Marcia Strykowski

New Picture Books for 2022!

Time to catch up on some picture books I’ve recently reviewed. Thanks to Candlewick Press for sharing these first three newly released (or nearly released!) books with me for an early sneak peek and in turn, a heads-up for my readers, too.

FIRSTS AND LASTS: THE CHANGING SEASONS is written by Leda Schubert and is illustrated by Clover Robin. Candlewick Press, 2022. This is a gentle lyrical book with an old-fashioned appeal for ages 4 to 8. Gorgeous cut paper illustrations portray the firsts and lasts of each season and the way they overlap into the next time period. For example, “the last time we wear flannel pajamas” is the gradual changing of winter into spring. And “the first time we wash the car” is one of several activities and observations announcing the arrival of summer towards the end of spring. Great for all audiences, especially young ones learning about the passing of time and seasons of the year.

THIS IS A SCHOOL is written by John Schu and is illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison for ages 4 to 8. Candlewick Press, 2022. This is a wonderful story of inclusion and how each of us is important in making up an entire community. Despite their different backgrounds, all the children depicted in this fun, learning environment are equally needed to make up the classroom of students we follow from page to page. With each word and illustration, the necessity of each participant is apparent whether they happen to be working or playing together. Great for library and school purchases.

AT THE POND is written by David Elliott and is illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford for ages 3 to 7. Candlewick Press, 2022. Absolutely gorgeous! The lyrical words and beautiful illustrations bring equal brilliance to this perfect picture book. Some of the words will be new to young readers but this brings even more to the experience of hearing the story read aloud while exploring the detailed pictures. There are additional fun notes about the plants and animals in the back matter. Highly recommended for all ages!

As always, a wonderful collection of Candlewick books, but I also have a bonus book from Yeehoo Press to add to this post. I was happy to win a copy of this debut picture book on Ellen Leventhal‘s blog.

THE HAPPIEST KID is written by Sarah Bagley Steele with illustrations by Elsa Pui Si Lo and Clarice Yunyi Cai. This is a beautifully written picture book for ages 4 to 8. Yeehoo Press, 2022. Without being didactic, the story sends a strong message to children of all ages about how it’s okay to sometimes feel sad. Sally is a thoughtful main character who cares about others’ feelings and doesn’t want to burden them with her sadness. Even though she’s feeling down, she isn’t mad (except at the cloud!) or blaming others for her sadness. By the end, with the help of a new friend, she becomes brave enough to share her feelings. The illustrations are bright and lively and as fresh as a new box of crayons. Sally’s facial expressions throughout are adorable. A lovely book with a surprise second cover underneath the book jacket.

Oh goodie, I’ve got one more brand new book to share, this one from Beaming Books!

SOME DADDIES is written by Carol Gordon Ekster and is illustrated by Javiera MacLean Alvarez. Beaming Books, 2022. This is a super fun book where kids can see which fathers remind them most of their own dads, family or found—from huggers and jokesters to quiet consolers. There’s sure to be giggles as the wide variety of quirky characters reminds kids of the men in their own lives. This makes for a popular story-time choice for youngsters aged 4 to 7. Just in time for Father’s Day, Some Daddies releases to the public on May 17th. Check out Carol’s website for launch events!

Library Community Read

A group of our local libraries are doing an important community read where a great many people all read the same books on a chosen subject.

The first book we read–They Called Us Enemy by George Takei with gorgeous illustrations by Harmony Becker– led to a great book club discussion. There were 15 attendees at our location. We were a hybrid version, which means some participate virtually on a big screen while others attend in-person. After sharing thoughts about this well-done graphic novel, we decided one small way we could perhaps help prevent history from stupidly repeating itself over and over again is to spread the word about books like this one. It was sadly shocking how little most of us knew about these appalling American concentration camps of the 1940s. I’d recommend for ages 12+up.

Here’s what the publisher [Penquin Random House] wrote about They Called Us Enemy:

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

The next book on our reading list is Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Although I really enjoyed listening to Jamie’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes, I never found time to read his blockbuster debut hit, despite already owning a copy, so I’m excited to dig in. I’ll be starting the audio version on my commutes this week which always brings even more to the story. Also, Jamie will be speaking locally in May which should be interesting, an event I’m looking forward to. And again, I’m sure our book club will have a lot to discuss at the meeting that follows soon after. Below from the publisher’s website:

Author JAMIE FORD characterizes his interest in Seattle’s historic Nihonmachi and Chinatown as a “fascination.” The central idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet grew out of a conversation Ford had with his father about an “I Am Chinese” button that his father wore as a child in the 1940s. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Chinese families in Seattle feared for their safety, as respected members of the Japanese American community were being interrogated by the FBI regarding the nature of their connections to Japan, a declared enemy of the United States during World War II. Ford’s interest in his father’s “I Am Chinese” button inspired him to write a short story of the same name, which eventually became a chapter in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. In the course of his historical research for another story, Ford encountered an article about the belongings of interned Japanese families found in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Seattle. After an on-site visit to Seattle in which he was able to see these relics firsthand, Ford expanded the story in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to one about a Chinese boy and his Japanese friend who confront the specter of internment at an especially poignant time in their young friendship.

The library’s nonfiction book group is reading Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown. I’ve heard this is a powerful read and unlike They Called Us Enemy which is written from a child’s point of view, true atrocities of war are described in this well-done adult work. Below, a blurb from Viking Books:

In the days and months after Pearl Harbor, the lives of Japanese Americans across the continent and Hawaii were changed forever. In this unforgettable chronicle of war-time America and the battlefields of Europe, Daniel James Brown portrays the journey of Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho, who volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were deployed to France, Germany, and Italy, where they were asked to do the near impossible. Brown also tells the story of these soldiers’ parents, immigrants who were forced to submit to life in concentration camps on U.S. soil. Woven throughout is the chronicle of Gordon Hirabayashi, one of a cadre of patriotic resisters who stood up against their government in defense of their own rights. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best—striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring.

I’m adding one more book to this group even though it’s not part of our community read. A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata is a beautifully written novel, mostly aimed at ages 10-14. It received many awards along with major five-starred reviews. Here’s a note from Simon & Schuster:
A Japanese American family, reeling from their ill treatment in the Japanese imprisonment camps, gives up their American citizenship to move back to Hiroshima, unaware of the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb in this piercing and all too relevant look at the aftermath of World War II by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.

That’s a wrap! I hope you enjoy one or more of these books and in sharing what you’ve learned can help subtly spread the word about major mistakes done to fellow human beings.

2022 ALA Youth Media Awards

Everyone’s been talking about the latest American Library Association awards for last year’s children’s books. It’s a great honor for authors and illustrators to show an ALA award sticker on their books. From the announcement date on, sales skyrocket. Here are some of the highlights.

Winner of the 2022 Newbery Medal is The Last Cuentista, written by Donna Barba Higuera, and published by Levine Querido.

Four Newbery Honor Books were also chosen: Red, White, and Whole, written by Rajani LaRocca and published by Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; A Snake Falls to Earth, written by Darcie Little Badger and published by Levine Querido; Too Bright to See, written by Kyle Lukoff and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House; and Watercress, written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin and published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House.

The 2022 Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children goes to Watercress, illustrated by Jason Chin, written by Andrea Wang and published by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Yep, this one won a place in the Newbery awards and grabbed the top prize Caldecott Medal! After reading one of the comments on this post about whether any of these books were (or will be) banned, I happened to read an SLJ article. It ends with a quotation from Jason Chin, winning illustrator of the Caldecott. He says: “I am really, really grateful that librarians are such advocates for diversity of representation and fighting against censorship, and for free speech and artistic expression.”

Four Caldecott Honor Books were also chosen: Have You Ever Seen a Flower? illustrated and written by Shawn Harris and published by Chronicle Books; Mel Fell, illustrated and written by Corey R. Tabor and published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group; and Wonder Walkers, illustrated and written by Micha Archer and published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.

Both Coretta Scott King Book Awards recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults went to Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper and published by Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. Just to note, Floyd Cooper passed away last August. If only he could have known about the impressive awards he would receive for his gorgeous work. This book was also a Siebert honor book.

The Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement went to Nikki Grimes! I heard her give a powerful presentation at the School Library Journal Day of Dialogue in Cambridge, MA a couple of years ago. For more info about that, click here.
The Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award recognizes an author or entity who has made a substantial contribution over time to the genre of Jewish children’s literature. This year’s winner is Jane Yolen, yay, well deserved! To revisit a special time I spent with Jane, click here.
And last but definitely not least, the Children’s Literature Legacy Award recipient is Grace Lin! A perfect choice for this award that honors one author or illustrator who has made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences. Click here for a new two-part interview with Grace on the fabulous Writers’ Rumpus blog.

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults goes to Firekeeper’s Daughter, written by Angeline Boulley and is published by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Four Printz Honor Books were also named.

The Schneider Family Book Award is for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience. The first award (for ages 0-8) goes to: My City Speaks, written by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron and published by Kids Can Press Ltd.
The middle grade Schneider award goes to: A Bird Will Soar, written by Alison Green Myers and published by Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.
And for young adults we have: Words in My Hands, written and illustrated by Asphyxia and published by Annick Press, Ltd.

Wow, what a great bunch of books. The above winners cover less than half of the awards and categories, to see the full list please click here.

CONGRATULATIONS to all who crafted beautiful books this past year!

A New Year

I’m fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to post something, ANYTHING, on this blog. It’s been quite a few months now and I miss keeping in touch with you all. What can I say, my mind has been elsewhere. Like many of you, I’m sure, it’s been a couple of years of ups and downs. Thank goodness for light moments sprinkled here and there, bringing hope during dark times. I don’t think any of us could ever have imagined the pandemic lasting this long, and with still no end in sight.

As for writing, several of my peers have sadly given up hope of ever fulfilling their dreams. Other fortuitous friends are newly excited about writing because working from home has brought them more time to be creative. And still others are reaching their goals, launching debut books, but virtually, alone in their room making merry when they should be out shaking hands and greeting fans.

I’m still keeping my mind quite full of book interests, whether it be carefully-spaced in-person gatherings during warmer weather, virtual events, or just studying all the internet has to offer on my own. Writers and illustrators who create for children have always been generous in sharing their experience and knowledge and now they are doing so more than ever. If only we all had enough time to participate in the vast array of current offerings. There are workshops, book launches, webinars, and so many other good ideas. If you subscribe to the Writers Rumpus blog you’ll hear about these opportunities and more.

I’m extremely thankful to know and be a part of Writers Rumpus—a fabulous group of writers—and I was thrilled to take part in a post a while back where several middle grade authors picked either an old favorite book or a more recent one. I chose one hot-off-the-press! You can check out the post here.

Also, I’ve recently participated in this rather new venture where authors promote one of their books while also promoting five books written by others, all of the same theme. Here’s a description from their website: Shepherd is like wandering around your favorite bookstore but reimagined for the online world. And here’s my Roller Boy page.  

While you’re on the Shepherd site, you might as well scroll through the other pages. A great many books of all kinds are already in place for browsing!

Otherwise, not too much happening book-wise; publishing is a hard nut to crack these days and time is limited, but I do have my fingers crossed and many projects in the works, so please stay tuned. To those still reading, I wish you a wonderful year filled with good surprises. Be gentle on yourself and on each other. Then again, I can’t think of a single reader with an interest in children’s books who wouldn’t be kind to others!

I’ll end with a poem written by Laura Kelly Fanucci of Minnesota. I don’t know her, but her poem caught my eye when it went viral a couple of years ago. Yep, that’s how long we’ve been dealing with all this, but like Laura says, maybe we’ll come out stronger in the end.

“When this is over, may we never again take for granted

A handshake with a stranger

Full shelves at the store

Conversations with neighbors

A crowded theater

Friday night out

The taste of communion

A routine checkup

The school rush each morning

Coffee with a friend

The stadium roaring

Each deep breath

A boring Tuesday

Life itself.

When this ends

may we find

that we have become

more like the people

we wanted to be

we were called to be

we hoped to be

and may we stay

that way — better

for each other because of the worst.”

Spring Fling Contest Entry

Rules include finding or making a GIF and then writing a short children’s story to go with it—maximum word count = 150. The crocus picture is from bestanimations.com and the caterpillar is Anardi’s at gifer.com. I combined them (my first homemade gif attempt!) by using giphy.com

My entry for the Spring Fling KidLit Contest:

STILL SLOAN
by Marcia Strykowski

A crinkly-skinned critter crawls across the crocus patch.

“Who are you?” chirps a cranky cricket named Frank.

The newcomer smiles. “I’m Sloan.”

Frank admires the creature’s smile but he doesn’t trust her.

“Did you say Slug?” Frank fills with fear.

“No, my name is…” Sloan’s words disappear when Frank shouts.

“Slugs are slimy!” Frank scurries away.

Feeling sad and misunderstood, Sloan snoozes beneath a leaf.

Shaded from sunlight, Sloan swings and spins.

Day turns to night and night turns to day, again and again.

Frank frets from far away. Safe, but lonely.

One day, Frank sees a beautiful butterfly flutter past.

“Who are you?” he calls. 

The butterfly smiles.

“Well, I’ll be,” chirps Frank. “I know that smile!”

Sloan soars beyond the sky.

Frank follows with his eyes, then sighs.

“How I wish I’d given her a chance.”

Sloan swoops back into view. “It’s never too late to be friends!”

Creative Walking on Writers’ Rumpus

I’ve got a new post up on the wonderful Writers’ Rumpus blog!

You can check it out here: Creative Walking  Hope you like it.

Gardening During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like many others, my life has changed during the COVID-19 virus. One thing I’ve found a wee bit of time for is gardening. All thanks to a friendly woman who gave me a box of 80 seed pods on my way out of Stop & Shop. It was my first time going to this particular food store and I was leery of whether it was safe to do so during the height of the pandemic. It can take longer when you don’t know your way around a new store, especially when following floor arrows and peeking out from behind a mask. After grabbing a few necessities, I was anxious to get out of the store and on my way. I paused in the lobby entrance in search of an antiseptic wipes station. There didn’t seem to be any, but as I glanced over to the other side of the exit door, a big box of seeds was thrust into my hands. I carefully put them in my trunk, washed up, and then grinned. The adventure had been successful after all. I gave bunches of seed pods away to friends and family, but still had many more for myself, so it was time to start planting. I planted turnips, carrots, cherry tomatoes, kale, basil, thyme, and parsley. I’ve since moved a few tomatoes and cucumbers outside. My broccoli and eggplant never came up. Not exactly book news, but here’s a little photo display featuring my cucumber plant in particular.
The brown disc is actually soil. You add water and it immediately expands into enough soil to fill the little pot!
The start of my cucumber! Later I transferred it to a sunny yellow pot.
Above is a closeup of my basil and parsley.
All together, three cucumber plants came up, but two are now outside.
To end with a book, this one seems to be doing quite well. It explores the ups and downs of gardening.


That’s all for now. Hope everyone is doing okay and keeping safe.

Early September Update:
Although many of my sprouts didn’t do too well outside in the heat, I did get some nice basil.
Also decided to check my cucumber plant a few days ago.I figured there might be some miniature pickle-sized cukes under the leaves. But what should appear but four giant cucumbers. What a surprise!


 

National Library Week & Writing News

First off—Happy National Library Week—April 19-25, 2020

Libraries have so much to offer, even from the comfort of your own home. Have you checked your local library’s online offerings? From story-times to downloadable books, movies, magazines, audiobooks, and music, there’s something for everyone.

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve had trouble concentrating on my work during these unsettling times, but fortunately my previous pieces are still making their way through the world. It’s always a nice surprise to receive author copies (and a check!) for long ago work that’s been reprinted, such as this article and illustration for “Fun for Kidz.”

I was even more thrilled to have an article in the current March/April issue of the American Association of School Librarians journal: “Knowledge Quest.” These author/illustrator columns are in collaboration with the Children’s Book Council and it was a real honor to be chosen for this opportunity. Thanks to the Fitzroy Books team who, because of their membership in the CBC, suggested I send in a sample of writing to the journal for consideration.

For a sneak peek at what I’m currently working on, here’s a virtual background I made, with hopes I could use it during a writing group meeting where we’d be discussing my work-in-progress—a historical fiction novel. Unfortunately, the background didn’t work out for our Zoom meeting, but now I get to share it here instead, so all is well. You’ll just have to imagine my head sitting next to the goat’s head. 🙂 A picture of our meeting is in my last post. Two other members were more successful with using virtual backgrounds.

In other news, I recently came in fourth place (1st, 2nd, 3rd, plus an Honorable Mention) in an Institute of Children’s Literature contest—a wonderful surprise—as well as extra inspiration that my latest project is headed in the right direction.

Other than these bright spots, for which I’m grateful, I’m still slugging away on my current picture book and middle grade manuscripts. Hope you, too, are finding times when your brain is quiet enough to create.

Thanks for catching up with me and leaving comments on my last post. I’ve missed being as visible in the blogging community, but even though I’m not always actively posting, I’m still keeping tabs on you all. Best wishes for continued good health.

 

 

Staying Home

Hi there!

It’s been way too long that I’ve let my little blog go unattended and I figured it was time to check in. I also plan to click on all my favorite blogs and make sure everyone is safe. I’m curious to find out how you’ve been keeping sane and what you’ve been doing to pass the time.

Life is certainly different these days. For most of us, our main concern is how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy. Even though, in some ways, there might be more time, if you’re like me, I find myself with much less ability to focus. Instead of working, I’m scrolling through COVID-19 updates, hoping against hope that this pandemic will soon be over.

Meanwhile, I’m also making a few masks, helping my mom donate a large collection of fabric to the cause, and trying not to focus entirely on the news.

A bright spot during my weeks is virtually chatting with friends and colleagues. Here, for example, is my critique group. We did quite well, considering we are such a large group. Everyone was polite and observant of speaking one at a time, and as always, the feedback from this talented group is amazing!During this strange time, I also enjoy walking, as I’m sure many of you are doing, either alone, or six feet apart from friends.

From Pexels on Pixabay

From ZoeGammon on Pixabay

I guess all we can do is keep our distance and help those who need us. Keep walking toward those brighter days ahead and many many thanks to all those working on the frontlines!

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I truly hope all my blog readers are safe and healthy. Hang in there, we’ll get through this.

Next up, some writing news!

New Candlewick Press Books

I haven’t blogged about new children’s books in a while and when I received these first two in the mail to review I knew it was time for a special post. For reasons stated below, this post will be dedicated to Candlewick Press. Here’s a bit of history from their website:

In 1992, Candlewick Press opened its doors as an independent children’s publisher, and we remain an independent publisher today. As part of Walker Books Group, Candlewick Press enjoys a unique ownership structure which includes more than 75 of the employees in our US office, staff in our UK and AUS offices, plus more than 150 authors and illustrators.

Candlewick Press arrived on the scene with some of the highest-quality picture books anywhere. And in the years since then, our offerings have grown to encompass all ages, from board books to e-books, high-end novelty to cutting-edge fiction. What hasn’t changed is our goal of excellence, our model of independence, and our commitment to the authors and illustrators who create our books and the readers who love them.
Two decades and more than 2,000 awards and accolades later, we are as committed as ever to independent thinking and primed for a future that looks brighter than ever.

First up we have two super duper board books from Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press.

100 First Words illustrated by Edward Underwood is a huge 9 ½” by 11 ½” fourteen-page book loaded with flaps to lift. Under each flap is an unexpected surprise along with a new word. For example, a hidden owl peeks through a window behind a pair of curtains. This brightly illustrated book is perfect for infants up through toddlers and is a step up from smaller books of a similar theme. SPOILER ALERT! A group of pedestrians (and a dog) smiling up at the bus passing by is hidden under the bus flap in the below picture.

Alphabet Street written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius is also a large board book—8” x 12”—and when this fold-out book is fully opened it spreads to an amazing eight feet wide! Each page features a new shop with two big flaps for little fingers to open, revealing more delightful illustrations and words underneath. This fun book would make a clever backdrop for imaginative play with small dolls and/or cars. A pretty ribbon keeps the book shut for travel or storage.

In my usual big stack of new picture books that arrived at my library I noticed a pattern. Not only did there happen to be four books about a grandfather and his grandchild, but three with that particular theme were by Candlewick. With each monthly order, this publisher continuously stands out. What else could I do but decide this would be a Candlewick post. So here’s to beautiful books and grandfathers everywhere!

Our Favorite Day was written and illustrated by Joowon Oh. A debut author/illustrator, Joowon has created the sweetest book ever! The simple story of the strong bond between grandparent and child is gorgeously illustrated with a combination of cut paper, water color, and gouache. The expressions of love between the characters plus their surprise activity makes for a beautiful well thought out story you’ll want to read over and over again. 

Looking for Yesterday was written and illustrated by Alison Jay. A young boy tries a variety of impossible methods to repeat the day he experienced the day before. Lovely story of a grandfather who teaches his grandson about the importance of enjoying each new day while still maintaining fond memories of past adventures. Illustrations were created using alkyd oil paints. 

Grandpa’s Top Threes was written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. Main character Henry misses the closeness he shared with his grandfather, but then helps him through the grieving process in a way only children can do. Illustrations were done in watercolor and assembled digitally. Also, the style of the type caught my eye in this book; the font is called Mountains of Christmas. 🙂

That’s a wrap. Wrap yourself up cozy and enjoy these delightful books!

 

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