Thursday, April 22

Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder

by Jo Nesbo
translated from Norwegian by Tara Chace
Aladdin 2010 

Proving that some humor is universal, this Norwegian import is a romp worthy of all the comparisons to Roald Dahl that I've read in other reviews.  

Tiny Nilly moves to a new neighborhood in Oslo and discovers that his neighbor, Doctor Proctor, is a bit of a nutty professor who invents wacky, seemingly useless stuff.  Like an industrial-strength fart powder that doesn't smell and can hurl a human into the atmosphere.  Enter the villains, a set of twin boys named Truls and Trym and their Hummer driving father who plot to steal the powder and sell it to NASA before the good doctor can.  And just because this sort of premise isn't weird enough there is a man-eating snake in the sewers and the problem of there being no gunpowder to set off the cannons on Norwegian Independence Day.  Oh yeah, it'll all come together in the end. 

If the subject of farting as an integral part of the narrative turns you off, if it would prevent you from enjoying a funny and engaging narrative, then that's a shame.  While I certainly don't condone gratuitous use of potty humor to engage young readers we have, for better or worse, lost those days where a story like this could be told about belching or something more innocent.  In fact if I think too hard about this there's a quite bit of The Absent Minded Professor in this story, which makes it hardly the most original idea.  But Nesbo keeps things light and, uh, airy, and fills the story with bits of the preposterous that make it genuinely funny.

Like flushing poor Nilly down a toilet so he can escape a prison cell and swim (yes, swim) through raw sewage in order to escape, but becomes swallowed by the boa that lives there.  And there's Nilly, watching as the snake's digestive juices dissolve the rubber on his shoes, accepting his fate and not the least bit frantic (maybe a little nervous)... until he notices something promising about some of the other contents in the snake's stomach.  Without giving too much away, Nilly does indeed escape and Nesbo gives this image of a snake flying out the sewer drain and flailing around the skies above Oslo's harbor like a giant balloon quickly deflating.

Nesbo has, until recently, been an award-winning writer of detective fiction in Norway and this is his first foray into children's literature.  Normally I get a hinky feeling when I hear about successful adult writers tapping the children's market because sometimes it feels like the author is trading on their name, and the publishers are simply going with a known quantity over seeking out quality.  That isn't the case here as Nesbo clearly knows how to entertain the audience with clever, goofy humor.   And I sincerely hope that the second book, Doctor Proctor and the Time Bathtub, manages to find its way to translation soon.

ALA question: Could this be a contender for the Mildred L. Batchelder award, or is it not serious enough?
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