Hispanic Heritage Books for Elementary Grades

   Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 through October 15. The following is a collection of books that highlight the experiences of Latinos in the United States for students in the elementary grade levels. The list includes biography, history, and cultural books, as well as poetry and fiction books that give insight into the everyday life of Latino children and families.

For more information about Hispanic Heritage Month, see http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

For more of the best Latino picture books (and chapter books): check out the Pura Belpré Award Homepage or search CLCD for “Pura Belpre Award.”

Contributor: Andy Spinks


Yes! We Are Latinos

Ada, Alma Flor

This book celebrates the amazing and underappreciated diversity of the Latino community and makes great strides toward ameliorating one-dimensional stereotypes. Through 12 narrative poems, the authors explore the experiences of fictional men and women; Christians and Jews; immigrants, indigenous people, and second-generation Americans; professionals and farmers; all of whom identify themselves as Latinos. Each poem is followed by brief factual explanation of the major themes within, such as the Spanish Civil War, Asian influences in Latin America, and Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. Black-and-white abstract art by Caldecott winner Diaz elevates each individual’s story by illustrating major themes. While the authors include a bibliography of source material, they also acknowledge a lengthy list of people who provided inspiration for the topics discussed in the book. Perhaps it is the use of these real-life figures that gives the fictional vignettes such an air of realism and relatability for both Latino and non-Latino readers alike. Grades 3-6

REVIEWER: Erin Anderson (Booklist)

(Five additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s): 9781580893831, 978160734618, 9781580893831, 158089383X , 1607346184

A Kid’s Guide To Latino History : More Than 50 Activities

Petrillo, Valerie

This well-documented resource, designed to support the social-science curricula in elementary- and middle-school classrooms, offers clear instructions on how to make 54 hands-on activities that celebrate the beauty and diversity of the Latino culture in the United States. Each chapter includes historical background, illustrations, maps and critical-thinking questions. Information is presented in chronological order, beginning with the Pre-Columbian civilizations and the Spanish conquest followed by the Spanish colonies in North America, Mexican independence and life in the Mexican Southwest. Individual chapters highlight the major Latino immigrant waves: Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Central Americans, Dominican Americans and South Americans. The last chapter, “Latinos: Past, Present and Future,” discusses immigration issues. This guide will not only assist teachers and students but youth services librarians committed to presenting programs that reflect the history and achievements of the ethnic groups that make up the 15 percent of the U.S. population. (timeline, introduction, bibliographies, Latino museums, suggested reading list for kids, Latino movies and videos, websites, teacher’s guide, history standards and learning objectives) 2009, Chicago Review, 208p. Category: Nonfiction. Ages 7 up.

(Two additional reviews available on CLCD.).

ISBN(s): 9781556527715, 1556527713

Separate Is Never Equal : The Story Of Sylvia Mendez And Her Family

Tonatiuh, Duncan

A little-known yet important story of the fight to end school discrimination against Mexican-American children is told with lively text and expressive art. Most associate the fight for school integration with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. However, seven years earlier, Mexican-American students in California saw an end to discrimination there. The little girl at the center of that case, Sylvia Mendez, was the daughter of parents who looked forward to sending her to the school near their newly leased farm. When her aunt attempted to register the family children, they were directed to the “Mexican school,” despite proficiency in English and citizenship. No one could explain to Mr. Mendez why his children were not allowed to attend the better-appointed school nearby. Despite the reluctance of many fellow Mexican-Americans to cause “problems,” he filed a suit, receiving the support of numerous civil rights organizations. Tonatiuh masterfully combines text and folk-inspired art to add an important piece to the mosaic of U.S. civil rights history. The universality of parents’ desires for better opportunities for their children is made plain. The extensive author’s note provides context, and readers can connect with the real people in the story through photographs of Sylvia, her parents and the schools in question. Helpful backmatter includes a glossary, bibliography and index. Even the sourcing of dialogue is explained. A compelling story told with impeccable care. 2014, Abrams, 40 pp., $18.95. Category: Informational picture book. Ages 6 to 9. Starred Review.


(Four additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 9781419710544, 1419710540

The Storyteller’s Candle / La Velita De Los Cuentos

Gonzaalez, Lucaia M.

Pura Belpre was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York. She was also a storyteller, author, and advocate for the Puerto Rican community. The Storyteller’s Candle tells how that community was welcomed into the library through Belpre’s efforts. Just before her first New York Christmas, a little girl asks her aunt why they don’t go inside the library they pass every day. Her aunt answers her: “We don’t speak English, and the people in there don’t speak Spanish.” However, that day in school Belpre comes to tell the children stories and to invite them to visit: “The library is for everyone, la biblioteca es para todos,” she says. The children take their excitement home with them that day, and suddenly the entire community becomes involved, culminating in a Three King’s Day celebration at the library. Gonzalez and Delacre were awarded the Pura Belpre Honor Award by the American Library Association for their collaboration on The Bossy Gallito, which was Gonzalez’s first book. They also worked on Senor Cat’s Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America. Gonzalez is also a children’s librarian, storyteller, and puppeteer. Her text is charming and so filled with the voices of her characters that one gets a rich sense of community, and most of all, of Pura Belpre. Using sepia tones, Delacre’s illustrations are anchored in the past. Collage from a January 1930 New York Times underlines the sense of history. Often the news correlates with the illustration, as in a piece discussing how children prepare for the Three Kings collaged with a scene of the family around the table remembering their favorite aspects of Navidad in Puerto Rico. With an introduction explaining the influx of Puerto Ricans to New York during the Great Depression, a biographical note on Belpre, a glossary of terms and an invitation to explore the text in the collage, this wonderful storybook deeply engages young readers through the story of an important and beloved woman in the Latino community.

REVIEWER: Naomi Millan (ForeWord Reviews)

(Eight additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s): 9780892392223, 0892392223


Dorros, Arthur

When Abuela, my grandma, tells me stories, we can fly anywhere.” And so, tumbling through the air “like big birds playing,” the little girl and her grandmother, first seen flying over New York City in Abuela (1991), take off on another imaginary flight, this time to the Caribbean island where Abuela grew up. They visit relatives at the house where Abuela lived with Abuelo and look at old photographs and tell family stories. They fly with parrots in the bright garden treetops of the rain forest. And they explore the city, harbor, and market before cooling off at the beach. Finally, the stars light their way home to New York City. Kleven’s jewel-like watercolor and collage illustrations shimmer and soar in an exuberant play of color and detail. Complete with a glossary and pronunciation guide for the Spanish words that are sprinkled throughout the text, Isla is a tropical treasure. Category: For the Young. 1995, Dutton, $15.99. Ages 4-8.

REVIEWER: Annie Ayres (Booklist)

(Three additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 0525451498, 9780525451495


Dorros, Arthur

Rosalba and her Spanish-speaking abuela (grandmother) spend the day together in a city park where the two of them share an imaginary flight over the city. All of Abuela’s comments and observations are made in Spanish, while either the context or Rosalba’s translations into English make her statements clear for non-Spanish speakers. Elisa Kleven’s vibrant, mixed-media collages add colorful whimsy to this visual and verbal delight. Winner, 1991 CCBC Caldecott Discussion. CCBC categories: Picture Books; Books For Toddlers. 1991, Dutton Children’s Books, 40 pages, $13.95. Ages 4-7.

REVIEWER: Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices

(Four additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 0525447504, 9780525447504

Welcome To Josefina’s World, 1824 : Growing Up On America’s Southwest Frontier

La Pierre, Yvette

Here’s a wonderful, well-illustrated compilation of New Mexican and Southwestern history. This well thought-out book provides glimpses of history from the 1500’s through the 1800’s. With references to Josefina (the Hispanic character and doll) and to the novels about her life, the publisher has expanded the historic horizons of her fans. A great addition to an already successful avenue for educating and entertaining girls. 1999, Pleasant Company, $14.95. Ages 8 to 12.

REVIEWER: C. Henebry (Parent Council)

ISBN(s) : 1562477692, 9781562477691

Sonia Sotomayor : A Judge Grows In The Bronx / La Juez Que Creciao En El Bronx

Winter, Jonah

This book captures a classic American story: that anyone, no matter how humble his/her background, can achieve greatness. Sonia Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx housing project and was raised by a single mother. Sotomayor credits her mother for instilling a love of learning in her and, by the time she was eight years old, young Sonia had decided to become a judge. Sonia’s determination and academic achievements earned her many honors: acceptance to Princeton University, an outstanding legal career, and ultimately, appointment by President Obama to the highest court in the land, The United States Supreme Court. The fanciful illustrations perfectly complement the inspirational story of Sonia Sotomayor. The Spanish translations will reach the audience who will likely feel the greatest connection to Justice Sotomayor. 2009, Simon & Schuster, $16.99. Ages 8 to 11.

REVIEWER: Mandy Cruz (Children’s Literature)

(Three additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 9781442403031, 1442403039

Kids Explore America’s Hispanic Heritage

This is an informative, detailed look at Hispanic cultures–including history, modern concerns and problems, holidays, language, and folklore–written and profusely illustrated with black-and-white artwork by 82 Denver students, most of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Spanish, or Mexican backgrounds, in grades three through seven. The enthusiastic tone, AUTHentic vernacular, and thoughtful comments about colonialism and racism compensate in part for grammar that is annoying or incorrect (“History shows that these Indians were very smart in agriculture. . . . Christopher Columbus never realized that North and South America would be in his way to get to India”). While there is no documentation or general bibliography, these young AUTHors in the Westridge Young Writers Workshop discuss the process of historical research and how they interviewed subjects for the “real people” section of the book, and they encourage readers to pursue related interests in the library. An unusual resource book, recommended for libraries in communities interested in helping children gain an understanding of their own and other cultures, as well as for educators looking for a model school publishing program. Category: Middle Readers. 1992, John Muir, $7.95. Gr. 4-7.

REVIEWER: Julie Corsaro (Booklist)

ISBN(s) : 1562610341, 9781562610340

Me, Frida

Novesky, Amy

The art work in ME, FRIDA is so outstanding that it takes a while to get into the story it accompanies. David Diaz, the Caldecott Award winner for Smoky Night, uses acrylic paints, charcoal and varnish on primed linen to lavish color and imaginative drawings on each double-spread page. They demand the reader’s attention before, after, and during the reading of the text. But Novesta’s text stands up to its competition as it tells the colorful story of Frida Kahlo, a very petite woman married to the very large (physically and in reputation) Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. While living in Mexico, Frida has begun to paint, but it is not until the couple moves to San Francisco that she really comes into her own as an artist. She begins to explore the city by herself and to enjoy the differences she finds in different neighborhoods with their sounds, colors, and textures. They inspire her to adopt a more intimate, folkloric style. The first painting she creates using her new style is a wedding portrait of her husband and herself. He is shown as he was: a large, important figure. Next to him she paints herself small, as the world sees her. It becomes her best-loved painting. Perhaps because Frida is described as a “lovely little bird,” or because she includes in her wedding portrait a pink bird holding a ribbon with her name and her husband’s, with the place and the date, Diaz includes a pink bird on each opening. It is just one of the special features of ME, FRIDA that young readers will enjoy. This book is highly recommended for elementary school libraries and those serving older art lovers as well. Hispanic children may take a special pride in learning about Frida and Diego. Fiction, Highly Recommended. Grades 2-4. 2010, Abrams Books, Unpaged., $16.95. Ages 7 to 10.

REVIEWER: Marsha Harper (The Lorgnette – Heart of Texas Reviews)

(Six additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 9780810989696, 0810989697

Delores Huerta : A Hero To Migrant Workers

Warren, Sarah E.

Although her name is not as familiar as Cesar Chavez’s, Dolores Huerta was just as important in the movement for migrant workers’ rights. Each spread introduces an important role in her career. We learn about Dolores as a teacher detective friend, and learn how Huerta became aware of what life was like for the migrant workers’ children in her classroom. Moved by the injustice of what she learned, the story goes on to tell how Dolores is a warrior, organizer and peace-maker as she helped organize and publicize the strikes that eventually lead to legislation protecting the right to fair wages and conditions for migrant workers. While this is a complex topic for young children, the simple but evocative text and the realistic full color illustrations will give them a good idea of the important work to which Huerta has devoted her life–work that is of such importance that the author is donating a portion of books proceeds to a migrant workers organization. 2012, Marshall Cavendish, $17.99. Ages 7 to 10.

REVIEWER: Mary Hynes-Berry (Children’s Literature)

(Five additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 9780761461074, 9780761461081, 0761461078 , 0761461086

Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote : A Migrant’s Tale

Tonatiuh, Duncan

Pancho’s papa, Papa Rabbit, is leaving with Senor Rooster and Senor Ram to cross the border illegally to find work in El Norte for months. When Papa and the other animal fathers don’t come home when they’re expected, Pancho, stocked up with tortillas, mole, rice, and beans, sets out to find his father. Accepting the help of a coyote (a literal one, in a play on coyote, an often corrupt smuggler who takes people across the border for a price), Pancho hops trains, swims rivers, and bribes the rattlesnake border officials to cross the desert into El Norte, doling out his dwindling stockpile of food and drink at each step as payment to the coyote. After it’s finally all gone and the coyote is still hungry, Pancho seems to be on the menu himself until the migrant fathers burst in, chase the smuggler away, and begin the trek home to reunite with their families. Tonatiuh is so careful in weaving his allegory that his empathetic contemporary tale feels like age-old folklore, with simple but compelling text and a step-by-step escalation of the story through gripping, kid-understandable challenges. The ink and digital collage illustrations evoke Aztec drawing with their distorted two-dimensionality: feet and heads are in profile, but arms and eyes face forward, and objects skew perspective to tilt toward the reader and display their most interesting side. Tonatiuh masterfully combines photographic elements to create a richly textured world (Coyote, for example, is textured with real coyote fur) and uses broad swaths of the gorgeous tans, browns, and oranges of the environment to draw attention to his characters and their journeys. An author’s note describes the realities of undocumented workers in the United States today and points to web resources for further information. A glossary of Spanish terms is also included. This thoughtful allegory provides a fresh approach to introduce kids to a tough issue, but the tale is interesting enough to stand as a modern folktale on its own. Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2013, Abrams, 32p., $16.95. Ages 5-9 yrs.

REVIEWER: Thaddeus Andracki (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

(Three additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 9781419705830

Harvesting Hope : The Story Of Cesar Chavez

Krull, Kathleen

Illustrated by Yuyi Morales

The childhood and early career of Cesar Chavez are dramatically portrayed in this picture-book biography. Chavez and his family lived comfortably in an adobe farmhouse on a large Arizona ranch, until the Depression caused them to lose their family farm and become migrant workers in California, barely earning a living by working other people’s farms. Painfully harvesting beets and thinning lettuce, Chavez grew more and more angry about the injustices of farm workers’ lives and dedicated himself to fighting for their cause. His first major protest was a big one–a three-hundred mile walk to protest wages and working conditions on the grape farms of central California. The success of this nonviolent action, which is the climax of this biography, launched Chavez’s career. The author includes a brief afterward, explaining Chavez’s subsequent efforts on behalf of farm laborers. The book’s illustrations are paintings in rich hues, portraying crops and rolling hills in colors evocative of the California landscape. Although Cesar Chavez might seem an unlikely subject for a picture book, the circumstances of his life and work should appeal to young people’s sense of justice. 2003, Harcourt, $17.00. Ages 7 to 10.

REVIEWER: Norah Piehl (Children’s Literature)

(Eight additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 0152014373, 9780152014377

Renae Has Two Last Names

Colato Laainez, Renae

On the first day at his new school Rene noticed that his teacher left one of his last names off of his name tag, so he added it. An immigrant from El Salvador, Rene was confused by the practice of using only one of his last names in the United States. To Rene each last name represented a set of grandparents and it felt wrong to leave one set out. He compared using only one last name to having pizza without cheese. Worse, at recess the kids teased him for using two last names–one going so far as to say his name was longer than an anaconda. When he shared his concerns with his parents, his father comforted him by saying that his mother’s last name is still in his heart. That night he dreamt that his mother faded away with his last name so Rene decided not to lose his second last name. For his family tree project Rene worked hard to find the right photos to portray his family. He presented his family tree to his class and demonstrated how both names are an equally important part of him. He concluded his presentation with his grandmother’s music. While dancing, his classmates told him how “cool” it is to have two last names and his teacher assured Rene that he would not have to choose just one anymore. A moving story about one of the many issues faced by children from Latin America but told in a most charming way. This story inspires the understanding of the importance, in some families, of having two last names. 2009, Pinata Books, $15.95. Ages 7 to 12.

REVIEWER: Mandy Cruz (Children’s Literature)

(Two additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 1558855300, 9781558855304

Cool Salsa Bilingual Poems On Growing Up Latino In The United States

Carlson, Lori M. (Editor)

The founder of the bilingual children’s magazine Azul offers a collection of poetry by Gary Soto, Oscar Hijuelos (who also contributes an introduction) and other contemporary Latino writers from both the edges and the heartland of our country. Most, but not all, of the poems were written in English first; they appear here in the original, and also in translations: sometimes literal, sometimes free, sometimes by the poet, generally by another. Gathered by theme — “School Days,” “Hard Times,” “Time To Party,” etc. — they express a wide range of experience and feeling in direct ways, from Gina Vald,s’s ironic “English con Salsa” (“Welcome to ESL 100, English Surely Latinized”) or Pat Mora’s “Mango Juice” (“Eating mangoes/on a stick/is laughing/as gold juice/slides down/your chin…”) to Luis J. Rodr guez’s account of being beaten upon venturing into a white neighborhood to buy groceries (” ‘Race’ Politics”). Six of the poems here are truly bilingual, mixing languages in intriguing ways. In “Why Do Men Wear Earrings on One Ear?” Trinidad Sanchez Jr. exclaims: “Sepa yo!/Maybe pot costumbre, maybe porque es la moda/or they have made promesas…because la chica selling them was sooooo mamacita…” Carlson assumes that most of her readers will be more comfortable in English; the English version of each poem comes first, and Spanish phrases are translated (“Sepa yo: How should I know?”) in an appended glossary. Poetry with a distinct flavor: a skillfully mixed appetizer for After Aztlan: Latino Poets of the Nineties (1992) and other larger collections. Biographical sketches. 1994, Holt, $14.95. Starred Review.


(Four additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 0805031359, 9780805031355

The Mexican War : How The U.S. Gained Its Western Lands

Cantor, Carrie Nichols

Cantor poses questions to create age appropriate dialogue on the causes and outcomes of the war. Chapter one begins with a map of North America that challenges modern perceptions about U.S. land. The discussion continues with a definition of “Manifest Destiny”: the idea America should and would grow west “from sea to shining sea.” Colorful biographies on Generals Zachary Taylor and Antonio Lapez de Santa Ana add personality to this dynamic period. The westward movement of settlers and U.S. democracy are an interesting contrast to the boundaries of New Spain and Mexican dictatorships. Both conflicts disenfranchise the Native Americans, and North-South U.S. ideologies about slavery drive much of the debate over war. The text concludes with a reference glossary, and a timeline that covers Columbus’ journey from Spain in 1492 to the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. This balanced historical narrative is part of “A Proud Heritage: The Hispanic Library” series. 2003, The Child’s World, $19.95. Ages 8 to 12.

REVIEWER: Tina Dybvik (Children’s Literature)

(One additional review available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 1567661769, 9781567661767

Playing Loteraia

Colato Laainez, Renae

This story begins as a young boy boards a bus to visit his grandmother in San Luis de la Paz, Mexico. The boy is anxious because he cannot speak Spanish, and his grandmother cannot speak English. As soon as he arrives, he accompanies his grandmother to her stand at the fair where she runs a game called la loteria, Mexican bingo. Through the course of his visit, they begin to bridge their communication challenges, as both the boy and the grandmother learn words from each other’s language and enjoy their own developing friendship. For the bilingual household or school, this book is a must-buy. The author provides parallel Spanish/English text, with intermittent Spanish words within the English text, and English words within the Spanish. The bright and rich illustrations compliment the author’s themes of warmth, family bonding, and fun. And to add to the fun, the rules of the game and a packet of authentic Mexican bingo cards are included so that readers can play at home. 2005, Luna Rising Books, $15.95. Ages 4 to 7.

REVIEWER: Michelle Negron Bueno (Children’s Literature)

(Two additional reviews available on CLCD.)

ISBN(s) : 0873588819, 9780873588812

What Can You Do With A Rebozo?

Tafolla, Carmen

Illustrated by Amy Cordova

In this English/Spanish bilingual picture book, a young girl questions “What can you do with a rebozo?” The character goes on to list the many ways that a rebozo, or Mexican shawl, is used in her family. The girl shows how rebozos may be worn in the hair, to keep warm, or to make a dress fancier. She also uses her imagination and the rebozo becomes the sash of a pirate, a tunnel, a flying cape, and a slide. However, her favorite thing to do with a rebozo is dance! The author ends the story with an explanation of a rebozo and what it is made of.

The author was raised in the west side barrio of San Antonio, Texas, which is predominately Chicano, “which is the city of my great-grandparents and of my roots” (Tafolla, 2006) Her ancestors and parents helped mold her beliefs and the traditions that she mentions in this story. In the book we cannot tell if the girl lives in Mexico or in the U.S., but it is clear that the traditions and culture that is illustrated have strong Latin American roots. The book mentions traditions that are culturally relevant like pinatas and the song, La Bamba. The illustrator of this book, Amy Cordova, has collaborated with several other authors, like Rodolfo Anaya (2001) on My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande; Diana Cohn (2004) on El Tallador de suenos; and many others. She is an award-winning book illustrator, artist and educator who lives in New Mexico. Cordova likes to represent her multicultural roots: Hispanic, Native American and Anglo in her work.

As bilingual teachers, we have used this book because we connect with our Mexican heritage given to us by our parents and grandparents. The book has been well received by our students and other teachers of Mexican heritage in our campuses. Readers respond to the various uses of rebozos, which they are familiar with from family members in their homes and visits to Mexico. Children relate their personal connections on rebozos and how they are used in their households. Readers are also attracted to the bright, colorful illustrations and details that reflect Mexico, such as the one where the main character is breaking the pinata, or where she is dancing a traditional Mexican dance.

Readers who are unfamiliar with the Mexican culture depicted in the book will enjoy learning about the traditions and uses associated with rebozos. The English text in this English/Spanish bilingual book contains a few Spanish words and phrases that can be understood through the detailed illustrations. Readers who do not speak Spanish should not have difficulty following the text. This is an interesting text to introduce Mexican culture to monolingual English speakers.

This book would make a good addition to text sets on cultures and traditions. It would fit in with a number other of other books of Mexican culture, such as Lets Eat! A Comer! (Pat Mora, 2008); and an English/Spanish bilingual book about a Latin American family and their culture in relation to food. Another great pairing is Carmen Tafolla’s, What Can You Do With A Paleta? (2009), which has a similar storyline focusing on paletas, a common Mexican treat. What Can You Do with a Rebozo pairs well with other books, including Abuelito Eats with His Fingers by Janice Levy (1999), which is about a young girl who overcomes her initial reluctance to spend a day with her Spanish-speaking grandfather. Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora (2009), My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aqui a alla by Amada Irma Perez (2009) or My very own room/Mi propio cuartito by Amada Irma Perez (2008). These are a few books of a long list of books that represent the Latino and Mexican cultures from authors and illustrators who are part of the community. Tricycle Press, 32 pp..

REVIEWER: larissa Arteaga and Zaida Cendejas-Omar (Worlds of Words Review)

ISBN(s) : 1582462704, 1582462712, 978158246271, 978158246270, 0148893309845

Updated 09/01/14

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