Caleb's Story (Sarah, Plain and Tall Series #3)

( 15 )


Anna has done something terrible.
She has given me her journal to fill.
In Anna's journal the words walk across the page like bird prints in the mud. But it is hard for me.
It is hard for me to find things wo write about.

"It's your job now," Anna says to Caleb as she hands him her journals. He worries that he'll have nothing to write about, until one winter day his younger sister, Cassie, discovers a ...

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Caleb's Story (Sarah, Plain and Tall Series #3)

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Anna has done something terrible.
She has given me her journal to fill.
In Anna's journal the words walk across the page like bird prints in the mud. But it is hard for me.
It is hard for me to find things wo write about.

"It's your job now," Anna says to Caleb as she hands him her journals. He worries that he'll have nothing to write about, until one winter day his younger sister, Cassie, discovers a mysterious old man in the barn and everything changes. Everyone is excited about the arrival of a new family member except for Jacob, who holds a bitter grudge. Only the special love of Caleb, and the gift he offers his grandfather, can help to mend the pain of the past.

The Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall began the Witting family's saga as Sarah came to the prairie as a mail-order bride to live with Jacob, Anna, and Caleb. In Skylark Sarah learned to adopt the prairie as her home and the family as her own. Caleb's Story continues in Patricia MacLachlan's signature style, spinning a tale of love, forgiveness, and the ties that bind a family together.

The stranger lurking on the Witting family's prairie farm turns out to be their long-lost grandfather, whose presence plus prodding from Sarah forces Jacob to deal with his past.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
From award-winning author Patricia MacLachlan comes another installment in the heartwarming saga that began with Sarah, Plain and Tall. This time out the story is told through the eyes of young Caleb, who is handed the duty of writing in the family journal when older sister Anna moves to town. At first Caleb fears he will have nothing of interest to write about, but then a mysterious man named John shows up on the farm, throwing the Witting family dynamic completely out of kilter.

The mystery man turns out to be Jacob's father, who was thought to be dead. Caleb and his younger sister Cassie are delighted to discover that they have a grandfather, and Sarah happily welcomes him into the household, as well. But their joy is tempered by Jacob's obvious anger with the old man, an anger that stems from the fact that John walked out the door when Jacob was a lad, never to return. Still reeling from the emotional pain of that abandonment, Jacob can't forgive his father for never writing so much as one letter of explanation.

Grandfather offers nothing in the way of apologies or explanations, and Caleb soon discovers that the old man is hiding a dark secret. Sarah despairs over Jacob's refusal to forgive, worrying that the two men are running out of time. For it is clear to anyone who cares to notice that Grandfather isn't in the best of health. It will take a startling revelation, a young boy's determination, and a terrible tragedy before the Witting household can finally begin to heal. MacLachlan sets her story amid the bitter, unforgiving cold of a prairie winter, letting it serve as a metaphor for the equally frigid corners of Jacob's heart. But just as the winter's chill must eventually give way to the sun's heat, so must Jacob's heart begin to thaw beneath the warming rays of his family's love. (Beth Amos)

From The Critics
Fans of the incomparable Sarah, Plain and Tall will want to read more about the family created when Sarah moved from Maine to Nebraska to marry Anna and Caleb's father, Jacob. An older Anna, who is now moving to town, leaves Caleb a blank notebook and the task of writing "one page at a time." After Caleb finds a strange man in the barn, the family must confront events from the past. Now Caleb has both a story and a tangle of emotions to record in this quiet, touching novel about families and forgiveness.
—Kathleen Odean

Publishers Weekly
Taking over the reins from his sister Anna, who narrated Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark, Caleb describes the event in this heartwarming third installment, in which Jacob is reunited with his father. As the novel opens, readers meet Cassie, the baby whom Sarah carries in Skylark; the country is at war in Europe; and Anna leaves home to work for a doctor in town and gives Caleb the responsibility of recording the family events. While Jacob drives his older daughter to town, Cassie spots a man on the property. Thinking it's one of Cassie's imaginary friends, Caleb ignores her until he sees the man for himself. When Jacob returns, the mystery of the man's identity is revealed, and wounds from the past begin to slowly heal. In an uplifting subplot, Caleb discovers why Jacob's father did not correspond with his son all the years he was away and begins to set things right. The narrative cribs liberally from Anna's entries in Skylark, but fans of the first two books will enjoy learning more about this resourceful and loving family. Ages 8-10. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Patricia MacLachlan's beloved historical novel Sarah Plain and Tall won the Newbery in 1986. Caleb's Story the third book in this series, is told by Anna's younger brother. Again, MacLachlan uses a spare, poetic style to reveal a strong sense of feelings, time and place. Caleb writes of a harsh Midwestern winter when flu and WW I rage, and his grandfather appears at the family farm. Years ago the old man deserted Caleb's father and hasn't communicated since. Their animosity is palpable as is Caleb's desire to bridge the rift. Caleb, who writes and sees with his heart, realizes that his grandfather is sick and can neither read, nor write. He has the courage to confront the surly old man and work to solve the problems. Moods and situations vary surprisingly often in this short book. There is relief in the antics of young Cassie, Caleb's sister; a comfort in catching up with characters that readers have grown to love; and finally, seeing the characters unite to overcome struggles. The book is a testimony to the statement that great things really do come in small packages. 2001, HarperCollins, $14.95. Ages 8 to 10. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-In this third book in the series begun in Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), Caleb is given the responsibility of writing down everything that happens on the farm now that his older sister Anna has gone to live in town to finish school. At first, he thinks there will be nothing to write about, but when an old man appears in the middle of winter, the family's quiet life is suddenly disrupted. The stranger turns out to be Caleb's grandfather, who left when the boy's father, Jacob, was young. While Jacob allows him to stay, he refuses to forgive or even speak to the man. Caleb slowly realizes that his grandfather is illiterate, and he teaches him how to read and write. It takes his efforts and a near-tragedy to reconcile the differences between the men. Readers who are new to the Witting family will quickly become acquainted with the events of the past through the excerpts of Anna's journals that Caleb shares with his grandfather. Despite some heavy elements, MacLachlan manages to provide some lighter moments and humor through Cassie, the baby who was about to be born at the end of Skylark (HarperCollins, 1994), and who is now a lively and inquisitive child. This is an excellent work of historical fiction, a satisfying sequel, and an inspiring tale about love and forgiveness.-Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Newbery Medalist MacLachlan continues the story of the Witting family, with the believable characters readers have come to know and love from Sarah, Plain and Tall (1985) and its sequel, Skylark (1994). The family has changed, as Sarah and her husband Jacob now have a daughter named Cassie, a feisty, outspoken little girl of four or five, and older daughter Anna is living in town to attend school and work for the local doctor. Another major change in family dynamics occurs when Jacob's long-lost father suddenly appears. He is a worn-out, cantankerous old man with nowhere to go but his old farm, which he abandoned, along with his family, when Jacob was a boy. The bitter conflict between father and son is the heart of the narrative, this time told in first-person (and recorded in his own journal) by Caleb, who also copies passages from his sister Anna's journals from the previous two stories to help him understand his family. Sarah remains the rock, urging her husband to forgive his father and caring for all of them in her wise, understated way. MacLachlan's appreciative readers will savor this new addition to the chronicle of a delightful family, and many will be hoping for another volume in the series so we can learn precocious Cassie's story as she grows older. (Fiction. 8-10)
ALA Booklist
“Spare yet elegant prose.”
The Horn Book
“A welcome continuation of a well-loved story.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780694525966
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/1901
  • Series: Sarah, Plain and Tall Series, #3
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 2
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.60 (w) x 7.22 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Arthur, For the Very First Time; The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt; Skylark; Caleb's Story; More Perfect Than the Moon; Grandfather's Dance; Word After Word After Word; Kindred Souls; and The Truth of Me. She is also the author of many much-loved picture books, including Three Names; All the Places to Love; What You Know First; Painting the Wind; Bittle; Who Loves Me?; Once I Ate a Pie; I Didn't Do It; Before You Came; and Cat Talk, several of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives with her husband and two border terriers in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

“Come find me, Caleb!” called my little sister, Cassie.

She ran out the door and down the steps. Lottie barked and followed her. Nick was older than Lottie. He stayed on the porch and watched.

“I don't have time. I mean it, Cassie!”

Cassie ignored me the way she always did when she wanted something.

“And don't look!” she called.

I sighed and walked after her. I covered my eyes with my hand, but through my fingers I could see Cassie run to the barn.

“One, two, three,” I counted.

“Slower,” she cried.

“Four . . . five . . . five and a half.”

Papa was hitching Bess to the wagon.

“Don't be long,” he said. “Anna's almost ready to leave.”

“Don't worry. This won't take long, Papa.”

“I don't know, Caleb. Cassie's getting better at hiding.”

I laughed.

“At least you don't see her feet sticking out anymore. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” I called.

I could hear Cassie laughing, but I couldn't see her. I walked into the barn. It was cool and dark and quiet. A winter sharp smell filled the space.


There was no answer. There was a time when Cassie would answer me and give away her hiding place -- she couldn't help it. Not today.

May, my favorite of all our horses, was in her stall. I reached over and touched her nose, and she nickered at me. I could see her breath in the cold air. There was silence, the only sound the sound of May's breathing. Then I heard Lottie's bark outside, and Cassie's voice.

“Cassie? I hear you!”

I turned. Cassie tried to run by the barn door, and I rushed out and caught her, making her squeal.

“I've got you,Pal!”

Cassie laughed and we began to walk back to the house, Lottie leaping and jumping in front of us. Cassie reached up and took my hand, her face suddenly serious.

“There's a man.”

“What man?”

“Behind the barn,” said Cassie. “He's wrapped in a green blanket. He asked me about Papa.”

I smiled.

“You and your imaginary friends, Cassie.”

She scowled at me.

“There's a man,” she insisted.

“You're stubborn,” I told her. “Like Sarah.”

“Like Mama,” Cassie corrected me. “You could call her Mama.”

“I could,” I said. “But you know the story, Cassie. When she first came here Anna and I called her Sarah. We will always call her Sarah.”

“I will call her Mama,” said Cassie.

I picked her up -- she was so light -- and Cassie put her head on my shoulder as we walked to the house.

“A man,” she whispered in my ear."

“Do you have everything, Anna?”

Sarah wrapped biscuits in a towel.

“Give these to Sam.”

Papa looked over Sarah's shoulder.

“Some,” he said. “Not all.”

Sarah smiled.

“Papa never gets enough biscuits,” said Anna.

Anna tied up some letters with a long ribbon. Min, our orange cat, leaped up, trying to catch the ends. Her mother, Seal, slept in a basket by the fire, opening her eyes every so often to check on all of us.

“Justin's letters?” asked Sarah.

Anna nodded.

“I read them over and over,” she said softly. “Sometimes I feel he's standing next to me.”

Everyone was quiet. I used to tease Anna about her boyfriend, Justin. I called him Just-In-Time. But not anymore. Justin had gone to Europe to fight in the war. And no one teased Anna now. I think she worked for Doctor Sam because Justin was his son. It made her feel closer to Justin.

“Letters,” said Papa, his voice low.

“You were the masters of letter writing, you and Sarah,” said Anna.

“What does that mean?” asked Cassie.

“It means that they wrote letters to each other before they loved each other,” said Anna.

“I never got to write letters,” complained Cassie.

Papa smiled at her.

“No, you came much later.”

“You came during an early snowstorm,” I told Cassie, “with wind and snow and cold. I remember.”

“We all remember!” said Anna, laughing.

“Did I come with letters?” asked Cassie.

“No,” said Anna. “But you can write letters to me in town.”

“I will,” said Cassie, excited. “I will write you a hundred plus seven letters!”

“Here, Caleb,” said Anna. She handed me some books.

“What is this?” I asked.

“My journals,” said Anna. “And new ones. It is your job now.”

“Mine?! I'm not a writer like you, Anna,” I said.

“You'll figure it out, Caleb. One page at a time.”

“I can't!”

“Everyone's not a writer, Caleb,” said Anna. “But everyone can write.”

Sarah looked out of the kitchen window.

“What is it, Sarah?” asked Papa.

“I thought I saw something. Someone, maybe. Over there.”

Papa looked out, too.

“I don't see anyone. But I do see the beginnings of snow. And the wind is picking up. Let's go!”

“Snow!” said Cassie. “And wind! Will someone be born?”

Sarah and Papa laughed.

“Not here,” Sarah said. “Not tonight.”

We picked up Anna's suitcase and packages and went out the door.

“She saw the man,” whispered Cassie.

“Come on, Cass. There's no man,” I said.

I took Cassie's hand and we went out where snow was coming down. Sarah looked worried.

“Anna? I want you to be careful. There's so much sickness.”

“I know you worry about the influenza,” said Anna.

“So many are sick,” said Sarah, putting her arm around Anna. “So many have died. And you see the worst of it.”

“I love working with Sam,” said Anna. “You told me once that it is important to do what you love.”

“I said that, did I?” said Sarah.

“You did,” said Anna.

“You did,” said Cassie, making Sarah laugh.

The snow was falling harder now, so that we couldn't see the clouds anymore.

Caleb's Story. Copyright © by Patricia MacLachlan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide


Caleb's Story is the sequel to the Newbery Medal–winning Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark. Once again Patricia MacLachlan writes of courage, forgiveness, and the love that binds a family together. All the beloved Witting family characters return for another important episode in their lives: Jacob, Anna, Caleb, and Sarah, as well as the newest member of the family, Cassie. This book is narrated by Caleb, the middle child and only son of the family, offering a different perspective. When Jacob's long-lost father arrives on their farm unexpectedly, family relationships are challenged. Caleb learns the secrets behind his father and grandfather's estrangements and, along with Sarah, struggles to bring them back together. In taking this responsibility, Caleb learns a great deal about both his own and his family's values. Patricia MacLachlan speaks from the heart and writes about the things that matter to us all.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In several instances throughout the book, the author uses figurative language. For example, on page one she writes, "The words walk across the page like bird prints in the mud." What does the author mean by this phrase? How does her language not only help explain Caleb's impression of Anna's writing, but also help define his character? What are some other instances of figurative language used in the book? How do you know the difference between figurative and literal statements?

  2. John calls Cassie the "Queen of Questions." Who else has been known to ask a lot of questions in this family? Why is asking questionsimportant, especially the tough questions?

  3. Anna's boyfriend, Justin, has gone to Europe to fight in the war, and at home, there is an epidemic of influenza. What do these pieces of information tell you about the period in which the story is set? What other statements in the book give you a sense of time? How does understanding the time period help you understand the characters' feelings and actions?

  4. Why do you think John came back after all these years? Why is he initially cold to Cassie and Caleb, and why do they persist until he warms up to them? Why is Jacob so upset that he came back? Do you think John's return was good for the family, or would it have been better had he stayed away? Why?

  5. Caleb writes in his journal, "John doesn't look peaceful at all. He looks like he has secrets" (page 29). What is it that John is hiding? Why does his secret keep him from living in peace? Later, he doesn't want to share his journal entries with Caleb, but simply thinks that some things are private. Is there a difference between privacy and secrecy? What's the difference?

  6. The first two books about the Witting family are written from Anna's point of view. This one is written from Caleb's. How is the family story told differently by Caleb? How is it the same?

  7. Why does Sarah say that John and Jacob are alike? As he observes his father and grandfather's behavior, what does Caleb learn about himself?

  8. Sarah says Jacob and John won't talk to each other because they are stubborn. Caleb says, "But they are family," to which Sarah replies, "That's what makes it so hard." What does she mean by this? Why is it so difficult for Jacob and John to forgive each other? Talk about an instance where being stubborn played a part in a family argument, and why it might have been more easily resolved with someone outside your family.

  9. How does John change during the course of the novel? How do Jacob and Caleb change? How does the whole family change as a result?

  10. Why does the family at the cemetery build a bonfire? Why was Sarah so upset about this? What do you think about when you hear about influenza these days? Do we face epidemics today?

  11. What clues foreshadow that John can't read? Why is he ashamed of it? What do you think it would feel like to be unable to read? How would it affect your everyday life? How do you think it might feel to teach someone to read, as Caleb did?

  12. What do you predict will happen to the Witting family? Will John stay? Will Anna and Justin marry? What will happen to Caleb and Cassie?

  13. Why does Caleb cry at the end of the novel, even when "not one thing in the world is wrong." Is he upset or relieved? What other emotions do you think he's feeling? What fears of his have been put to rest?

About the Author:

Patricia MacLachlan is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Arthur, for the Very First Time, winner of the Golden Kite Award for Fiction; The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, and Newbery Medal–winning Sarah, Plain and Tall, and its sequel, Skylark. Caleb's Story is the third book about the Witting family and their life on the prairie. She is also the author of several picture books for children, including Three Names, What You Know First, and All the Places to Love. Ms. MacLachlan lives and works in western Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 20, 2012

    Caleb¿s Story is written Patricia MacLauchlan. Caleb¿s Story is

    Caleb’s Story is written Patricia MacLauchlan. Caleb’s Story is a continuous of Sarah Plain and Tall. Caleb’s Story takes place on a farm where Caleb happily lived with his family. It was early, and winter was just beginning. Everything was fine until a strange and mysterious man showed up. At the time Caleb didn’t realize that this man would have changed their lives forever.
    Caleb lives with his sister Cassie, his father Jacob, along with Jacobs’s wife Sarah. Caleb also had another sister, Anna, who lived in town. Cassie is first to see the mysterious man behind the barn. Later the same day, Caleb encounters the same man inside the barn. His name was John, and he was very ill. Sarah came and took the man inside. Although John was a stranger to them, John knew Jacob, and Jacob knew him. Things were not good between them, and John was not something Jacob was looking for.
    This book is full of surprises and events that will keep you guessing. I was dubious about this book at first, but it turns out this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. There is never a dull moment in Caleb’s Story. I would recommend this book, along with the rest of the series on Sarah Plain and Tall, to anyone who likes to read, this is also a good book for younger children too, from grades 2nd and up.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    I Also Recommend:


    Good book, sad in some moments, but also has some sweet moments too. Recommend the book as the other books, Skylark and Sarah Plain and Tall.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2010

    Highly recommended for the classroom

    Easty reading for 2nd-4th graders and the story is really good. I also recommend the rest of the series.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2014

    The book i have

    I dont have the book on my nook but i do have the book on a hard copy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2008

    My Review

    I just love this series! I try to read them as much as I can. I have read the whole series 4 or 5 times already since this fall. I just love the NEW! Nancy Drew books. They are even more mystifying than the older ones. Write me about the books that you read. Toodles!)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2008

    I love this book!!!!

    My favorite character in this book was Caleb, because he loves to play games and always gets bugged by his sister Cassie. I liked the part of the book when Caleb gave his new grandfather a notebook Anna (Caleb¿s sister) had given to him. I think that grandfather and papa could have handled the word fight a little bit better. Also, I think that grandfather should not have pushed papa and made him break his leg. I think that grandfather should have apologized to papa for walking away from papa when he was a boy!! Also, I think that you need to find out what happens to papa and grandfather!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2007

    heart warming.

    i read this like a couple years ago and i was just looking at books and then i saw this book. I hardly remember anything about this book. I only remember that i totally loved it and that it was really heart-warming. i would reccamend for 4th grade and younger : ]

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2014

    Awesome book

    This book should be 1000 stars

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2013

    By anominys

    awesome greatest book ever made!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2010

    I read both Of these books I loved both of them : I read Sarah Plain and Tall at school and Skylark for Summer reading

    I Cant wait to see what this one is about I loved both of them !

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2006

    I was hooked on it!!

    I am a second grader. I recommend this book because it has something very strange in it and it is full of suspense! The auther puts great details in her writing and all of her books are awesome!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2001

    Good continuation of the story.

    It's been years since Sarah came to the prairie to marry Anna and Caleb Whitting's father and to be a mother to the children. There's now a new member of the family, four-year-old Cassie. Anna has moved to town to finish school and take a job while her sweetheart fights in World War I in Europe and the influenza epidemic rages. One cold, snowy winter day, little Cassie discovers a strange man behind the barn, a man that turns out to be the father who abandoned Jacob Witting so long ago, when he himself was just a child. Although Sarah tries to help Jacob forgive his father, and Caleb and Cassie try to make their grandfather feel at home, it may take a tragedy to bring the family back together. Readers of the first two books will love this, the third book in the Witting family saga. Highly recommended.

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    Posted September 9, 2013

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    Posted October 31, 2014

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    Posted January 13, 2009

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