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Spotlight on: The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell

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The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell John Fardell, The 7 Professors of the Far North

When eleven-year-old Sam Carnabie's parents go away on vacation, they leave him in the care of family friends: his parents' applied technology professor, Alexander Ampersand, and his great-niece and -nephew, Zara and Ben. Their holiday promises to be exciting, but they have no idea what truly awaits them.

Just as they are settling in for the evening, Professor Eric Grauntraker -- Ampersand's old friend and colleague from the Edinburgh Scientists, Inventors, and Explorers Society -- bursts in with awful news. Quite exhausted from the storm outside, he tells them that yet another ex-colleague, Professor Murdo, is up to his old tricks again. Ampersand immediately summons the remaining four of their former group via email.

As Grauntraker rests from his long trip, and they wait for the others to arrive, Ampersand tells the children the story behind this shocking news. And what a story it is! This part alone is worth the price of The 7 Professors of the Far North, with enough detail omitted that I would enjoy seeing it expanded into its own separate novel.

Soon after the rest arrive Professors Ivy Sharpe, Garrulous Gadling, Petunia Hartleigh-Bottom, and Bob Pottle -- they attempt to explain Professor Murdo's plans, but mysterious figures suddenly kidnap them and take them to the Arctic island of Nordbergen. The children manage to stay out of sight, but Zara and Ben (along with Sam) are determined to rescue Professor Ampersand. In order for that to happen, the three will have to follow cryptic instructions, learn "one of the most extraordinary secrets in the world," and survive Arctic temperatures up in the far north.

Those looking for an exciting read to fill the vast span of time between Harry Potter volumes should find that The 7 Professors of the Far North fits the bill nicely. Originally published in the United Kingdom last year to great acclaim, debuts in American bookstores this week. Full of adventure, intrigue, science, and discovery, it is a great example of powerful storytelling, and it is also a lot of fun.

Author John Fardell (who also provides the many illustrations, maps, and diagrams that pepper the text) recaptures the excitement that children show when making up their own stories. In fact, the novel feels very much as if a group of youngsters trying to entertain themselves had written the book, and not at all like an adult trying to write for children. Hidden among a sea of books doing little more than trying to replicate popular formulas, The 7 Professors of the Far North is a true original.

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form in The Gardner News. Copyright 2005.

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