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William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad

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The little-known story of William Still, known as the Father of the Underground Railroad. William Still's parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled The little-known story of William Still, known as the Father of the Underground Railroad. William Still's parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled north. And then one day, a strangely familiar man came into William's office, searching for information about his long-lost family. Could it be? Motivated by his own family's experience, William began collecting the stories of thousands of other freedom seekers. As a result, he was able to reunite other families and build a remarkable source of information, including encounters with Harriet Tubman, Henry "Box" Brown, and William and Ellen Craft.


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The little-known story of William Still, known as the Father of the Underground Railroad. William Still's parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled The little-known story of William Still, known as the Father of the Underground Railroad. William Still's parents escaped slavery but had to leave two of their children behind, a tragedy that haunted the family. As a young man, William went to work for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he raised money, planned rescues, and helped freedom seekers who had traveled north. And then one day, a strangely familiar man came into William's office, searching for information about his long-lost family. Could it be? Motivated by his own family's experience, William began collecting the stories of thousands of other freedom seekers. As a result, he was able to reunite other families and build a remarkable source of information, including encounters with Harriet Tubman, Henry "Box" Brown, and William and Ellen Craft.

30 review for William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad

  1. 4 out of 5

    Briar's Reviews

    Back in elementary school, the Underground Railroad was a big topic in history class. We read books, watched documentaries and film/television adaptations all about it. When I saw another book about this historical event, I really wanted to jump back into reading it. It's an important story to tell, and an intriguing one at that. This is a biography of one of the men who was a big part of the Underground Railway - if not the most important! William Still's story is crazy important and is one inc Back in elementary school, the Underground Railroad was a big topic in history class. We read books, watched documentaries and film/television adaptations all about it. When I saw another book about this historical event, I really wanted to jump back into reading it. It's an important story to tell, and an intriguing one at that. This is a biography of one of the men who was a big part of the Underground Railway - if not the most important! William Still's story is crazy important and is one incredible one. I think this is a great way to introduce the tale, especially in a picture format. I feel like this would have helped me with reading the Underground Railway chapter book way back in my youth. This Black History book is super important. I highly recommend it not only because of it's important historical context but the beautiful illustrations and great story telling that brought this book to life. Five out of five stars. Thank you to NetGalley and Peachtree Publishing Company for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Yaritza

    A powerful story at a time in history that we need to remember the mistakes of our past, so history doesn't repeat itself. We need more stories like this. This was the first time I hear about William Still. His story is profoundly powerful and his story needs to be shared with everyone. His family did a tough decision to escape from slavery and leave their older sons behind. William was born free and wanted everyone to have their freedom too. William's story shaped him to be a savior for many wh A powerful story at a time in history that we need to remember the mistakes of our past, so history doesn't repeat itself. We need more stories like this. This was the first time I hear about William Still. His story is profoundly powerful and his story needs to be shared with everyone. His family did a tough decision to escape from slavery and leave their older sons behind. William was born free and wanted everyone to have their freedom too. William's story shaped him to be a savior for many who escaped the south. He would keep notes of where people escaped from in hopes of reuniting families. He became known as " The Father of the Underground Railroad". This story was beautifully written. I loved that the author included his sources so we have more materials to read. This is a great picture book that will teach children about an iconic man that help fight against slavery and bring freedom to all.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Morris

    This is another outstanding picture book about black history and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s packed full of facts that can be used to educate older children without them becoming bored. The illustrations are vibrant and perfect for the story. I look forward to more from this author. This unbiased review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Cook

    Great presentation of an important topic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Panda Incognito

    This picture book biography shares the little-known story of William Still, a man who was involved in a variety of abolitionist activities, was a key player in the Underground Railroad, and kept written records to help reunite families. He was also a successful entrepreneur, and this brief book gives readers a glimpse into his historical context, family history, and personal accomplishments. This is a great book for both children and adults. It is deeply inspiring, even while it is honest and di This picture book biography shares the little-known story of William Still, a man who was involved in a variety of abolitionist activities, was a key player in the Underground Railroad, and kept written records to help reunite families. He was also a successful entrepreneur, and this brief book gives readers a glimpse into his historical context, family history, and personal accomplishments. This is a great book for both children and adults. It is deeply inspiring, even while it is honest and direct about the horrors of slavery and racism, and because the author provides detailed context for events instead of assuming that a reader already understands them, this is a great option for young readers who are only just beginning to learn about slavery. The author's note also provides additional details for older readers, or for parents and children to read and discuss together. There are only two things that I wish had been different. One is that even though the author mentions William Still's lost brothers several times, he never resolves the loose end regarding one of them. Even if the family never found out what happened to him, I wish that this came up in the book or in the author's note, just so that the open question would be resolved. Also, the prose is sometimes split up on the page in a way that I personally think isn't ideal for the rhythm. However, that is just my preference, and other readers may feel differently. This is a great resource about a little-known historical figure, and it also raises important questions about which other black leaders history has forgotten. The author explains that even though the Underground Railroad was a joint, cooperative effort between black and white people, subsequent histories centralized white contributions without acknowledging many of the black heroes who pioneered in these efforts. This book can be a great launching point for more reading and discovery. I received a temporary digital copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Don Tate tells the little-known story of William Still, who chronicled the lives of those who traveled the Underground Railroad, with words and pictures. Still worked with people escaping from slavery. In the course of doing his work, he serendipitously ran across his own brother who he had never met. He resolved to take notes on those he encountered who were fleeing slavery so he could help reunite families. Later the Fugitive Slave Act made this record dangerous, and Still was forced to hide t Don Tate tells the little-known story of William Still, who chronicled the lives of those who traveled the Underground Railroad, with words and pictures. Still worked with people escaping from slavery. In the course of doing his work, he serendipitously ran across his own brother who he had never met. He resolved to take notes on those he encountered who were fleeing slavery so he could help reunite families. Later the Fugitive Slave Act made this record dangerous, and Still was forced to hide the books and papers in a cemetery. Tate was inspired to tell Still's story when he read about his life in The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans, a book his mother sent him. I hope he will go on to research more of these lives and write more books for young readers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I received an electronic ARC from Peachtree Publishing Company through NetGalley. Biography of William Still for elementary level readers. Tate captures the world Still survived. He was born free but his parents and several siblings were runaway slaves. He sought to record each person who traveled through his home as part of the underground railroad as he felt strongly that their names should be recorded. Glossary and timeline of his life along with further resources are included at the end of th I received an electronic ARC from Peachtree Publishing Company through NetGalley. Biography of William Still for elementary level readers. Tate captures the world Still survived. He was born free but his parents and several siblings were runaway slaves. He sought to record each person who traveled through his home as part of the underground railroad as he felt strongly that their names should be recorded. Glossary and timeline of his life along with further resources are included at the end of the book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa D

    What a remarkable untold story of the father of the Underground Railroad! What a beautiful, heartbreaking story! This book is well written and very well researched. You can tell by reading this book, how much time this author spent on this picture book! This will win numerous awards and should be used in classrooms for black history month. Loved it! What a wonderful local author. He lives in my hometown, Austin, Texas.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margie

    Every time we hear the story of a person's life, our life story is enriched. Our connection to the world as a whole is enlarged. Our understanding of people and the places and events in their lives is better informed. Their history becomes a part of our history. There are people who quietly change the world significantly. Fortunately, we are made aware of their purpose through the adept work of children's authors and illustrators. William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Undergro Every time we hear the story of a person's life, our life story is enriched. Our connection to the world as a whole is enlarged. Our understanding of people and the places and events in their lives is better informed. Their history becomes a part of our history. There are people who quietly change the world significantly. Fortunately, we are made aware of their purpose through the adept work of children's authors and illustrators. William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad (Peachtree Publishing Company Inc., November 1, 2020) written and illustrated by Don Tate engages readers through a meticulously researched narrative and atmospheric, dramatic, and realistic illustrations. My full recommendation: https://librariansquest.blogspot.com/...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathy (Bermudaonion)

    When we think about the Underground Railroad, most people think of Harriet Tubman while William Still, the “father of the Underground Railroad,” is largely forgotten. Still’s parents were born into slavery and managed to make their way north but had to leave two sons behind when they did so. Their son William was born free and, at age 23, moved to Philadelphia where he became involved in The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, eventually becoming a stop on the Underground Railroad. When his broth When we think about the Underground Railroad, most people think of Harriet Tubman while William Still, the “father of the Underground Railroad,” is largely forgotten. Still’s parents were born into slavery and managed to make their way north but had to leave two sons behind when they did so. Their son William was born free and, at age 23, moved to Philadelphia where he became involved in The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, eventually becoming a stop on the Underground Railroad. When his brother Peter (who had been left behind by their parents) came through his home, he realized he needed to start recording the history of the people who were traveling north to freedom. I loved everything about this book! I always appreciate reading the story of an unknown or little known hero and still was exactly that. I thought the story was told in an appropriate manner for the audience - it didn’t get too graphic about slavery but it didn’t sugarcoat it either. The illustrations are fabulous too. Pick this up for the early readers in your life - it’s sure to spark some great discussions.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    More lessons learned from a picture book biography, one of my favorite genres. Harriet Tubman is the name i associate with the history of the Underground Railroad. I enjoyed learning about William Still’s life and his role in helping slaves reunite with their families.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sara (A Gingerly Review)

    Fantastic! I wish I had stories like this when I was young.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Bender

    Remarkable story about William Still and how he helped runaway slaves into Pennsylvania through the Underground Railroad. A story that I am not familiar with and should be shared with all children.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Grace Cole

    An interesting and important biography of an amazing man!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kellee Moye

    I think history education is one of the ways I was let down as a kid, so I adore when I learn about a piece of history or a historical figure that we should all know about but has been left out of “chosen” history. William Still was a huge part of abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, and the history of freed enslaved Americans. Based on Don Tate’s story, I learned that his transcription of the oral history of freedom seekers is how we know about many of the stories that are shared including Ha I think history education is one of the ways I was let down as a kid, so I adore when I learn about a piece of history or a historical figure that we should all know about but has been left out of “chosen” history. William Still was a huge part of abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, and the history of freed enslaved Americans. Based on Don Tate’s story, I learned that his transcription of the oral history of freedom seekers is how we know about many of the stories that are shared including Harriet Tubman’s and Henry Brown’s. Don Tate’s book beautifully illustrates through his artwork and words the power of William Still and his impact on our history. We are lucky to have this book out in the world! Full review with teaching tools: http://www.unleashingreaders.com/?p=2...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    A lesser known story that beautifully expands what we may already know about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    4 stars for this enlightening slice of history - just love Don Tate

  18. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    William Still is another great example of leadership in the 19th century that readers will be excited to learn about! This book chronicles his life with gorgeously colored illustrations and great point of view in each illustration. This fresh story and perspective on the Underground Railroad is a must read for all. This book is perfect to expand on ideas of civic action, Black History, and general knowledge of American History.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kirstie Myvett

    I love books about unknown or less popular persons who made a difference. William Still had the foresight to document biographical information and descriptions of the people he helped process through his work with the Underground Railroad. It’s a fascinating read about a remarkable man that overcame so much to help others. Thank you to the Peachtree Publishing and netgalley for making this ARC available.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    As is the case for many fans of history, I am always pleased when I come upon a book that tells a little-known or forgotten piece of history as this picture book biography does. I often read those sorts of books and wonder what other stories have yet to be told and consider how much more complex certain topics are than they have been presented to me/us in the past. Such is the case with the Underground Railroad, a topic that has long fascinated school children. Accompanied by expressive digital As is the case for many fans of history, I am always pleased when I come upon a book that tells a little-known or forgotten piece of history as this picture book biography does. I often read those sorts of books and wonder what other stories have yet to be told and consider how much more complex certain topics are than they have been presented to me/us in the past. Such is the case with the Underground Railroad, a topic that has long fascinated school children. Accompanied by expressive digital artwork, this account of one man's involvement with the underground journey to freedom of slaves is fascinating and adds to what we know about those times. William Still, the subject of this book, was the son of a couple who had left behind the slavery that had bound them in Maryland. Levin, William's father, purchased his freedom and headed to the North, eventually to New Jersey, while his wife, Sidney, later escaped with her two girls, leaving behind two boys. William was born later. After growing up, he moved to Philadelphia where he began working with the Anti-Slavery Society and becoming part of the Underground Railroad. When Peter, one of the sons left behind in the South, arrived at William's office, he connected the dots and realized that this was his long-lost brother. This experience prompted William to record the stories of those other individuals who were arriving in his city in search of freedom. These records contained names, ages, and skin tone and might provide clues to other family members looking to be reunited. Readers will be impressed by his attention to detail and the fact the William recorded the stories of Ellen and William Craft, Henry (Box) Brown, and even met Harriet Tubman. It's amazing that William did this sort of work for fourteen years, collecting precious stories that might otherwise have been lost. It's also inspiring that he found a way to hide those records once they became a danger to him and others after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. I had never heard of this man before reading this book; nor had I known that there actually was someone credited as being the Father of the Underground Railroad. The complexity and confusion of those times before the Civil War are described clearly here. And if those reasons listed above aren't reason enough to read this book, the note from the author about how he came to tell this story, reclaiming part of the history of this nation, will surely be enough. This picture book would fit perfectly in any classroom collection on the civil rights or social justice movements as well as one centered around the ability of one individual to make a difference in the world.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Firstly, I am SO excited that there's a picture book about William Still. The Stills family is extremely interesting and a source of pride for folks from New Jersey. William is probably the most famous of the Still brothers, and rightfully so. This book details his work with the Underground Railroad. I would recommend it for 7-9 year-olds; it's a great introduction to independent nonfiction reading. The details of slavery are necessary but a little too mature, in my opinion, for children younger Firstly, I am SO excited that there's a picture book about William Still. The Stills family is extremely interesting and a source of pride for folks from New Jersey. William is probably the most famous of the Still brothers, and rightfully so. This book details his work with the Underground Railroad. I would recommend it for 7-9 year-olds; it's a great introduction to independent nonfiction reading. The details of slavery are necessary but a little too mature, in my opinion, for children younger than 7 (the book mentions beatings and lashes—despite this, the illustrations are never remotely violent or scary). The language was very direct and the incomplete, choppy sentences didn't always work for me. However, that doesn't take away from the gorgeous artwork and from the very important story that's told. I was really impressed with both the depth and breadth of the information in this book; I've read a number of picture book biographies and none have covered a person's life from birth to death as well as this one. In addition, the direct language may be helpful for children who are just starting to learn about slavery. More flowery language might have served to obscure the subject, but I think William Still and His Freedom Stories will elucidate and inspire. If I were an elementary school teacher I'd be very excited to have this book in my classroom or school library. If I were a parent I'd happily add it to my home collection.

  22. 5 out of 5

    KidlitUnderground

    As the white parent of white/Black biracial children, we NEED more Black History stories like these. William Still's is a story of empowerment, compassion and success - not only in Civil Rights/the Underground Railroad, but in his creativity and entrepreneurial ventures. Tate paints a picture of free Black life in the 1800s Mid-Atlantic that isn't often told but needs to be: Sucking significantly less than slavery, but still far from acceptable. Just enough backmatter and historical documents to As the white parent of white/Black biracial children, we NEED more Black History stories like these. William Still's is a story of empowerment, compassion and success - not only in Civil Rights/the Underground Railroad, but in his creativity and entrepreneurial ventures. Tate paints a picture of free Black life in the 1800s Mid-Atlantic that isn't often told but needs to be: Sucking significantly less than slavery, but still far from acceptable. Just enough backmatter and historical documents to really bring William Still to life. Thank you Peachtree Publishers for the galley copy! I look forward to this book being out in the world.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Review copy: F&G via publisher This is a wonderful picture book biography that I wish had existed many years ago. There are so many people whose stories have been ignored. That is actually what this book is about though. William Still helped with the underground railroad in ways you might expect, but he also was part of the collecting and storing of the records of people who came through so people could find each other. It's a fascinating story. *Also, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is based Review copy: F&G via publisher This is a wonderful picture book biography that I wish had existed many years ago. There are so many people whose stories have been ignored. That is actually what this book is about though. William Still helped with the underground railroad in ways you might expect, but he also was part of the collecting and storing of the records of people who came through so people could find each other. It's a fascinating story. *Also, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is based on this man's life so you may see parallels.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Fascinating picture book about a Black man who was born free, and went to work for an abolishinist society, before the Civil War, where he kept meeting escaped slaves, and started to keep a list of all of them and what their new non-slave names were, and a little bit of their history. He kept this record for years, and used it, years later, to write about his experience, long after the Civil War was over. Wonderful that such a book exists. Good to know about forgotten history. Thanks to the Netgal Fascinating picture book about a Black man who was born free, and went to work for an abolishinist society, before the Civil War, where he kept meeting escaped slaves, and started to keep a list of all of them and what their new non-slave names were, and a little bit of their history. He kept this record for years, and used it, years later, to write about his experience, long after the Civil War was over. Wonderful that such a book exists. Good to know about forgotten history. Thanks to the Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    A lot of great information in this picture book regarding a lesser known figure of the underground railroad, William Still. The story starts before his birth explaining well the hardships faced by the slaves. We also learn a lot about the injustices faced even by free African-Americans. The artwork is very attractive and helps propel the story. Some great extra material at the end of the book as well rounds out this very good book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    N

    I am so glad to have learned this story. I feel like I've learned more history reading picture books for the past 2 1/2 years that I ever did in history classes. (And I had a really great teacher!) I absolutely love this movement in publishing to tell unknown or forgotten stories (or lesser-known stories) so that we can preserve this history. My students love to learn these true stories. This is beautifully told and illustrated and I cannot wait to share it with my students. I am so glad to have learned this story. I feel like I've learned more history reading picture books for the past 2 1/2 years that I ever did in history classes. (And I had a really great teacher!) I absolutely love this movement in publishing to tell unknown or forgotten stories (or lesser-known stories) so that we can preserve this history. My students love to learn these true stories. This is beautifully told and illustrated and I cannot wait to share it with my students.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    A great introduction to the remarkable, inspiring life of the man who came to be known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad." Something unrevealed in the story that I want to know is what became of the second of the two bothers Still's mother left behind when she escaped to freedom. A great introduction to the remarkable, inspiring life of the man who came to be known as the "Father of the Underground Railroad." Something unrevealed in the story that I want to know is what became of the second of the two bothers Still's mother left behind when she escaped to freedom.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. I also received an F&G from the publisher.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Virginia McGee Butler

    I’ve enjoyed what amounts to a “front row seat” for several years since the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards were brought to the Fay B. Kaigler Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Part of the pleasure has come from watching the careers of those artists as they continue and grow. Don Tate won in each category in different years and has become a prolific writer and artist. In my opinion, his newest book that came out yesterday on November 1i I’ve enjoyed what amounts to a “front row seat” for several years since the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards were brought to the Fay B. Kaigler Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. Part of the pleasure has come from watching the careers of those artists as they continue and grow. Don Tate won in each category in different years and has become a prolific writer and artist. In my opinion, his newest book that came out yesterday on November 1is his best yet from both perspectives. On the front flap and the back cover, Don says, “That’s what stories do. Protest injustice. Soothe. Teach. Inspire. Connect. Stories save lives.” Then he writes William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad and proves his point. In lyrical language, Don tells William Still’s life story with a well-researched background in the time that he lived and of his role in establishing the Underground Railroad. An example comes as he sets the tone for the book with the young William and his first effort to help an enslaved man escape: “The neighbors called him William. The boy knew every nook and cranny of the woods. William led the man to safety, Some twenty miles away. The experience defined the rest of his life.” Beginning with a brief history of his parents and William’s birth as the last of fifteen children, the account traces a difficult path to adulthood, working the Underground Railroad that includes a nice surprise, running a successful business, and eventually penning his autobiography. Don’s illustrations are equally important to the story. I found myself spending time analyzing the feelings he puts into the faces of the people. And I particularly loved his use of deep blues and purples for darkness. He makes his words and pictures blend together into a story that a grandparent and grandchildren can enjoy reading and discussing more than once. (Parents make a good substitute if no grandparent can be found.) I highly recommend this book. If you don’t have a child or grandchild near, you can always recommend it as a purchase for your local library and volunteer to read it to a young patron.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Don Tate. William Still's chance encounter with his long-lost brother changed the course of his life and those of many other African Americans striving for freedom. William Still was an African-American abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, businessman, writer, historian and civil rights activist. Tate's te William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Don Tate. William Still's chance encounter with his long-lost brother changed the course of his life and those of many other African Americans striving for freedom. William Still was an African-American abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, businessman, writer, historian and civil rights activist. Tate's text is rather simplistic, straightforward, informative, and lyrical. Graceful free verse opens on Still's family history as Tate concisely details Still’s schooling, his hiring at age 26 as the office clerk for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and a fortuitous meeting with an Underground Railroad passenger that led Still to transcribe the stories of each freedom seeker he met. Backmatter includes a timeline, author's note, and bibliography. Textural digital illustrations and expressive characters punctuate the affecting text. The premise of the book is rather straightforward. Levin and Sidney Steel escaped enslavement in Maryland – the former by buying his freedom, the latter by escaping with the couple's two daughters, but their two sons were left behind. Reuniting and changing their name to Still, the couple grew their family in New Jersey, until William was born in 1821 as the youngest of fifteen children. All in all, William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad brings deserved attention to the life of a man who dedicated himself to recording the lives of others.

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