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Items are either atomic values, or nodes. Atomic means that you can't break it down any further, it's the basic value. Numbers and character strings are atomic values (also called 'scalar' values). This is opposed to objects like arrays or lists. Lists are typically organized into nodes, where each node has a parent (the node that came before it, or is up one level) and one or more children (the nodes that come after it, or are down one level). So if there is a node that doesn't have a child or a parent, it's just a standalone node, they refer to that as atomic. Logically, the statement you quoted says that items are nodes, but they want to specify that the node can either be an atomic node, or it can be connected to other nodes.

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