetes was slowly killing him.  So, like a typical engineer, he decided to set up some experiments and chart the results in order to find solutions. He had an advantage over most patients in those days, because while the only way to measure your blood sugar was to go to the doctor’s office every three months, Dr. Bernstein’s wife was a doctor, and she brought a big, clunky glucometer home from the hospital for him to use. Since he was then able to test his blood all day long, he began to see patterns emerging from his tests when fasting, after meals, before bed, and after exercise.

Dr. Bernstein became very excited by his findings, drew all sorts of charts, and wrote up articles for the medical journals. No one would publish them. After all, he was just a lowly engineer, not a medical doctor! So this very determined man decided to go to medical school at a late age, after which the journals began to publish his reports. Now Dr. Bernstein runs a diabetes-only practice in Mamaroneck, New York. If you are a diabetic, you can thank Dr. Bernstein for his tireless campaign to make small, affordable glucometers available for every patient to have at home.

Dr. Bernstein’s basic message is: Don’t eat carbs! Your pancreas can’t handle it, and if you are a Type 2 diabetic, you will have insulin rushing out to your resistant cells, sending your blood sugar into a roller-coaster response, which leads to all of those nasty by-products of diabetes, like heart disease, blindness, and nerve damage. If you keep your blood sugar steady, you can stay healthy. He is in his seventies now and is in much better health than when he was in his twenties.

Since I had been on a low-carb diet before in my life, I knew the basic principles, and they seemed to make sense. I started right away, and have been blessed that my husband goes along with me, so that I don’t have to make two dinners or worry that he’s unhappy with the food choices. We work hard to eat real, healthy food, and avoid processed or artificial food. Our only fake food is Splenda, and I try not to overindulge in that. I lost weight in the beginning, but got stuck, and have not been good at exercising—which is another of Dr. Bernstein’s rules—but even though I am well overweight and certainly not a poster child, things are going very well. It’s been five years since I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, and now I have to go to the doctor twice a year for bloodwork and follow-ups. Within six months of my diagnosis, my A1C (long-term diabetes test) fell below diabetic level, and I was able to go off my medication and have never gone back. My test results still fall below the diabetic range. My cholesterol and all those other lipids are very good, too, so no side-effects are showing up.

I would never tell anyone to stop doing what their doctor told them to do, so please don’t jump out there and go off your medication. However, I do think that patients should be well-informed so that they can help themselves. The latest edition of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution was just published, so why not read it for yourself and then discuss it with your doctor? It’s probably at your local library. My own doctor was skeptical at first, but after my test results for those first six months and every six months since, including my visit last week, she has always said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

In the meantime, check out the ADA’s corporate sponsor page here. Would these people profit at all from keeping you a little bit—and progressively more—sick? Just a question. The ADA diet is obviously designed to help you to deal with the side effects of diabetes: a low fat diet for those with heart disease. If you never have high blood sugar, though, you don’t get side effects. One thing that both the ADA and Dr. Bernstein recommend is vigorous exercise. They are just determined to get me out of my chair; it’s so annoying. Maybe I can do it—tomorrow.

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Bonhoeffer & Metaxas, Part 2

So, now that you know that I have been immersed in everything Dietrich Bonhoeffer this year, I must also tell you about the author of his recent biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. In the spirit of “What else ya got?” I Googled Eric Metaxas— as every good librarian would— and found a mountain of stuff! First of all, Mr. Metaxas lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. I know that is a shocking place of residence, but apparently he is suffering for the sake of the gospel, so okay. Furthermore, he runs an outfit called Socrates in the (aforementioned) City, in which groups of intellectual types get together for drinks and dinner and talk about life, the universe, and everything. Some of the videos are posted on the website, http://www.socratesinthecity.com/, and are well worth watching.

Wait, there’s more! Mr. Metaxas has led a life crowded with incident, including writing for and doing voice acting for Veggie Tales. We love Veggie Tales! At the moment, he can be heard on BreakPoint, the ministry founded by the late Chuck Colson. He is also the author of a biography of William Wilberforce, who led England to outlaw slavery, and several books on apologetics.

The most fun Metaxas moment you can find on the internet, though, is his keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. Go to his own website here for the link. There he is in front of President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and thousands of Christian leaders giving a speech that is simultaneously very serious and hilariously funny. He does not mind poking fun at anyone, but is so self-effacing that it doesn’t hurt. This is the source of the famous picture of President Obama holding up a copy of Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas had an opportunity to say some courageous things on behalf of the gospel, and he did not waste it. He led a room full of (let’s face it) stuffy people to sing “Amazing Grace” together.

This is what we need in the church and in the world today: serious intellectuals who truly love the Lord and have a sense of humor! Yelling and screaming just does not get it done. Let’s all have dinner and drinks and chat, instead.

Metaxas is also very, very, very active on Facebook, and apparently, Twitter. (I refuse to use Twitter, because I have to be able to say “I have a life” with a straight face.) He does get into all kinds of current events on Facebook, so if you would be offended, be forewarned. He is always kind and sensible, though.

Now, go. Have fun.

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Sara Pennypacker Pulled It Off

I didn’t think she could bring this book to a satisfying conclusion, but she did. The blogs were buzzing about Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Newbery medals, so I thought I should give it a try. I love Clementine, after all, so why not something for a bit older audience?

Little did I realize that Ms. Pennypacker would put two 12-year-old girls in the position of spritzing a corpse with Febreeze each day until they realize that they just have to bury it in the backyard.

After Stella’s grandmother dies and her mother abandons her, she is sent to live with her only remaining relative, Great-Aunt Louise. Since they live in a fairly remote location where Louise takes care of a group of summer cottages on Cape Cod, Louise thinks it would be nice for Stella to have company, so she takes in a 12-year-old foster child named Angel. Neither of the girls thinks this is a great idea, and they barely speak until the afternoon they come home to find Great-Aunt Louise dead in her chair in front of her favorite soap opera. As she picks up the phone to call 911, Stella realizes that the minute the police find out about Louise, she and Angel will both be sent to foster homes.

How in the world can these two girls make it through the summer without anyone finding out that they are alone? All I could imagine was that both of them would end up in a juvenile detention facility before all was said and done. As Gonzo says in Muppet Treasure Island, “This is supposed to be a kid’s movie!” Somehow, Sara Pennypacker writes this desperate, difficult story with the same light, sweet hand that she uses in her Clementine series. Your heart will ache for Stella as she clings to her Hints from Heloise clippings that help her to keep her world organized, and I won’t reveal to you how Angel copes with her pain, as it leads to a very moving scene late in the book.

The only flaw I found is that I am not sure how realistic the last few scenes are, since I am not familiar with juvenile law. Anyone want to weigh in? There is also one line that would probably not come out of the mouth of a child Stella’s age, but we’ll just remember that she’s precocious.

This is a very thought-provoking read for your 10-14 crowd, particularly girls, as well as grown-ups like me who love kids’ books. Also, if you haven’t made Clementine’s acquaintance, she will quickly become a favorite of your new readers up to 10 years old.

Happy reading!

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