Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do What Dogs Do! Yip! Snap! Yap! by Charles Fuge

Bark along with rowdy dog. . .

Then turn the page and join more pups
As they do doggy stuff!

Greedy dogs gulp, sleepy dogs snore, itchy dogs scritch scratch, guard dogs growl, hot dogs slurp and lap, and puppies howl AROOOOO! at the moon.

Charles Fuge's brand-new Yip! Snap! Yap! (Sterling, 2010) shows all kinds of dogs--Boston terriers, dachshunds, bull terriers, and bloodhounds, to name a few--doing all those things that dogs do so well in this engagingly illustrated little board book for young dog lovers. The text is minimal, but the vibrant and lively canine characters are all as cute as a speckled pup! Bright enough for the lap-sit crowd and easy enough for the beginning reader, this one is just a doggone good romp through canine quarters.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Changes, Changes: Changing States by Will Hurd

The fourth state of matter?

Will Hurd's Changing States: Solids, Liquids, and Gases (Do It Yourself) (Heinemann, 2009) takes the reader through an engaging and unusually cogent discussion of the usual three states of matter--solid, liquid, gas--which begins with marbles in a jar and amplifies the discussion with experiments demonstrating the effects of heat and agitation upon the atoms and molecules which make up matter and which cause readily observable changes in their states.

Hurd spends a good part of his text on the basics of physical change, the necessary jumping-off point for the study of elementary science and common sense activities in daily life. Particularly apropos is his example of the similarities and differences between two familiar objects:

For example, a golf ball and a ping-pong ball are about the same size. They take up about the same amount of space, so they have about the same volume. Even though the golf ball and the ping-pong ball have about the same volume, the golf ball is heavier. There is more matter in a golf ball. A golf ball's mass is greater than that of a ping-pong ball.

Concentrating upon the particular behavior of water, the author has designed activities in which the familiar processes of freezing, boiling, melting, and even sublimation, (in which ice cubes in a freezer go from solid to gas without passing through the liquid state) produce changes in physical state. Held also covers the water cycle as an everyday experience which illustrates these changing states of water.

Chemical change is a bit harder to present to elementary students, and Held offers an activity in which the mixing of vinegar and baking soda inflates a balloon with the carbon dioxide gas produced by the chemical change produced by the interaction. Another example includes oxidation in the process of rust and of burning.

And that intriguing fourth state of matter? Held points to the flame produced by combustion as an illustration of that tricky state--"the fourth state of matter called plasma, defined as "a gas that has an electrical charge" as found in flame, lightning, the sun--and the familiar plasma television set. In closing Held even introduces readers to the even greater mystery in the science of physical states--the posited existence of so-called "dark matter" throughout the universe.

Detailed instructions and illustrations for correlated activities, clear explanations, and ample color photographs make this title an interesting. engaging, and hands-on explanation of this subject for elementary science students to expand classroom activities and inspire science projects. Some other related titles in Heinemann Library's excellent Do It Yourself series include Experiments with Light (Do It Yourself), Magnets: Magnetism (Do It Yourself), Gravity (Do It Yourself), and Experiments With Sound: Explaining Sound (Do It Yourself).

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Just Say No?: No! by David McPhail

David McPhail, known as the author/illustrator of beloved stories about lovable bears, toy and otherwise, has taken on the sticky subject of human aggression in his beautifully illustrated allegory, No! (Roaring Brook Press, 2009).

The title page shows a young boy sealing his letter which we have already seen him writing to "The President." Out into a generic street of row houses, beneath a blue sky, the boy walks as overhead, war planes fly and drop bombs on a distant house. Daunted, the boy looks back but continues resolutely to walk, passing armored police harassing the elderly proprietor of "Ben's Eats," and marching storm troopers. Glancing fearfully but plodding on, the boy passes these same soldiers forcing their way into the home of a frightened mother and her two children, as in the next double-page spread, a column of tanks decimate one of the houses on the street.

Finally making his way to the mailbox, the boy finds his way blocked by a bigger boy, a bully who shoves him away and knocks off his cap. The boy has had enough.

"No!" he says.

"No?" responds the astounded bully.


And in the way of allegories, everything is changed.

The boy mails his letter and turns around toward home, and the bully runs after him to return his cap. The blasted and bombed houses now stand intact, while the police chat with old Ben, the soldiers present gifts to the little family, and parachuting bikes drop from the now benevolent planes overhead.

The final page reveals the contents of that letter:

Dear President,

At my school we have rules. No pushing. No bumping.

Do you have any rules?

This is obviously a book to be read with an adult and followed by some discussion. Published to almost universal approval of his evocative artwork, the theme has drawn mixed reactions, some finding it a powerful statement of the proverbial quotation. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," while others find its message simplistic and inappropriate for the picture book crowd.

Yet young children need to be reminded of those pivotal nay-sayers of history. In our own national story, many come to mind: Patrick Henry, General McAuliffe's "Nuts!" to his German attackers, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks on that city bus. There is a time for the personal and community NO which, when said like we mean it, has its own power. What if, for example, enough Germans had just said nein to Hitler's imperialistic ambitions? It's worth thinking about, and McPhail's No! is a good place to start.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bad Mouthing: Moray Eel--Dangerous Teeth by Meish Goldish

All morays, whether large or small, have extremely dangerous teeth in their mouths. Most kinds have a few rows of curved teeth with tips that are as sharp as needles. The fish's throat, however, is as deadly as its mouth.

Scientists made this discovery recently, in 2007. At the University of California, researcher Rita Mehta filmed a moray eating, using high-speed video. When she played it back in slow motion, she saw something come up quickly from the fish's throat. It was a second set of jaws with sharp teeth.

Among the most popular exhibits in aquariums across the country are the fascinating giant moray eels--long, sinuous, bright-colored, popping violently from crannies with open mouths, filled with needle-like teeth. Meish Goldish's just published Moray Eel: Dangerous Teeth (Afraid of the Water), (Bearport, 2010) provides a close-up look at this amazing predator, found in shallow temperate and tropical waters around the world.

Goldish begins with a couple of pages warning of the danger morays can offer to swimmers, leading off with a case of personal attack on a young diver. Although he points out that morays are shy and rarely attack humans unless threatened, the photograph of a moray bite will remind ocean goers to keep their hands away from possible moray lairs!

The author goes on to describe the feeding habits, habitat, and life cycle of these intriguing animals. Text boxes on each page, full- and double-page spreads feature large color stills of assorted types of morays, maps, and scientific terms in boldface facilitate research and learning, and a final section, "In Case of a Bite," offers information on first aid. The text is backed up with a brief appendix, including "Other Things That Bite" (piranhas and barracudas), a glossary of terms used in the text, references and further reading, and a short index.

There is a lot of intriguing information for elementary and middle readers packed into this 24-page text, made so accessible that youngsters will devour this one like popcorn. Other titles in the Afraid of the Water series include the eye-grabbing Shark: The Shredder (Afraid of the Water).

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Coop de Grace: Bad Boys Get Henpecked by Margie Palatini

Those bad boys, Willy and Wally Wolf, were hungry.

Belly-babbling, tummy-talking, gut-grumbling hungry.

Yep. Those loopy lupines Willy and Wally Wolf are on the prowl again. This time they've got a yen for hen!

Disinclined to go chicken chasing, however, the two case the coop before the caper, ogling Mrs. Hen hard at work doing her daily chores. Obviously, this hen could use some handy help around the house, someone to kindly cope with her copious coopwork. Costuming themselves with rubber-glove coxcombs and fake beaks, voila! Willy and Wally are transformed into the Handy-Dandy Lupino Brothers, two capable capons at her service.

"Good gracious," clucked the hen. "That old rooster of mine has flown the coop and I could use some help around the house. But all I can offer to pay is mere chicken feed."

Willy winked at Wally, Wally winked at Willy.

"We work for cheep." drooled Willy.

But before they can make a move, Mrs. Hen hands them a bucket and mop, drops her apron, and with a cheery "Ta-ta!" and "Good luck!" this bird has flown.

The Lupino Bros. feel they have no choice but to fake it while they wait for their chicken dinner to check back in, grumpily working their way through the to-do list while keeping a wary eye on what seems like dozens of pesky, peeping chickies. By the time they get to the last item--"Sit on the nest"--that job is beginning to look pretty darned good to the two pooped predators.

But as the Lupinos lounge their way through sweet rest in the nest, the little peepers are up to no good, undoing all the boys' hard work, and when Mrs. Hen makes her return and sacks her lazy babysitters, the two bad boys have had about all they can take of fowl play. Postponing their finger-lickin' feast indefinitely, Willy and Wally wind up, as always, taking it on the lam and dining on a vegetarian dinner.

"I do believe I have lost my taste for chicken," said Willy.

In her latest in the Bad Boys series, Bad Boys Get Henpecked! (HarperCollins, 2009) Margie Palatini keeps the puns a-popping and the alliterations a-tumbling, while Henry Cole's hilarious illustrations of those carnivorous con men keep the action rolling right along. Previous tales of those would-be wily wolf brothers are Bad Boys and Bad Boys Get Cookie!

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Times Like These: This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

"It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality." --Anne Frank, July, 1944.

Miranda is not a prisoner of political holocaust, but rather a victim of an astronomical catastrophe caused by a meteor strike on Earth's moon, throwing the natural order into an apocalypse of tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions which turn the land and sky into a ashen gray gloom.

In the third book in her series which began with the best-selling Life As We Knew It, award-winning author Susan Beth Pfeffer shows Miranda's family surviving, huddling through the long, cold nights in one room of their house, living on meagre foodstuff from the almost moribund government and what they can scavenge from the deserted houses in their depopulated area.

Approaching the anniversary of the catastrophe, Earth, cut off from sunlight, has become a wintry world where only the strong survive. Electricity is infrequent; firewood laboriously cut by Miranda and her brothers Matt and Jon provides only enough heat to keep them from freezing; and no one knows if Earth's stores of food will hold out until the ash clouds clear enough to grow more. Knowing that there may be no future for any of them, Miranda continues to write in her secret diary, confessing her anger, her despair, and her failing hope for a better life.

Into this lifeboat existence come others. Matt returns from a fishing expedition with Syl, whom he announces is now his wife. Then Miranda's father Hal reappears with his new wife Lisa and baby, his friend Charlie, and two teenagers, Alex and Julie (the main characters in the second book, The Dead and the Gone (The Last Survivors, Book 2,) a band of strangers drawn together into clan-like bonds of mutual support. Miranda is torn between relief at having her father with them and resentment against the newcomers who drain their meagre rations. Always hungry and cold, the two groups clash and yet begin to meld into a sort of union fueled by their mutual drive to survive.

Then on a foraging expedition, Alex and Miranda discover the attic cache of food of a dead survivalist, and the group begins to hope that they will make it into summer. Drawn together, Miranda and Alex begin to develop a love for each other, and as the deep cold of winter gives way to a chilly summer, hope begins to develop that they may have a life and a future together. Hope, that "thing with feathers," stirs in Miranda. She writes...

"No matter how awful I'd had it, I realized how lucky I was. Even now, in my freezing cold closet, the only light coming from my two flashlight pens, I do understand that, in spite of everything, I'm one of the lucky ones."

But nature is not done with them. A thunderstorm turns into a tornado which demolishes most of their supplies, destroys their homes, and brings about the death of Charlie and Julie. Realizing that they cannot survive where they are, the band decides to try to walk to a distant government "safe city" where they may find a way to survive together. Hastily they gather what they can to begin the journey, and Miranda makes the decision to leave her faithfully kept diary behind:

"This is the last time I'll write in my diaries. I'm choosing not to burn them. They're witness to my story, to all our stories. If I burn them, it's like denying that Mom ever lived, or Jon or Matt or Syl. Dad and Lisa, Gabriel, ... Charlie.



I can't deny them their stories just to protect mine. My story is told."

In an unthinkable world which is nevertheless made believable, Susan Beth Pfeffer's forthcoming This World We Live In (The Last Survivors, Book 3) (Harcourt, 2010) reveals the resilience of the human heart in characters forced to make choices, almost unimaginable in our current world, but choices that we know are no strangers to the human condition. In unspoken parallels to Anne Frank's diaries, Miranda's writings tell a story with echoes of the self-discovery, growth, and inextinguishable hope that are Anne Frank's legacy, and for the modern young adult reader, the The Last Survivors series has much to say about what it means to be human.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Outback Outing: Wombat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields

Early one morning when the sun came out,
Six woolly wombats went walkabout.

They didn't see the dingo with the hungry eye.
"I have a hunch my lunch just walked by."

In Carol Shields' dandy little down-under story-in-rhyme, Wombat Walkabout, it's not hard to see where this story is going!

Hungry carnivore? Plump prey? Uh HUH!

But predicting where the story is going is half the fun. Illustrator Sophie Blackall costumes her woolly wombats and gives them jolly names (Clive, Lee, Jack, Jen, Theodore, and Pru) to set the scene, and then partly conceals the dingo amongst the foliage, providing plenty of fun for listeners to spot the hidden hunter as the story goes along bouncingly in rhyme. Shields uses a familiar plot line, with the rear wombat in the single file expedition disappearing as he or she stops for a closer look at the scenery. Finally the walkabout wanderers are down to two, Jen and Jack:

Two woolly wombats, Jen and Jack,
Thought it awfully quiet so they looked back.
No little wombats? That's no good!
They jumped off the track and hid in the wood.

But the remaining two are resourceful little marsupials who figure out what's going on here, and quickly constructing a concealed deadfall trap with Jen as the delectable decoy on the other side, soon attract the dingo, carrying a suspiciously full and wigglesome swag bag.

"That bloke's got our mates! We've got to get them out!"

CRA--ACK! The dingo goes down and Jen and Jack help their friends out of the bag, and the six woolly wombats are soon gleefully on their walkabout way, this time providentially making use of the buddy system.

Six woolly wombats, good as new!
Walk along together, two by two.

No time for an outing to Australia? Pair this one with Charles Fuge's Where To, Little Wombat? or his latest in the series, Watch Out, Little Wombat! for a double down-under delight.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Posy Parable: Rose's Garden by Peter H. Reynolds

Rose was a dreamer, an adventurer.

But when Rose is done with her voyages across oceans and through many lands, she sails home in her seaworthy teapot, bringing with her the seeds she has gathered from each port and place she visits.

"It's time to plant my garden," she said.

Rose sails up river into the heart of a busy seaport town, where, amid the bustle and press of many old buildings she comes upon a spot that needs her work.

There she found a dusty, forgotten stretch of earth.

"Hmmm." Rose pondered. "This little patch needs some color."

But things do not go well. A flock of hungry birds pilfer her cache of precious seeds, leaving only a few remnants scattered around. And when Rose carefully prepares the soil for these few seeds and trusts them to the ground, the rain is first too heavy and then too sparse. Dry hot summer is followed by frozen winter, and although Rose waits patiently, spring does not bring the hoped-for seedlings. Rose's hopes seem forlorn.

One day a girl approached Rose with a gift. It was a paper flower.

"I made it myself for your garden," the girl said.

Rose places the bright paper flower into the emptiness of her unrealized garden, and soon other children, each with a homemade flower, bring their creations and tell her their stories, until the barren earth is ablaze with color. Rose then hears the sound of a bee and sees that among the paper flowers is a real flower, growing from the soil she tilled so patiently. Soon living blooms crowd her garden.

Rose realized that her travels were over, and she was home. Home in this amazing garden--this splash of color in the middle of a great city.

Peter H. Reynolds' Rose's Garden (Candlewick, 2009) is an inventive parable inspired by the public greenway which grew out of the barren land emerging from the demolition of the overhead highway during Boston's "big dig." Freed from the darkness of interstate flyovers, this patch of land, now open to the sun and a view of the waters of Boston Bay, is dedicated to the memory of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Reynolds latest is "a tribute to Rose Kennedy, a woman who planted her own perennial garden."

Peter Reynolds is noted as the illustrator of the very popular Judy Moody series and his own books, among them the best-selling Someday, Ish, and The Dot. (Irma S and James H Black Honor for Excellence in Children's Literature (Awards))

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Enter the Anti-Nancy: Too Purpley! by Jean Reidy



Some mornings, no matter what the wardrobe has to offer, nothing will work. In Jean Reidy's new schoolday dressing saga, Too Purpley! (Bloomsbury, 2010), our young anti-fashionista finds fault with every outfit her mother offers. Everything in her closet is TOO something. Dotty, zippery, stripey, flowery--nothing feels or looks just right. The power of an all-wrong outfit even transforms her walls and toys into everything about the faulty frock she rejects. The reader holds her breath until the final outfit finally makes the cut! Ah! Perfect! With her matching knapsack, our plain Jane is at last bouncing off to school on the that big yellow bus!

Genevieve Leloup's cartoon-style kindergartner's little round face registers all emotions as she goes through one ensemble after another proffered by her long-sufering mom. Kids and moms will both find a giggle at these over-the-top outfits and recognize the all-too-familiar dressing dilemma in this funny and insightful little story.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun on the Web: An Australian Outback Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure by Rebecca and Donald Wojahn

Your small plane flies over the Outback just as morning breaks. Out the window, you see huge expanses of red earth. Nothing else as far as you can see. The Outback is the inner region of the country of Australia. It is one of the flattest and driest places on Earth.

Such a desolate view sounds as devoid of all life as a Marscape. But this barren landscape is home to a fascinating web of rare and exotic animals with their own closely interconnected society, each relying on the others for their very life.

Dying of thirst in a place where good rains may be years apart? There's the water-holding frog which can form a cocoon-like covering of new skin, burrow underground, and wait--for years if need be--for the next rain. Find one and you've found a quick quencher. Or if you are a predator with opposable thumbs and a tool-making brain (that would be us,) you can tap a baobab's thick trunk and have a life-saving draft.

If digging out a cocooned frog or drilling through steel-like bark is not your thing, perhaps your body can learn to recycle your own water supply, like the spectacled hare-wallaby, who can recycle the moisture from his own cooling panting back to his stomach and who is also blessed with the natural world's most efficient kidneys.

Australia is famous for its animal oddities--egg-laying mammals like the echidna, the fearsome saltwater crocodile, and the eucalyptus-loving koala, and Rebecca and Donald Wojahn's An Australian Outback Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure (Follow That Food Chain) (Lerner, 2009) is filled with lavish color photographs of these various Outback animals in action in their challenging environment, each intriguing entry providing more than enough fascinating facts for those elementary research reports or for an awesome animal adventure between the book's covers.

But there is an interactive feature which will further attract reluctant reader-scholars. Subtitled A Who-Eats-What Adventure, the book invites kids to select one of four tertiary consumers--a dingo, saltwater croc, wedge-tailed eagle, or Gould's monitor--in the familiar choose-your-own ending format, and track this predator's food chain through secondary consumers and primary consumers to the producers and decomposers who make its daily diet available. In another link to the interactive video game model, some choices lead to a DEAD END when the dietary endeavor ends in a gravely endangered or extinct Outback resident, (a gustatory GAME OVER, so to speak).

The book's design makes its generous information easily accessible with flow charts, diagrams, and informational text boxes placed throughout the text and with boldface type for animal names and scientific terms introduced in the text and repeated in the glossary. Other items in the backmatter include "Further Reading and Websites," "Selected Bibliography," and an index.

In addition to such stalwarts of ecology studies such as A Desert Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in North America (Follow That Food Chain), the excellent Follow that Food Chain series includes such exotic ecologies as A Galapagos Island Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure (Follow That Food Chain) and A Mangrove Forest Food Chain: A Who-Eats-What Adventure in Asia (Follow That Food Chain).

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Plant a Single Tree: Mama Miti: Wangari Manthai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli







Multiple award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli's latest, Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya, (Simon & Schuster, 2010) uses simple language to tell the story of Kenya's Wangari Manthai, a "wise woman" whose work began a program of reforestration in Kenya. Napoli starts her narrative with a folkloric introduction going back to ancient times:
Creatures suffered. Plants wilted. People fought.

So the men held ceremonies under Magumo--the spreading sacred fig--and the skies blessed them with the shimmering rains to slake their thirst and water their farms.

Remembering the old stories, Wangari saw that restoring the trees which had been lost over the centuries would solve many of her nation's basic problems.

A woman came... Her daughters stood beside her, thin as ropes.

"My daughters and I walk hours each day to find firewood to cook with," said the poor woman. "It takes so long. We have no time for anything else. What can we do?"

Wangari said, "These arms are strong. Here are seedlings of the mukinduri. This tree makes good firewood. Plant as many as you can."

There are many places on earth where deforestration, resulting simply from the human search for firewood, building materials, and cleared land for crops, has had serious consequences. Wangari's simple lesson, for each individual to plant as many new trees as possible, perhaps seems simplistic, but it has proved effective in Kenya and offers long-term benefit to nations such as Haiti, where deforestration has produced catastrophic mudslides and forced the population to rely on construction with concrete, sensible for hurricane protection, but potentially deadly in case of earthquake.

The Caldecott-award winning artist Kadir Nelson provides strong and evocative illustrations which make this book an appealing teaching resource for Earth Day, Arbor Day, or any time when ecological units of study focus on personal activity and responsibility for their own environment.

As the old sayings go, "A journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step" and "It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." Anyone can help plant a tree and each tree can make a difference.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Babysitters' Club: Sitting Duck by Jackie Urbanovic

"Babysitting is easy!" said Brody. Our only job will be to keep her out of trouble."

"Sure," said Max. "How much trouble could a puppy get into, anyway?"

"Out the back door, QUICK!" yelled Bebe.

Most of Irene's furred and feathered pets speedily fly the coop when they hear that babysitting sheepdog Brody's rambunctious niece Anabel is on the day's docket. Brody and mallard Max are confident, however, that they have the right stuff to handle Anabel's puppy capers.

"Hiya! Hiya! Let's PLAY!" shouted Anabel.

And play they do. Anabel wraps Uncle Brody in most of a roll of toilet paper in her idea of "dress up," and Uncle Max gets plunked into the stockpot in a reprise of "Duck Soup," while Anabel plays chef. Playing ball takes out a vase and a couple of lamps. Taking in the ruins of Irene's living room and kitchen, Max opts for some outdoor exercise for the still energetic Anabel while Brody finishes her "nap" for her.

Max nixes swinging and swimming with the burly Anabel, but bouncing on the trampoline seems safe, right? But Anabel again gets boisterous, and her biggest bounce takes her so high that she finds herself snagged on a tree limb high above the trampoline. It's time for Max to call in the reserves, and Irene's little family of adopted shelter pets convenes for a creative rescue.

In her fourth installment with that manic mallard Max, Urbanovic's expressive illustrations carry the day in Sitting Duck (Harper, 2010). The final double-page spread hilariously shows the exhausted Brody somnolent amidst the seriously disheveled den, the finally recumbent Anabel snoozing on the floor, the maxed-out mallard Max snoring on her warm and furry tummy, and their long-suffering owner Irene, just home from work, musing over the mayhem.

Previous rib-ticklers in this series are Duck at the Door, Duck Soup, and most recently Duck and Cover.

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