Guest host Julie Chavez interviews New York Times bestselling author Luvvie Ajayi Jones about Little Troublemaker Makes a Mess, a funny, sweet, and brightly illustrated children’s book about a bighearted girl with the best of intentions. Luvvie shares her book’s inspiring message (even kids who make messes are loved!), describes her collaboration with the talented Joey Spiotto (who used photos of Luvvie as a child to draw the protagonist!), and explains how she infused her Nigerian culture into the story. Finally, she reveals how she got into writing (it involves an extremely popular advice column in college) and what she is working on next!


Julie Chavez: Luvvie, thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and interviewing with me to talk about Little Troublemaker Makes a Mess. I’m so happy you’re here today.

Luvvie Ajayi Jones: Thank you so much for having me. I love Zibby’s work. I am always excited to share space with fellow lovers of knowledge.

Julie: Yes, it’s so perfect. I have to tell you that I started my day today by showering and using the sponge that I got off of your Instagram years ago at Säpo. Right? I think it’s Säpo.

Luvvie: Yeah, the Säpo sponge, two years ago.

Julie: I’m obsessed. I have, probably, eight of them now. I buy them for people all the time. I had been following you for a while. When that popped up, I was like, now I’ll do whatever she tells me to do. You sold me.

Luvvie: Listen, I have a Säpo sponge — I have a travel one.

Julie: I love both sizes. I bought the kids’ one, even. Then I’ve been using it for me. I’m so glad. We need to be exfoliated.

Luvvie: All the time. Stay smooth.

Julie: It’s perfect. I love it. I’m so glad you’re here today and that we’re both clean and prepared and ready for the interview.

Luvvie: Amen.

Julie: I wanted to talk to you, just starting off, this book — first of all, let me say I really loved it. It’s so well done. I think that kids are going to love it. The illustrations are really lively. Your text is really just right. It’s hard to do in a picture book. I’ve read thousands of them. It flows nicely. I love the relationships between the characters. There’s so much to talk about there that’s valuable. Well done.

Luvvie: That is such an amazing affirmation. I love to hear that. This is my first kids’ picture book. I will tell you, I was afraid and a little bit daunted by it in the beginning. I was like, I don’t know if I can write a kids’ book, but I ended up doing it. The fact that you’re like, it’s actually dope, I’m excited.

Julie: It’s easy to see that. I was reading it and smiling. That’s really a true test for me because I just smile at the books. I loved Little Luvvie. I connected with her. It’s so great. I wanted to talk, first of all, just about how — you are obviously a New York Times best-seller, many times over. We have I’m Judging You. You’re queen of the necessary side-eye, I would say. It is very necessary. That, and then we went to Professional Troublemaker. You have one for teens. Now we’re in the children’s space. Will you tell me a little bit about the children’s book and how you got there and how you’re feeling about it being part of this collection?

Luvvie: Little Troublemaker Makes a Mess felt so right for me to do. For a long time, I’ve wanted to show a picture of an overconfident kid who’s a girl in book form because I feel like we don’t have enough of them. In the book space, there’s just not enough that empowers girls especially. Then a brown girl like me, it really is hard to find. When I wrote Professional Troublemaker, a lot of parents were like, oh, my gosh, I wish I had this book when I was a teenager. I wrote Rising Troublemaker for the teens to give them the book and, actually, to give me the book that I needed when I was sixteen and needed to hear that being different is okay. Then I was like, you know what, the babies also need to hear a story about a little girl who’s too much, who always learns that her mistakes don’t define her, that she’s still loveable in spite of them. This is the first of a series. I’m claiming that. Little Luvvie will always learn that she is worthy. Even though she doesn’t always get things right, even though she will always learn a lesson and learn how to move forward different, one thing I always want at the end of every book that I’m going to write about Little Luvvie is that she walks away saying, somebody still loves me even though I made a mess. Even though I got in trouble, even though I didn’t make the right decision, I am still okay. That’s why I wrote it.

Julie: I have goosebumps. I find that so beautiful and inspiring. Kids especially, they need that grace so much for themselves and to know that — especially, you’re speaking about kids who are a lot, kids who, their desires and their visions outweigh their abilities, and so they’re just kind of a mess sometimes. To know that that’s a loveable part of who they are and not a part to set aside is just such a gift for them. I think you captured that really well.

Luvvie: One thing that I actually realized as Big Luvvie, who is learning to love herself even more through Little Luvvie because I’m giving her more grace, is that adults need to hear that. So many of us are perfectionists. The moment we make mistakes —

Julie: — Hand raised.

Luvvie: Type-A perfectionist right here. The moment we make a mistake, we have a bad decision, we make a bad choice, we have a bad day, we end up thinking we’re bad people. I kind of put the lessons that I wanted to hear into what Little Luvvie’s also going to be learning. If we heard that enough when we were little, that your mistakes don’t define you, we are less likely to become the adults who scalp ourselves every time we don’t get something right, every time it does not go the exact way we want it to go, every time we might feel embarrassed by something. I’m pouring all the grace I don’t usually give myself into Little Luvvie, and I’m hoping she pours it back into me. She’s already started. It’s been gifting me right back to me.

Julie: That’s such a good thing to hear. It’s so true because our inner voices are horrible. They’re just vicious. The idea that you can replace some of that a little bit for yourself and then also to think if kids have those tools and those voices and they hear them differently earlier, especially since mistakes are a part of the process — I still hate it, but apparently, it’s true.

Luvvie: I know. I hate making mistakes. Let the record show I hate making mistakes. I value myself on being somebody who’s excellent. It’s one of my big core values. Making mistakes really just punches me in the face differently. I’m just like, oh, god. For Little Luvvie to make a mess in this book, and her mom tells her, “Okay, I want you to fix this, but I still love you,” it’s an affirmation I think a lot of us need to hear. The babies hearing that now, all right, amen.

Julie: You’re exactly right, though. Adults need to hear it too. I maintain that you’re never too old for picture books.

Luvvie: Facts.

Julie: There are still books that I read as an adult that make me feel feelings that I need to feel in that same way. We are all on this journey of trying to heal the little people inside us since they’re still present. This idea that we’re able to do that, yes, I think your book will be for both young people and older people, big people and little people.

Luvvie: Big people and little people, we all need it. I’m so excited for the little people to hear it too. It’s so colorful. I wanted it to be colorful so it can be like, oh, my gosh.

Julie: It’s beautiful. The illustrations that Joey did are incredible. How was that process? I know typically, you finish all of the text and then send it to the illustrator. Was that how it went for you? Was there any collaboration before then?

Luvvie: Yes, there was collaboration before then. I had a great time doing this with Joey Spiotto. He nailed it. What we did before we even came up with the book was we came up with the characters. I went to Joey, and I was like, “Help me build this world, this character.” I’ve actually built five. Y’all only see three in this book, but there’s five that’s already been built. How he built Little Luvvie, he had me send pictures of me when I was young and now to him. He created from that. What’s interesting is I am very much the Little Luvvie I was. I sent him a picture of me when I was young when I was wearing a purple fedora, a purple velvet dress. I had two gold chains on and a red lip. I was six. Just to be clear, I’m basically that girl, just taller. He literally took that. He took the version of me now. He merged it. I’ve had the same face since I was born. When he sent me the first illustration, I melted. We went through a couple of rounds because at one point, Little Luvvie looked too cool. My hair is colored right now, so he colored the top of her head. She had chains on. Funny enough, that was actually me as a kid. I was like, “Let’s uncool her a little bit.”

Julie: You don’t want to make her too intimidating for the reader, for the uncool.

Luvvie: Exactly, for the baby. I said, “You know what? Let’s take the colors off. Let’s take her chain off.” She still has her earrings on. Her gold studs are there.

Julie: I love them.

Luvvie: He built her sister based on my sister. He saw a picture of my mom. I was like, okay, so what is the story that needs to happen here? Then I wrote the story about her trying to cook. I sent it to Joey. I promise you, from the first illustration, I was like, yes. All we did was have to add more color. I was like, “Let’s make it a little bit more colorful.” I don’t know much about interior design, but I said, “Go nuts. Make it warm.” He exploded the colors. I was like, “Yes, thank you.”

Julie: It’s amazing. Even the illustration page — I’m thinking of the spread with the soap. The color for the soap, it’s so beautiful. It is that pop seafoam. I was so impressed with all of those details. I’m glad you went wild on the color. That was one of my questions for you, was whether you had a sister. I feel like the sister relationship — as soon as she pops up, AirPods in, “I don’t have time for this right now,” I have an older sister, so I was like, that’s me a hundred percent.

Luvvie: I definitely have an older sister who’s six years older than me. I’m the baby. That is facts and true. I don’t have time for your foolishness. What do you want now? Yet I still bring the foolishness to her. I got this. I’m going to do it myself since you want to be rude to me. I got this. Meanwhile, I don’t have this.

Julie: No, didn’t have it.

Luvvie: I don’t have this at all, no. I thought I did.

Julie: I can really relate to that. The colors and all of it, the illustration — that’s great that you were able to work with him in that way to develop it. That’s really cool. I think illustrators are amazing because they’re basically translators. They’re just taking the words — it’s less creating. It really is like they translate. Sometimes they can hit things, and you think, that’s exactly how it should’ve been done.

Luvvie: He hit it. I had so much fun working on this book from start to finish. Me and Joey, we’d just go back and forth in email. He’s like, “All right, here’s another draft.” I’m like, “Nailed it. Yes.” I kept on changing my mind on certain elements. Some of the stuff I had really good fun with was her shirt. At first, her shirt was just a plain teal shirt. Then towards the end of the process, I’d go, I feel like her shirt is missing — she seems like a kid who would like graphic tees. I love graphic tees. I was like, “Can we just put a heart on it?” We put a heart on her shirt. I was like, “Perfect. Nailed it. We got it.” She’s definitely that kid who goes to Target and goes, I want that T-shirt, Mom. I want that one.

Julie: She is perfect. She’s perfectly cool. I also noticed the graphic tee. I was like, I’d wear that. I think that would work.

Luvvie: I’d wear that. Adult me wants this shirt.

Julie: Joey, make me an outfit that adult me wants to wear. That’s what you should do, is get yourself a matching outfit.

Luvvie: I am for my book tour.

Julie: Yes. I’m so excited.

Luvvie: I’m going to definitely be wearing a little —

Julie: — You’re going to be Little Luvvie.

Luvvie: I’m going to be Little Luvvie. I will be wearing jeans. I will be wearing a teal shirt. I found the perfect shoes to match the shirt.

Julie: Stop. I’m very happy for you. Congratulations.

Luvvie: Thank you. That’s so exciting to me. Legit.

Julie: Those are the things, those little details. That’s what’s so fun, I feel like, about children’s books too. There’s just a world of joy there. Writing a book is wonderful. Publishing, all the things are really special and magical. Children’s books, there’s so much freedom in the way that you share it. That’s awesome.

Luvvie: It was fun.

Julie: That’s really fun. Now we have your outfit planned. I say we like I was involved, but you know what I mean.

Luvvie: Look, hey, we do have my outfit planned now.

Julie: Perfect. Here’s a question for you. I was reading and listening to your podcast that you had recorded about Little Troublemaker. You had talked about the five lessons that you wanted Little Luvvie to know. Did you start there? You started with the characters, obviously. Did you have those in mind before you came up with the story, or that was after?

Luvvie: No.

Julie: Oh, interesting.

Luvvie: Truly, I wrote the story because I wanted to write a story about this little girl with a big heart, big personality, big feelings in this tiny package who always feels like she can do something. I wanted to really write it also because it’s so counter to the stories that we hear about girls. Once I wrote the story, I was like, oh, yes. These lessons were already infused into the spirit of the story. I pulled those lessons out and said, all right. I wanted to show that our good intentions — again, I know this kid. I was this kid. Y’all are raising this kid who has such great intentions. They’re so kind, but their execution is often trash. You love them so much. You’re like, I see you. I see what you’re trying to do here, but no. It’s bigger than you. I also wanted to think about that moment before we all got that abused out of us, bullied out of us. I wanted to write that story. When I wrote that story, those lessons popped out at me. I was like, that’s the lessons that these little girls or boys want to know and want to hear. They really do want to do something good in the world. They’re so kind. They’re just like, I can do it. I want to help. I want to do this thing. They just don’t know where to channel their energy. I just wanted to write that story, but the lessons were embedded.

Julie: I think that really speaks to you. I’ve seen this since I’ve followed you for a while. You really do have a commitment to authenticity and knowing who you are and what lines up for you and what feels right and true. It’s not surprising to me that what came out in your children’s book was totally in line. It’s just a credit to what you’re trying to do and create. I think it’s really cool to see and neat to see in those younger ones.

Luvvie: It had to exist.

Julie: Yes, it did have to. It was meant to be. It’s so true. That’s such a cool thing about writing a book, when you hit it right. It’s like, I created it, but also, I was just sort of bringing it to be. It was meant to be like that. I really like what you were saying. I had actually written this down. Little kids have big emotions. I work in an elementary library. The way that your book honors the bigness of that emotion — it’s so true for adults too. I have far too many feelings and not always the skills to wrangle them or get them where I need them to be. It’s that same feeling of that. Staying true to that little girl, it was a really cool thing to see. How did you decide on what Luvvie was going to attempt to make?

Luvvie: I decided that Luvvie was going to attempt to cook jollof rice, which is my favorite dish. I’m Nigerian, born and raised. Every culture has their rice. Every culture. There’s Spanish rice. There’s jambalaya in New Orleans. There’s fried rice in Asia.

Julie: Yes, I never even thought of that.

Luvvie: Think about it. Every main culture has their rice. There’s biryani in India. We all got it. For us, the West Africans, we have jollof rice, tomato based. It’s my favorite thing. I talk about it all the time. It’s a big cultural piece. I wanted to also bring that piece of myself into the story. What would she do? I’m also the person who, even today, still mostly eats Nigerian food. You won’t catch me eating sandwiches often. If my tongue is not on fire, have I actually eaten? Have I actually eaten? These are the questions.

Julie: Valid.

Luvvie: I was like, you know what? What would happen? What would she want to do? She’d find a sandwich in the fridge and be wildly disappointed and be like, where is the rice? If there’s no rice, I’m going to try to make it happen myself.

Julie: I’m not eating those nasty leftovers. Thank you very much.

Luvvie: No. I’m going to try to cook a four-hour process myself because overconfidence, audacity.

Julie: Audacity, yes. That’s all over. Audacity and destruction. There you go.

Luvvie: That’s it.

Julie: I love it. Let’s talk about, at the end of the book, you do a good job — Little Luvvie, she makes a mess. Then she’s cleaning it up. I love, also, the moment of reconciliation with her mom. Not even reconciliation, but just that she’s getting that forgiveness that she needs to give herself. There’s so many lovely lessons in this book that aren’t too heavy-handed, which I really appreciate because sometimes it can get too explicitly stated. Then we kind of lose the magic of it. You did a really nice job with that. Then at the end, you give a nice little disclaimer, first, about jollof rice and then about what good trouble actually is. What’s your definition of good trouble?

Luvvie: I think good trouble is the type of trouble that makes the world better than we found it or the room that we are in better. I told the kids to be their best selves, to say kind things, and then to speak up when they see something unfair if they feel safe. I know kids hear trouble — I am also trying to redefine the word trouble and troublemaker because it often is attached to people in a way that weaponizes and dehumanizes them. I think your trouble can be good in a world that’s deeply unjust. Encouraging kids that, yes, sometimes when you do make a mess, sometimes when you do get in trouble, sometimes it’s necessary trouble, like the late great John Lewis said. I wanted to leave them with that guide. You can channel your energy to make the world better, to make your community better, make your family better.

Julie: I think that’s a valuable message for them. When you were a little troublemaker, do you have a memory of something like this happening? Was it a regular occurrence for you?

Luvvie: I got in trouble for my mouth all the time when I was little. I was definitely the kid that got in trouble for saying stuff she wasn’t supposed to say. What happened was, I had an older brother who I considered my archnemesis, as older brothers are, right?

Julie: Obviously.

Luvvie: Older brothers are our first archnemeses. Come on. I happened to also be the person who always had to defend herself. When my brother would do or say something to me when he thought my mom wasn’t watching, I would respond back, often disrespectfully. You can catch this smoke. I’d get in trouble for that. Then I’d get upset because I’d be like, but he should’ve got in trouble first because he did this thing to me. I was that kid who was just like, that wasn’t even fair. You didn’t even ask my side. Then what’s funny is after I get bored of a punishment, I would go back to my mom and be like, you owe me an apology.

Julie: I just snorted.

Luvvie: I wish I was lying. I am not lying. I would literally go to my mother and be like, Ma, you should say you’re sorry to me.

Julie: That was poor parenting on your part, Mom. Make it right.

Luvvie: Legit. I would be like, how dare you. How dare you punish me when you didn’t even ask for my side. She would just look at me with marvel. She’s like, not this tiny person telling me that I owe her an apology. I was bold.

Julie: What kind of mom was she in those moments? Just in general, what are the things that you took from her?

Luvvie: My mom, oh, my gosh. In those moments, the gift was that she actually didn’t have me get in further trouble for telling her, tell me sorry. I didn’t get into further trouble with that. She’s created a monster.

Julie: She really let it get out of control.

Luvvie: Come on. She would literally just laugh me off and tell me, okay, go sit down somewhere. Go continue what you were doing. I didn’t get punished for using my voice to advocate for myself in that way to her, which was a gift. I was like, my voice matters. Okay, cool. My mom, she was very protective of me. I was the baby. Of course, the baby gets away with murder. I was really freaking cute. Overall, I was actually a really well-behaved kid. I got great grades in school. I did my homework without being prompted. I was the kid who would come home, drop my bag, pull out my homework, finish it, and then go play. I gave her a lot of reasons to trust me and to really let me do my thing. Then the trouble that I got into was not big trouble. I wasn’t touching fire or putting myself in danger. I was just using my voice. She showed me what it was like to be kind. She gave me grace often. She protected me. It made me feel like I could go out into the world and do big things.

Julie: That’s really neat to hear. I love to hear what people got from their parents. It sounds like she let you be you and gave you the guardrails for that to happen in a way that worked and didn’t cause you problems outside of things.

Luvvie: She was really kind. Above all, that’s one of the things that I’ve gotten from my mom the most, her deep kindness. My mom is such a giving person. She would give you the shirt off her back if you said you liked it. My grandmother was the same way. From them, I was like, okay, I have to be kind. I have to give people things that I have in abundance. I have to do my part to be better. I have to make a room better. I have to be really nice to people. If somebody needs money and I have a lot of money, I should give them some of mine. All of that I actually really learned from my mom. I think that was at the core. That’s always been at the core of my troublemaking. That’s oftentimes at the core of when kids are trying to do something nice for somebody. It’s just this deep kindness. They just want to give back.

Julie: I love that you had space for that. How did you get into writing originally? How does it feed you now?

Luvvie: Oh, man. I started blogging twenty years ago, exactly twenty years ago. I was in college. It was my freshman year in college. My friends peer-pressured me into starting a blog. Then I started this blog, and I never stopped writing. I fell in love with writing outside the classroom. My writing really took hold. One of my friends ended up being editor-in-chief at the school paper. She was like, “I want you to do an advice column.” What’s funny is that advice column is very parallel to my first-ever book, I’m Judging You. I used to write it at the back of the school paper. Every Wednesday, it would come out. People would stop me on campus and be like, “I read your advice column. That was great.”

Julie: That’s amazing.

Luvvie: All these different breadcrumbs of the fact that I was supposed to be a writer started in college. I’ve always been in honors English classes, so I actually really started in high school. Maybe elementary school. I’ve always been a really good writer, I guess. My first course in high school freshman year, first day, was honors English. I’ve been molded by the teachers around me. Librarians have been big. My seventh-grade teacher was my favorite teacher ever. She was my first English teacher that really said, “Your work is good.” I’m like, oh. My grades were off the chain. She was like, “You can write,” but I didn’t take it as anything. College is when I started writing outside of the classroom. Then my deep love of writing took over. I realized it was my purpose to use my words to shift the world, shift the room. Not even the world. I just wanted to shift the room.

Julie: Are you working on another book for adults? May I ask?

Luvvie: Yes. I’m excited about that. That’s probably going to be a 2025 book. Basically, I’ll be dropping some things in the next couple years.

Julie: So exciting. I’m so glad. I love your writing. You have such a good balance for adults too. I read I’m Judging You years ago. I loved it. You have such a good way of delivering the hard truth without — you’re kind in it. That’s exactly what it is. You’re definitely achieving it. I’m glad that you’re a writer. I think that you are where you’re meant to be. That’s always a good feeling.

Luvvie: I fought it for a minute because I was like, how do writers make money? I don’t know how writers make money. How do they buy shoes? Who’s going to pay for my shoes? Is it my writing? Then eventually, my writing started paying for my shoes, so I kept doing it.

Julie: I’m glad that it has blossomed and paid for your shoes. My husband is still trying to figure out how I make money in this calculus. I’m like, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. The math will check out later. Not today.

Luvvie: Don’t worry about it. The math will math. Don’t worry about it.

Julie: Yes, the math will math. I’m going to tell him that next time. It’s fine. See, I got ten percent off. It’s like I’m making money. The math will math.

Luvvie: Exactly. See, he’ll get it.

Julie: I think we could shop together. I think it would be a disaster.

Luvvie: It would be an actual disaster. My husband would be like, why did you do it? It would be just a ginormous dumpster fire for them, but it would be great for us. It would be great for us.

Julie: It’s true. I am into shoes, so I think we can get it done. Sneakers. I can’t wear fancy shoes.

Luvvie: Listen, I am the queen of sneakers. I’m a big sneakerhead. I have probably a hundred and fifty pairs.

Julie: This is just meant to be. I’m so excited. More things we have in common. I love hearing about this book coming to life. My last question for you is, as it makes its way into the world — we’re on the cusp of it coming out. This podcast will come out a little bit later. I’m so excited. What do you hope for Little Troublemaker Makes a Mess? What would be your vision of, “This is what I want it to do”?

Luvvie: I want this book to transform little kids. By transform, I mean I want them to read it and feel seen, feel loved, feel affirmed, and then go, that’s me. actually launched the cover. The journalist is a mom of two. They’re four and six. They were the first kids to read this book. She said when she got to the part where Little Luvvie was like, “I’m not a baby,” she said her daughter was like, “I say that.” I was like, yes, yes. That’s what I want. I want them to feel seen. I want them to normalize and know that their energy — there’s other people like them in the world. If they feel different, I want them to go, oh, I’m not so different. Little Luvvie’s just like me too. She acts like me. I would do that too. I did that before. I think that’s even powerful. That’s the transformation I want, just for them to go, there’s somebody else like me, who thinks like me, who acts like me. They’re also loveable. They’re also amazing, so I am too. I want it to be a reflection for them.

Julie: I do think it will be. I think you’ve done a wonderful job. I can’t wait for the world to have it. Thanks so much for talking with me today. This was so much fun. We’ll schedule our shopping date later. Whenever you have time.

Luvvie: Seriously, anytime. I am always the queen of shoe. DM me. I’ll be like, what shoes you looking for? I’ll send you a link. I am the enabler of shoe purchases.

Julie: Perfect. It’s meant to be.

Luvvie: It is meant to be. Have you seen my shoe Instagram?

Julie: No. How have I not?

Luvvie: You don’t know I have a shoe Instagram?

Julie: I’m getting sweaty right now. Oh, my gosh.

Luvvie: Julie.

Julie: How did I miss this?

Luvvie: I have an Instagram that is literally dedicated to my shoe closet. It is @mustluvvshoes. The love is L-U-V-V.

Julie: Of course.

Luvvie: Literally, I post random pictures of me in my random shoes. Now I use it as a shoe catalog for myself. When I’m getting dressed, I’ll sometimes scroll through and be like, what shoes do I want to wear today?

Julie: It’s like Clueless on your phone on social media.

Luvvie: I’m telling you. Literally, the account, it only exists to document my shoes. That is the only purpose.

Julie: I’m on it. I feel like we’ve done everyone a public service by sharing this today. @mustluvvshoes, L-U-V-V, you heard it here first.

Luvvie: Come on. Julie, I’m going to be spending your money. I’m actually going to be spending your money. I just want you to know.

Julie: I can’t wait. It’s going to be great.

Luvvie: Tell your husband I’m sorry. I’m not really sorry.

Julie: No, I won’t even bother. It’s okay. It’s fine.

Luvvie: It’s fine.

Julie: Thank you so much for the time. Best of luck with the book. Can’t wait to see it in the world.

Luvvie: Thank you so much, Julie. Thank you for your work. I was telling you that librarians are amazing. Y’all do such thankless work. Creating space that exists just to pour words into people is kind of magical. You’re doing magical work every single day. I really appreciate librarians everywhere.

Julie: Thank you. It’s my joy. Thank you, friend.

Luvvie: Yes, indeed.



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