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The Dial-a-Ghost Agency finds good homes for ghosts. And Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle are looking for a few frightening ghosts to "accidentally" scare their young cousin and heir, Oliver, to death. The ladies at the Dial-a-Ghost Agency have the perfect match: the Shriekers, two bloodstained and bickering horrors. But thanks to a mix-up at the agency, the Wilkinsons, a kind family of ghosts, arrive instead. Can they put a stop to the ...

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Dial a Ghost

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The Dial-a-Ghost Agency finds good homes for ghosts. And Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle are looking for a few frightening ghosts to "accidentally" scare their young cousin and heir, Oliver, to death. The ladies at the Dial-a-Ghost Agency have the perfect match: the Shriekers, two bloodstained and bickering horrors. But thanks to a mix-up at the agency, the Wilkinsons, a kind family of ghosts, arrive instead. Can they put a stop to the Snodde-Brittles' schemes before it's too late?

Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

A family of nice ghosts protects a British orphan from the diabolical plans of his evil guardians.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Once again, Ibbotson (Which Witch; Island of the Aunts) dishes up an irresistible brew of magical high jinks and adventure in this tongue-in-cheek post-WWII ghost story set in Britain and starring two families of displaced spooks. Miss Pringle and Mrs. Mannering, founders of the Adopt-A-Ghost agency, are delighted when they find homes for two of their hard-to-place clients, the Wilkinson family of five (who died all at once when a bomb hit their house) and the Shriekers, a pair of maimed and foul-smelling aristocrats who, after suffering the loss of their only child, aim to rid the world of as many living youngsters as possible. Due to a clerical error, the spirits wind up in the wrong homes. The Shriekers haunt an abbey filled with mild-mannered nuns, and the Wilkinsons move into the Snodde-Brittle estate, where their two evil hosts plan to scare to death the youngest heir, a kindhearted orphan named Oliver. The comedy of errors becomes more complicated by the minute as murderous plots are foiled, ghost busters are hired and the identity of the Shriekers' long-lost daughter is uncovered (astute readers will figure it out before the Shriekers do). Hawkes's whimsical drawings perfectly capture the book's slapstick action and sly humor. Readers will be highly amused as disjointed pieces of the puzzle start to neatly interlock. Ages 8-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This is a fun little fantasy full of ghosts both kind and terrible that ends with everyone living happily ever after. Helton Hall has fallen into the hands of a young orphaned boy, Oliver, who has two older, horrible cousins, Fulton and Frieda, who want the place for themselves. Fulton (next in line to inherit) devises a plan to bring in some perfectly awful ghosts to haunt the castle and frighten young Oliver so dreadfully that he'll leave Helton Hall forever. Two old ladies in London have a ghost-placing agency called Dial-A-Ghost Agency and it is here that Fulton turns. Miss Pringle and Mrs. Mannering, the proprietors, take pride in putting the right ghosts in the right situation. They decide to send a family of ghosts, The Shriekers, to Helton Hall because Fulton has said he wants some mean ghosts to entertain the masses when he opens the Hall to the public. Never does it cross their minds that Fulton might be up to no good. At the same time, a convent of nuns offers a ruined part of their abbey to a family of lovely, docile ghosts and the Dial-A-Ghost Agency finds the Wilkinson family for them. At the last minute, a switch of files occurs and, well, you can guess the bedlam that ensues. Nevertheless, Oliver falls in love with the Wilkinsons (the first family he's had) and they figure out what Fulton is really up to. This is a funny, somewhat predictable story, but fans of Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 will love it; Harry Potter fans may find it enjoyable, too. At the end, Oliver and the ghosts outwit Fulton and they all live happily ever after at Helton Hall, which has been turned into a ghost research facility. A fun read. 2001, Dutton,
— Joan Kindig
This novel relates the tale of a family of nice but presently homeless ghosts of people who were killed during a London bombing in World War II. They seek the help of an agency that matches ghosts to haunts. Fulton Snodde-Brittle, an opportunistic and evil heir to a large estate, also seeks help at this agency. Fulton secretly engages some shriekers to scare away Oliver, a young orphan who is all that stands between him and the manor. A mix-up luckily sends the nice ghosts to Oliver and some available shriekers to an unfortunate convent. The ghosts make fast friends with Oliver and conjure up a few friends of their own to match wits with his evil uncle. The shriekers and a rid-a-ghost service, however, have more surprises in store. This author, whose Which Witch? (Dutton, 1999) was a bestseller, has carved a niche in the juvenile fiction market for stories involving magic, wizards, and ghosts. Given the phenomenon of Harry Potter, there likely will be many young adult crossover readers for this novel. Ibbotson manages to make the macabre and maudlin somewhat funny, as did Roald Dahl. A pleasant, quick read for those who enjoy supernatural stories, the novel has a definite British flavor and a juvenile-level story, but it also has many interesting plot twists and a good sense of humor that recommend it for middle school and junior high collections where there is interest. VOYA CODES:4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses;Broad general YA appeal;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001 (orig. 1996), Dutton, 256p, $15.99. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer:Kevin Beach—VOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-When a perfectly respectable family of ghosts finds itself homeless, its members are horrified to have to take up residence in a knicker shop (think Wonderbras). Luckily, an agency for the placement of homeless ghosts finds a lovely convent for them to haunt, but they are accidentally sent to Helton Hall instead, which is inhabited by one small and lonely orphan. The two hideous spirits who were supposed to be sent there to scare the boy to death (courtesy of Oliver's scheming, evil uncle) are mistakenly sent to the convent. But all turns out well and the evil uncle ends up a ghost in the knicker shop, tearing merchandise apart with his teeth. The irresistible premise of this story is that if you happen to become a ghost, you go on pretty much as you did before, but with tastes a tad more macabre. The book is filled with a large and delightful cast of characters, some made of ectoplasm and some made of flesh. No one could be as frightening as the de Bone ghosts, who festoon themselves with rotting gobbets of meat and a ghostly python, except maybe Uncle Fulton, who wants to take over Helton Hall. The Wilkinsons, from the bewhiskered, umbrella-wielding Grandma to little Adopta, are the perfect ghostly family for Oliver. The black-and-white illustrations have an eerie charm. Don't miss this phantasmally funny fantasy.-Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Child Magazine
A Child Magazine Best Book of 2001 Pick

Take one 10-year-old orphan, add a pair of conniving relatives, top it off with a mix-up by the dithering owners of a placement agency for ghosts, and the result is this utterly delectable farce.

Kirkus Reviews
If R.L. Stine, Charles Dickens, and Lemony Snicket gave a writers' workshop, any resulting fiction might not be a literary masterpiece, but it would have deliciously wicked currency with young readers. Such is this latest from Ibbotson (Island of the Aunts, 2000, etc.), with plot intersections, melodramatic misfortunes, and macabre special effects. At the center of the main plot twist is an agency called Dial-a-Ghost, which is run by two well-meaning social-worker types. It seeks to match ghosts with positions where ghosts are needed—and wanted. The Wilkinsons, an endearing family of ghosts killed during a WWII bombing, are seeking a more appropriate home in which to raise a family than the lingerie shop in the mall. Meanwhile, Sir and Lady de Bone (a.k.a. the Shriekers), Victorian ghosts who have taken a vow to do appalling harm to innocent children, are hired by a pair of murderous guardians for the sole purpose of literally scaring to death a vulnerable little orphan-heir named (of all things) Oliver. The two placements are switched by an inept Dial-a-Ghost office boy with hilarious and dramatic consequences. The Shriekers wind up in the convent home intended for the gentle Wilkinsons, who themselves settle in with Oliver. He is immediately comforted by their kindly presence. The atmospherics are enhanced by Ibbotson's unerring ability to interpret the extraordinary in the most deadpan and literal way, such as the business strategies employed by Dial-a-Ghost. The ghosts themselves are a satisfyingly eccentric bunch: Grandma's "whiskers on her chin stuck out like daggers in the moonlight," and Lady Sabrina de Bone, whose toes were worn away by hatred and her "nose nothing buta nibbled stump." While much of this territory may seem familiar, it is never old to young readers who like their humor laced with blood-curdling screams, and just can't get enough. (Fiction. 8-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142500187
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 4/14/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 364,481
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Eva Ibbotson, born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner (21 January 1925 - 20 October 2010), was an Austrian-born British novelist, known for her children's books. Some of her novels for adults have been successfully reissued for the young adult market in recent years. For the historical novel Journey to the River Sea (Macmillan, 2001), she won the Smarties Prize in category 9-11 years, garnered unusual commendation as runner up for the Guardian Prize, and made the Carnegie, Whitbread, and Blue Peter shortlists. She was a finalist for the 2010 Guardian Prize at the time of her death. Her last book, The Abominables, was one of eight books on the longlist for the same award in 2012.

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Read an Excerpt

Oliver did not think he would be able to sleep, but he did sleep -- a restless, twitchy sleep filled with hideous dreams.

Then suddenly he was awake... A hand! A pale hand coming through the wardrobe door, its fingers searching and turning...The hand was attached to an arm in a white sleeve: a wan and lightless limb, sinister and ghastly.

The wailing nun? The murdered bride?

The other arm was coming through the fly-stained mirror now -- and dangling from it on a kind of string was something round and horrible and loose.

Its head. The phantom was carrying its head.

Knowing that his end had come gave Oliver a sudden spurt of strength. Managing to draw air through his lungs, he sat bolt upright and switched on the light. "Come out of there," he called, "and show yourself."

The figure did as it was told. If it was a nun or a bride, it was a very small one, and it seemed to be dressed for bed.

"Who are you?" asked Oliver, between the chattering of his teeth.

The ghost came forward. "I'm Adopta Wilkinson," she said. "There's no problem about that. But who are you, because you're certainly not a nun."

Oliver stared at her. She seemed to be about his own age, with a lot of hair and sticking-out ears. "Why should I be a nun?" he asked. "It's you who are supposed to be a nun. And headless."

"Do I look headless?" she asked, sounding cross.

"No. I thought... your sponge bag was your head."

The ghost thought this was funny. "Would you like to see what's inside?" she asked.

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Reading Group Guide


Ghosts and hags, wizards and banshees, mermaids and mistmakers—all are part of the magical worlds that Eva Ibbotson creates in her fantasy books for children. Even her more realistic stories are set in exotic places like the Amazon River in South America, where the natural world creates a mystical sense of wonder. Ibbotson introduces us to an array of fascinating characters and creatures: some from real life, some from folklore and mythology, and some completely original. What readers discover in her books is a love for the natural world in all its forms, plus fast-moving plots that emphasize the importance of showing kindness to others and never being quick to judge those who are different from ourselves. Humor plays an important role in her stories, for they are meant to be entertaining above all. Yet long after the last page is turned, the deeper meanings that emerge from these rollicking adventures linger in the reader's mind.

About the Book


Miss Pringle and Mrs. Mannering run an agency that matches ghosts who need a home with people who want their dwellings haunted. And they do a very good job of it... until an error by their hapless office boy mixes up two assignments. This mistake is disconcerting to the nuns who requested a family of quiet ghosts for their old country abbey and end up with the Shriekers, a couple who scream constantly and terrorize the livestock. But it's a very fortunate error for Oliver, a small boy whose scheming cousins hoped the Shriekers would frighten him to death so that they could take over his inheritance, a huge manor house. When the gentle Wilkinson family arrives at Helton Hall instead, they immediately befriend the boy, and he is delighted to have such kindly ghost company. They decide to help Oliver escape the clutches of his evil cousins, Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle. But Fulton has more wicked plans of his own. Dial-a-Ghost is a fast-moving romp through a plot with more twists and turns than you can count and a cast of characters who are loving and heartless, comfortable and cruel, charming and chilling, whether they are made of flesh or ectoplasm.


Eva Ibbotson was born in Vienna, Austria, in the years before World War II. Her mother was a playwright and her father a scientist, but the marriage was unhappy and they soon went their separate ways. Eva's early childhood was spent shuttling back and forth in trains across Europe, from one parent to the other. When Hitler rose to power, Eva's father went to Great Britain, and her mother, after remarriage to a Russian philosopher, soon followed him. Eva switched languages and spent the rest of her childhood in a progressive boarding school, striving to become British. After taking a degree in Physiology at London University, she went on to do research at the University of Cambridge, but she found the experiments she had to perform on living animals very distressing. The results of her experiments were "peculiar," she relates, so when a fellow student, Alan Ibbotson, suggested she could do less harm to science by leaving it and marrying him, she accepted without hesitation. The couple moved to Newcastle, in the north of England, where they raised four children and Eva began writing short stories. When the youngest son started school, she wrote her first full-length novel for children and continued to write for children and adults alternately, much to the delight of her many readers.

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The National Trust
The National Trust is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the countryside, coastline, and important buildings and gardens in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This site lists interesting places to visit.

National Geographic
Site of the National Geographic Society. Look up maps of London and the Amazon River. Search the sea around the British Isles for places where the Island might be found.

Ghost Watch UK
An English organization that specializes in paranormal investigations. Their site includes stories and anecdotes of people's encounters with ghosts and ghostly phenomena.


Magical beings are central to many of your books. Have you always been interested in the supernatural?

No, curiously I was never particularly interested in the supernatural—quite the contrary. Ghost stories frightened me badly as a child, although I didn't really believe that ghosts existed. I think I began to write about ghosts and witches and magic generally to make children less afraid; to turn these beings into creatures much like us but of course able to do more interesting things. My ghosts and witches are more like underdogs, people on the fringes who need sympathy and help. And the witches in Which Witch? are based on my relatives—the nice witches anyway!

Your main characters all seem to come up against people who are more interested in money and power than in feelings and compassion. Is this a theme you consciously set out to explore in every book?

I think of my books as entertainments, a kind of present I give the reader, and any serious themes that come up are a by-product. But of course when I am creating "baddies" for the purposes of the plot, I find myself choosing people with the characteristics I dislike most—and there is nothing I despise more than financial greed and a lust for power.

Humor is an important element in most of your stories. What do you think is the role that humor plays in shaping our lives and our personalities?

I don't really know how to define humor or how to describe it; it is something you have to show. But I do know that both in my personal life and in my work I would be completely lost without humor...without the ability to turn things upside down, to extract something ridiculous out of the most solemn moment. Incidentally, when I'm writing I find humor—jokes that aren't forced or silly—by far the hardest thing to pull off.

In Journey to the River Sea you have written a more realistic story with a strong theme about the importance of nature to the human spirit. What was your inspiration for this story?

I wrote Journey to the River Sea not long after my husband died. He was a committed naturalist, someone who combined a deep knowledge of animals and plants with a spiritual outlook that had been strengthened by his war service in India and Burma. I think I felt at that time that I needed a rest from my usual fantasy stories—though goodness knows the Amazon landscape is fantastical enough in its own right! I wanted to write a story that was simple and old-fashioned and direct. But I have to say that the reasons one gives for writing anything tend to be made up afterwards. At the time you just find yourself doing it!


  • The world of nature plays an important role in Eva Ibbotson's books. Often her characters' personalities are shown through their relationship to the natural world and the way they interact with creatures in the wild. Compare the different reactions to nature of these characters: Ben and Raymond; Oliver and Fulton; Minette, Fabio, and Lambert; The Aunts (Etta, Coral, and Myrtle) and Mr. Sprott; Maia and Gwendolyn/Beatrice; Mrs. Carter and Miss Minton; Mr. Carter and Bernard Taverner.
  • In each of these stories, children must find resources inside themselves to face difficult challenges and changes in their lives, many times without the help of adults. The author says of Maia at the beginning of Journey to the River Sea, "She was afraid...afraid in the way of someone who is alone in the world" (p.2). Which of these characters believes that he or she is alone, and how does that affect the way they face their challenges: Maia, Clovis, Finn, Minette, Fabio, Oliver, Ben, Odge Gribble, Arriman, Terence?
  • Help can often come from unexpected sources in Ibbotson's stories. Look carefully at each of the books to see which characters or creatures are most helpful to the protagonist. Was it obvious to you as the reader that important help would come in this way? How often were you surprised by the power of the helpers? Have you had this experience in your own life, that help came from unexpected sources?
  • Many of the evil characters in the books share certain personality traits. What do these characters have in common: Mrs. Trottle, Mr. Sprott, Fulton and Frieda Snodde-Brittle, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, Madame Olympia? What do these characters tell you about the personality traits that the author dislikes? Do you know people who exhibit these qualities?
  • Showing kindness toward others and especially those who appear to be "different" and "strange" is a quality that is shared by many of the main characters. Discuss the ways in which Maia, Miss Minton, Ben, Belladonna, Oliver, and the Aunts demonstrate this important character trait. What is the author telling us, through these characters, about exhibiting this quality in our own lives? How can we translate this theme from exotic and fantastic settings into our everyday world?
  • At the end of Journey to the River Sea, Miss Minton says to Mr. Murray, "Perhaps I'm mad—and the professor, too—but I think children must lead big lives...if it is in them to do so" (p. 283). What does she mean by this statement, and how do you interpret the phrase "big lives"? Which characters in the other books are capable of leading "big lives," and which of them are not? Discuss the personality traits that make it possible for children—and adults—to "lead big lives."
  • Ibbotson says of the Carters, "...they were far too selfish to want anybody, but they needed her [Maia]" (p. 37). What is the difference between wanting and needing somebody or something? Discuss this difference between wanting and needing as you see it in the actions and feelings of Arriman, Belladonna, the Wilkinson family, Oliver, Mrs. Trottle, Ben, Nanny Brown, the Aunts, Minette and Fabio, Maia, Miss Minton, Finn, Clovis, the Carters, and other characters of your own choice. How does it affect your feelings about a character when you make this distinction?
  • When Maia first reads about the Amazon, she encounters these words: "For whether a place is a hell or a heaven rests in yourself, and those who go with courage and an open mind may find themselves in Paradise" (p. 6). Discuss this idea with relation to the setting of each of the books. How does each character's perception of a place affect the way he or she reacts to that place? How does perception of place affect you in your own life?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2010

    Dial-A-Ghost Review

    Oliver Smith, an orphan, finds out he is the rightful owner to his families' mansion, Helton Hall. But his greedy cousins, Fulton and Frieda Snoddle-Brittle, are less than thrilled. They decide to hire ghosts from the Dial-A-Ghost agency and try to scare him to death. Will the ghosts end up being friends or foes?
    The Wilkinson's are a sweet, loving family that became ghosts when a bomb fell on their house. They were forced to live in a store until they found the Dial-A-Ghost agency. They were due to go to their new home the same day as the nasty, hated Shriekers. But, the guy in charge of the folders that have the homes each ghost is going to have a big secret that might change everything.
    Eva Ibbotson did an amazing job at making me feel like I was at Oliver's side the whole time. I could feel everything he felt. She made the end very surprising and shocking. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story with lots of action and stuff you never expected!

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great book!

    Dial-a-ghost is the story of a friendly family of ghosts called the Wilkinsons who were killed by a bomb during an air raid in the Second World War. As many years go by their house is rebuilt and is non longer suitable for them. They move to London to find more space but it is even more crowded there and they are forced to haunt a knickers shop in a shopping mall. In London, Adopta, a young ghost from the Victorian era who is being taken care of by the Wilkinsons, discovers a building with a large flashing sign that says Adopt-a-ghost. The ladies from the Adopt-a-Ghost Agency meet the Wilkinsons and decide to send them to an old abandoned chapel that nuns there have offered up as a home for a suitable family of ghosts. Meanwhile an orphan boy named Oliver is told that he is the owner of Helton Hall. His cousins, a brother and sister, want the inheritance. They visit Oliver's orphanage to tell him the news and to bring him back to Helton hall. They order two terrifying ghosts called the shriekers from the Adopt-a-Ghost Agency to scare Oliver to death. The folders of the Wilkinsons and the shriekers at the agency are mixed so the two ghost families are sent to the wrong addresses where chaos and confusion ensue. Dial-a-ghost is a wonderful story that excites your imagination and makes you feel in sympathy for the characters. Eva Ibbotson writes mainly fictional ghost stories for children and young adults in an easy and strait forward fashion. I would highly recommend this exciting and interesting book to anyone who is looking for something fun to read. Some other books written by Eve Ibbotson are the beasts at Clawsone castle, which witch?, and journey to the river sea.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005


    I love this book. It is one of my favorites because it is such a good storyline, so original, and has plenty of humor. I loved hearing the plight of the ghosts, and the tragic mix-up. The result was one of the funniest books I've ever read. I would'nt reccommend reading this book in public; you'd laugh too hard. But this book is an outstanding piece of literature and I love it and will cherish it forever.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2004


    I loved it was so cool. I plan to read 18 more times.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    A 'Must Read' Book

    This book was outstanding. I think that everyone should read this book. It was great.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2003

    great book!

    I love this book! I've read it so many times, I've lost count!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2003

    Good Book

    I don't think that this book is quite as good as the others that she has written. But this book is still very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2003

    Best Book Ever!

    This is probaly the best book EVER! I would HIGHLY recommend this book, for anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2002


    This book was excellent! I totally recommend it to any one from ages 8+. If you like Harry Potter, you should try this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2009

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    Posted March 17, 2009

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