IMAGIREAD: Interview With Tiffany R. Nelson, Head Imaginarian

I was connected with Tiffany R. Nelson about ten years ago through our love of picture books. I am in awe of her dedication and passion as she provides different ways to support our most vulnerable little learners, and their respective communities. And while we have never met in person, our emails and chats about our hopes and dreams keeps me optimistic that there are gems who sparkle brightly, even when things seem bleak. I present to you my beautiful book lady friend, Tiffany R. Nelson. I look forward to one day meeting my book friend over a delicious meal, with wonderful conversations over our shared love of books.

Tell me about Imagiread? What is the purpose of your organization?

Imagiread started a decade ago. (So hard to believe!) Born out of a love of reading and children’s literature, the purpose back then was to engage families with reasons and ways to spend intentional time reading together. Shortly after the launch (one month later to be exact), I learned that I was presumptuous. A more specific need in the community emerged as culturally responsive and authentic literacy development instruction that supports the whole child, whole school, and whole community. Over the years, I’ve facilitated research and worked tirelessly to align programming with the those needs. From book drives to free literacy programs, I’ve done it all through in and out of school instruction. As a literacy development advocate, I know and understand all too well that the digital divide wasn’t created overnight and that it will require an all-hands-on-deck approach. It’s why a bridge for our scholars, their families, and the supportive community to dive into literacy development and graduate to digital literacy development was designed here recently through programming. It’s how we will ready our children for #thefutureofeducation and #thefutureofwork

What are some of the struggles faced while running Imagiread, especially during the coronavirus pandemic?

Imagiread has essentially always been a one-woman show. Operationally, it’s been a challenge to sustain management processes while working full-time as a Cultural Communications Consultant and juggling family responsibilities. In the third quarter of 2019, I was prepared to move all of our content online to engage our community with free and low-cost instruction support ethically. Then the pandemic hit shortly after that, and that changed everything. Work got super crazy and time seemed as if it stopped. I knew that there’d be many challenges, including mental health support services, access to quality instruction, and administrative assistance, but I was swamped and couldn’t show up like I wanted, which hurt the most. I put together a few free online resources for the community and posted them, but the consistency wasn’t there. Fast forward to today, where I’ve been able to listen to the more profound need and am actively hosting free programming starting with our The Community is our Business drop-ins where kids can pop on a ZOOM call every third Sunday and learn about whatever they want and/or engage in S.T.E.M.-based programming. We are on target to release our newest stint by August 2021 and hoping the community finds it beneficial. 

Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you.

I’m extremely sensitive to injustice and oppression. I’ve always been that way, and sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by suffering that I need loads of time to recuperate. What’s happening in the educational world right now has been beyond disturbing, but I feel as if I’ve been doing this “inclusion and diversity” work for so long that it’s time to flex my muscles and keep maneuvering the challenges. In short, I don’t feel like I have to be a superwoman anymore, just present and mindful so that I can contribute joyfully. 

In your opinion, how are books impactful?

Where do I begin!!?? Those of us who are bibliophiles and love to read know the value of books. They are compact versions of life’s ultimate adventures consorted for the sake of perspective and reflection. On a grander scale, they are representative of humanity’s collective story. One that can only be told individually and in unison, despite opposition. As a writer, consultant and educator, I’ve always known that stories are all we will ever truly have. It’s the responsibility of the intellect to impart wisdom in others that encourages them to own and share their story. We are all very much connected, and unity consciousness is the overarching goal. Books are the physical manifestation of that goal. We should do everything we can to preserve the manufacturing of books. They hold the master key to life’s authentic living—present history and past futures simultaneously. 

Can you share a success story of a child being positively influenced by Imagiread and its mission?

There are so many, but there’s one that I ran across a few weeks back while putting together a presentation for a school. I encountered a sweetheart during a summer session at a local elementary school here in Houston back in 2019. She was considered challenging and unmanageable by her peers, and I was determined to show them another light. Because summer sessions are limited to six visits for about 45 minutes apiece, I made sure that I chose her regularly to assist with classroom management. It was rough at first because she was apprehensive about participating. By my third session, she had completely opened up, waited for me to arrive, and volunteered to assist before I could put my things together. By the fifth session, she had grown so accustomed to participating that she would cry when I chose other scholars. Because Imagiread’s literacy development instruction is built on SEL (social emotional learning) references, I independently worked with her to be aware of her emotions to identify them and work to manage them in a way that served her. The sixth session was rough. I was invested and knew that I wouldn’t see her again. She had a bit of a fit, but I left her with a message that I hope she’ll never forget, and that is that the things we learned together will always be a part of her. In all of my years of teaching, that experience still rings true as the reason Imagiread must prevail. Our children deserve to be heralded in safe spaces. That’s how learning takes flight. 

If you had a magic wand, what would you do to grow Imagiread?

I recently applied for capital to organically grow the business aspect of Imagiread and didn’t make it to the semi-finals. I was saddened but encouraged to look at the decision as an opportunity to explore our original values. Through that introspection, I identified the need for a “village”, a network of educators who share a unified vision of transforming today’s scholars into adept creators of tomorrow. I truly believe that community is and will always be the key. Everything else falls into place from there. 

Where would you like to see Imagiread in the next five years?

What will be for Imagiread is becoming an ethically designed EdTech company that will serve the whole community with reimagined literacy development instruction. I’ve been chomping at the bit to put together a scholar-center-designed experience that centers S.M.A.R.T. Learning strategies and The Wheel of Imagination. I’m excited to get back into the classroom to facilitate and make sure that the programming serves as intended. Finding new and creative ways to introduce children to the power of stories through multicultural resources is and will continue to be our top priority. 

Favorite book quote?

“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

-Toni Morrison

Contact Information

Tiffany R. Nelson, Head Imaginarian 

Website www.imagiread.com 

Instagram @imagiread 

Facebook @imagiread  

Twitter @imagiread 

Work email inquiries@imagiread.com 

Donations

Picture Book Review: Sundays With Abuelita

Many moons ago, my dear friend, also an educator, told me a heartwarming story about her childhood in Michoacán, México. She shared that her mother went to El Norte to work, leaving her with her younger sister in the care of their grandmother. My dear friend said she knew she was loved. However, some days were harder than others, especially when she longed to be reunited with her mother. And then she mentioned that toilet paper was a commodity only reserved for the well to do. My friend began to giggle, remembering how something so simple like toilet paper was a reality dreams away. We laughed, and then I got a feeling and said, “You have to write these stories. They are so inspirational! So many people will relate.” Well, she wrote, and now she is debuting her first (of many) picture books.

Sundays With Abuelita, written by Teresa Verduzco and illustrated by Gloria Felix, is an inspirational tale. As I read through the story my heart got filled with an array of emotions. The human spirit is strong, and this story brings to light some of the hardships that many of our immigrant and undocumented children face. And yet, on the the other side is a grandmother, who gives her granddaughters the absolute best of herself to ensure that they are loved, secure, and an understanding that there is a better tomorrow.

Gloria Felix’s illustrations are colorful, rich, and capture the essence of the small pueblo where Teresa lived as a child. Just looking at the illustrations I could hear the lively music and smell the delicious smells associated with a Sunday outing on the plaza with the family wearing your very best dress.

I don’t want to spoil the story, as I think you will better enjoy reading through on your own. But in short, Sundays With Abuelita, is an inspirational tale of hope, family, and dreaming. I also cannot help but chuckle that not too long ago, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic we were also faced with the reality of a lack of toilet paper. Life is full of ups and downs, but it comes down to knowing that a better tomorrow is coming. I highly recommend this picture book. Not only is it important for children to see a reality different than theirs, it is an opportunity to honor the sacrifices that our ancestors, near and far have endured to provide us with a world full of possibilities.

Sundays With Abuelita makes its big debut on March 10th, 2021. Click here to purchase your very own copy. Feel free to purchase an extra one for a friend.

And to my dear friend, Teresa, I am so proud of you. You took the plunge, congratulations!

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

Stay connected with Teresa Verduzco and Gloria Felix!

Twitter @silverflashdiva

Instagram @teresaverduzcowrites

Facebook @TeresaVerduzcoAuthor

Instagram @gloriafelixart

Frijoles Negros, Pinto Beans, and Pennies: Math Counters for Distance Learning

Distance learning in Kindergarten world has been in full swing for almost three weeks. We are getting to learn “classroom” routines, learning about each other, celebrating birthdays and sharing about the tooth fairy visiting. We are learning to keep ourselves muted during instruction and raising our hands before sharing. We are also learning letters and sounds, exploring number concepts, and the number of syllables in our names.

Every morning when I log on I am greeted by beautiful and eager learners, ready for the day. Some days the computer freezes and we have to take a break. Other days, friends get kicked out and can’t get back in to our virtual classroom. Like all things, some days are better than others but I’m constantly in awe of how vested and dedicated my classroom families are. They sit next to their little ones, cook and clean while lending a hand when necessary, and also manage to work and handle their personal work responsibilities. My little one was supposed to start preschool this fall, but due to the pandemic, I have the privilege to take her to my mom’s house while I work. I cannot imagine having to teach, plan, orchestrate an engaging live virtual lesson day in and day out if I also had to be responsible for my child’s school work. And yet, this is the hard and incredible reality for most. My hats off to you.

And, as if life is not already complicated during these precarious Covid times, some of my families are further challenged by other factors: limited resources, language barriers, spotty WiFi and multiple kids to support. Abuelitas and Abuelitos are stepping in, doing their best to support their grandchildren even though they have limited knowledge of computer technology. Neighbors are getting together to create learning pods to support parents who are not working remotely – and don’t have someone to watch their children. Backyards are being converted into classrooms and everyone is doing what they can to navigate this new normal.

This week we explored the number five. We counted up to five, and found different number combinations to represent the number five. I realized I needed to get manipulativses to model and practice one to one correspondence with my little ones. So in the meantime I found pennies and put them in a baggy and called it a day. After work, my mom asked, “How was your day?” I told her about my lack of manipulatives for my math block. My mom laughed and said, “When you were little we didn’t have manipulatives. I used frijoles and maiz to help you with number concepts.”

And just like that I remember sitting on the kitchen table while my mom cooked and I counted using my homemade math counters. I told my mom I am super grateful and impressed by the level of support and dedication families are providing their children. My mom then shared her struggles of trying to help me with my schoolwork when I was little with her limited English, limited resources and what seemed like, limited time. And yet, she showed up every single day to help me with my schoolwork, teaching me that my education was super important and my ticket to a better future.

And this is exactly what I see every morning. Grown ups figuring it out, showing up, and doing this ridiculously taxing job of parenting / educating their children during these crazy times. So to the families in my classroom, I see you. I see how hard you are working and how vested you are in helping your child succeed. And to all the parents, teachers, and kids, I see you, we see you, and we applaud you.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Arthur Ashe

New Beginnings: Teaching from home

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The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year is around the corner. If this had been a normal, non coronavirus kind of year, I would be in my classroom cleaning, organizing, lesson planning, and prepping materials for my new students. However, things are completely different this year. I keep trying to figure out how to best schedule learning blocks with my new kindergartners, and still connect with them in a fun and personal way to better get to know them. How will I incorporate art projects, project based learning, and my favorite – handstand parties?

Not wanting to focus on factors out of my control, I decided to create a work space that made me happy. I rearranged some furniture to make space for a new desk. I was zooming from the dining room table and the more space I had, the bigger my mess got. I cleaned and sorted the supply bin at home and found a bunch of dry markers, dry glue bottles, and boxes of unsharpened pencils. I tossed a lot of other junk and kept what I needed. Then, I made my way to HomeGoods and bought a desk lamp and a small frame. In this frame I printed a quote that spoke to my heart:

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Trust the magic of new beginnings. While I do not know how this school year will go, I do know that I have the choice to focus on the goodness in my life.

And to my new kindergartners, I can’t wait to meet you. We will read stories together, sing together, dance together and learn together, one step at a time. And, who knows, we might even learn to handstand together!

Virtual Book Nook Fieldtrip

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In learning about School Systems, our K/1 class made the connection that books are an important part of learning. Because of the stay at home orders, students wrote ALL ABOUT SCHOOL AT HOME books sharing how school systems have changed, how they are similar, and the new types of learning happening at home as a result of the coronavirus.

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School Systems: How is learning at school interconnected?

After spring break, we had planned on a walking field trip through the neighborhood to look for book nooks. Our end goal was for students to design prototypes of book nooks and to ultimately build “the perfect book nook” for our school community.

In wearing our “flexibility hat”, we modified our book nook project by asking the school community, friends, and family to take pictures of book nooks in their neighborhood. My genius and out of the box thinker team partner created a virtual book nook field trip with all of the pictures that we collected with your help.

THANK YOU for taking the time to send these pictures. We learned that book nooks, just like books and people, come in a variety of ways. Today, we shared the book nook presentation with our class during morning meeting. They enjoyed it! It also dawned on us that book nooks require a lot of trust, care, and a willingness to share, all good qualities to embody.

For privacy reasons, we are not allowed to share the link to the virtual book nook presentation. But here are some images that give a sense of how cool it was. One of the book nooks I found on a walk was made by kids. It was a simple blue bin with children’s books. It’s one of my favorites. 

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Our class will be working on their own book nook prototype. Our hope is that in the near future, they will be able to design and create a book nook for our school community because as Stephen King says, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

The New Normal: Teaching Via Zoom (long a patterns)

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This is our new normal. This is my new normal. I used to wake up, get dressed, and drive to work. I now wake up, read a book while drinking coffee, put on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and my old sweater, and come downstairs to my table to start remote teaching. There is no choosing which of my favorite spring dresses I will wear, or which strappy sandals match because the yoga pants I own are on repeat mode. Wear, wash, repeat. And so when I videotaped the long a pattern lesson I wondered if I should perhaps style my hair (hair that needs a major haircut and conditioning treatment). But then I figured, my first graders won’t care what I look like, they’ll probably just be happy to see me because that’s how little kids are. They love their teachers and they love school. And they love being with their friends building, coloring, climbing, running, and in my classroom, rainbow looming.

I videotaped the lesson and noted all the funky wrinkles around my eyes, my chin, and mouth. I wanted to delete the video but then I realized how ridiculous I was being. My students are wanting more teacher time. They also need to learn these essential spelling patterns to better their reading and writing skills. Besides, my hair was dirty and I braided my hair which was a perfect tie in to the teaching of long a patterns. The word braid has the “ai” pattern and makes the long a sound. Fancy that!

I’m sharing some activities in case you as a teacher/parent are looking for ideas. I don’t have any materials here at my house so I’m making them up as I go. Students were directed to read books and be on a word hunt for these long a patterns. Then they write them on a chart. They are also going to be writing sentences using this word list.

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Another activity is making words. This is what we are doing this week. Not sure if it will work via zoom but I’m going to give it a try.

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Kids cut the letters out and then move them around as the teacher gives directions.  After each word, kids finger spell the word and then write it down. We want to make sure students feel successful after an activity. Teacher is to have a white board or sample proving guidance for kids who need the extra support. Remember, there are many ways of learning and “just right” means different things for different learners.

Can you find the letter o and t to make “ot”.

What word do you make if you add the letter “c” in front?   (cot)

Now remove the letter “c” and find the letter to make the word “dot”.

What do you notice about these words?

ot, cot, dot

 

Repeat steps for the following onset and rime:

at, cat, rat

 

During the third phase of making words kids will add the magic e / non syllabic e to make the long a sound. You can talk about this, finger spelling, and having kids notice how it sounds in their mouth.

 

ate, rate, crate

 

Lastly, my favorite part of this activity and the kids love it too! Using all of the letters can you guess the mystery word?

….think time….

 

…more think time…

 

Any guesses?

 

d e c o r a t e

What do you like to decorate? On the other side of your paper, write and tell me all about it.

 

I hope these activities are helpful in some way. It’s not perfect but it’s a start. You can also change the activity to fit different spelling / phonics patterns based on your own students’ learning needs.

Happy zooming and happy teaching. And in case no one has told you, you are doing an amazing job. KISS YOUR BRAIN!

 

 

 

Stay At Home Easter 2020

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Today I celebrated a different kind of Easter. My sister and her family were not here. My step daughter was not here. My mom didn’t cook. My best friend and my godchildren did not come over to play. My brother in law didn’t make his famous salad. And we didn’t gather together to watch the kids hunt for eggs. This year I stayed home in accordance to the Safer at Home Order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I was sad because I wanted to get my two year old daughter an Easter basket. To my surprise my best friend from college mailed one with her name engraved on it. My  childhood best friend mailed a unicorn basket filled with goodies. This afternoon my sister called and said, “Open the garage, I’m dropping off an Easter basket for my beautiful niece.” And then my sister in law left a little beach wagon filled with Easter treats on the doorstep. I wanted so badly to hug my loved ones tightly, but a distant hand wave was all I could do.

In the morning, as my two year old was coloring with her new crayons and coloring book she caught me intently watching her. She asked, “Mama, are you OK?” I smiled and nodded yes. Then I asked how she was doing. She answered, “I’m happy Mama.” Surprised by her comment, I prayed, “May you live a happy life.”

Moved by this exchange I remembered that my friend had gifted me a book of daily wisdoms. I looked at my cell phone and noted the date, April 12, 2020. I then opened the book to find the corresponding date. The passage read: In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death. – PROVERBS 12:28

I read and reread this a few times trying to figure out how it relates to my life. I then proceeded to read Ernest Holmes’ interpretation of this verse. I read and reread this a few times as well and sat with the last section.

God’s Love always embraces us, His Wisdom is always within us, and His Joy is ours to share. Abundance is everywhere.

That’s the kind of slow, different, and yet blessed kind of Easter I had. My daughter was gifted with packages wrapped up in lots of love and abundance.

How am I doing? Sleepy, stuffed, and happy.

 

 

The Last Tortilla

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It feels like I’ve been transported to another reality, and it also feels like this might be my dwelling place for a while. Yesterday evening, after day four of “Zoom Teaching & Collaborating” I logged off. I poured myself a glass of wine and went to see how my mom and two year old were holding up. Like me, many of us are at home, trying to work, trying to teach/help their kids with what seems like countless school activities, and trying to keep calm because the other shoe is about to fall.

I asked my seventy-one year old mom how her day was and she said she and my two year old had a fabulous time. Of course they did. My mom who is a diva of sorts, or part royalty that we are not privy to, always has the most fabulous time. I thanked her for helping me out during this crazy time as I figure out how to teach/work remotely. I sat down and my fabulous mother shushed me and said, “Cállate, ya empezó las noticias.” My mother is a huge fan of the news and I prefer not to watch. But I sat next to her and drank my wine, wishing I had poured myself a larger glass. My mother gasped and theatrically put her hands on her chest, as did my two year old. Was my two year old going to need therapy to manage anxiety issues? Three minutes into the news my anxiety was trying to make its way in. And then, I heard it as did millions of families. We were going on lockdown. Mayor Eric Garcetti mandated a  “Safer at Home” order . The Los Angeles Mayor was poised as he gave pertinent information on the need for us to stay home to combat the Corona Virus. The other word I heard was social distancing. No restaurants, no yoga, no nothing. And no visiting my sister and her kids.

My fabulous mother in her frenzy got up and offered me some food. She cooks to alleviate stress. I listened to to Mayor Garcetti and noted that he seemed calm. Then I too shall remain calm. He seemed confident. I too shall remain confident. And he also seemed to say to us in a very soothing and respectful tone, stay the fuck home. I will. As much as I want to see my sister, I’m gonna stay the fuck home. You can count on me Mayor Garcetti.

I looked up to see how my mom was taking this and she was teary eyed. “Mami, are you OK?” She shook her head no and shared that her sister, my tía, was now unable to spend time with her daughter who has been under treatment for leukemia. It was too much of a risk. “Mami, it’s going to be Ok.”

She looked up and showed me an empty tortilla packet. “Es la última tortilla.” She gingerly made a bean and cheese quesadilla and offered it to my daughter. She sliced some avocados and put a dollop of sour cream on the quesadilla. My two year and my fabulous mom sat at the tiny wooden children’s table and ate together. They ate in silence and I just watched. Everything was eerily slow. And then my fabulous mom started her jibber jabber about war, starvation, the end of time, and rations.

PTSD was coming at her hard and I just watched, having nothing to say and it just continued to play out in slow motion. This is one’s personal hell. She’s experienced a war. I have not. I hope not to. I can’t let my fabulous mother stay here. “Mami, stop! “It’s going to be OK. I trust that people are mindful and considerate of each other. I trust that we all have enough.”

I walked out with my two year old hanging on to me. I hugged her back feeling every particle of her perfect being. Whatever was happening was happening quickly.

Early the next morning I ran out the door to the grocery store. I was going to give my fabulous mother some hope. And then I was met with the longest line ever. I got in line and was told it would be about an hour. An hour? But I waited, and I chatted with some people. And we waited together. Is this what it’s all about? Waiting patiently…together. The surfer guy behind me said this was just a reboot of things for our Earth. I agreed with him and totally recognized that in another time I would probably not be talking to a stranger, but today was different. Maybe all days should be different.

An hour later I finally got in. I made it. I looked for toilet paper and found none. No wonder my cousin bought a bidet on Amazon! I looked for beans and rice. None. Then I looked for tortillas and there they were, in their gloriously red packets, beaming brightly for the taking. I grabbed a packet of corn tortillas and teared up. There is more than enough. People are mindful and considerate of each other. We are taking just what we need. And we are staying the fuck home enjoying the shit out of one another. That’s what we do. We take care of each other, no matter what.

Saving the Rainforest, One Colorful Magnet At A Time

In exploring relationships between homes and habitats, and how animals adapt to their environment, our K/1 class spent the year learning about rainforest systems. We read books, researched facts and wrote informative reports. We also wrote a book sharing our learnings and mailed it to our friends at our partner school, Palms Elementary. Likewise, they wrote and mailed us a book where we learned about the Ocean Systems. It was a nice collaboration of systems thinking, and it allowed for our students to see what other K/1 kids are learning.

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Some of the learnings shared are:

“It makes me sad that people are cutting down the rainforest, and indigenous peoples’ homes.”

“The rainforest has four layers. I didn’t used to know that. And the trees are very tall, because the trees by my house are not that big.”

“I like the music of the rainforest because the trees sing like a concert.”

“The trees give homes to animals and deforestation is bad because you’re actually making it hard for the animals to survive. And if you keep cutting down trees, you’re actually making the glaciers melt.”

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Our little ones also made a short video highlighting their favorite facts about the animals they researched. We shared it at our end of the year breakfast and the parents loved it!

In addition, for our service learning project our students created magnets. They drew them, colored and painted them. Here are a few!

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We sold these colorful magnets to raise money for rainforest conservation efforts. Our little ones raised $255 and the money was donated to the Rainforest Foundation US.

 

 

Spreading Love, Kindness & Magic In Our School Community

In our K/1 class we asked ourselves, “How can we spread love, kindness, and magic to make the world a better place?” Our little ones sculpted and painted clay birds. Each bird has a special word or message on the bottom of it.

Today, our class placed the birds in our school community. We asked our school friends that if they find one, to take a minute to read the special word or message. Then, they are to gently put it in another place that is easy to see. Our intention is that these birds continue to surprise and delight. Also, that they serve as a means of spreading love, kindness and magic to make the world a more peaceful place.

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