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What's the Matter with Newton?

Book #1 of Franken-Sci High
Created by Mark Young / Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum



About The Book

It takes a lot to stand out at a school for mad scientists—but Newton Warp is unlike anyone (or anything) else at Franken-Sci High in this first book in a wacky series created with The Jim Henson Company.

Franken-Sci High is the only school in the world for aspiring mad scientists and it’s located on a craggy island in the Bermuda Triangle, of course! While some mad scientists are power-hungry maniacs, the school was founded in 1536 as a refuge for generations of brilliant—and yes, eccentric—young minds. Students are encouraged to use their brainpower for good, but the teachers accept that some kids will still want to take over the world…and the school cafeteria.

In the first book in the series, What’s the Matter with Newton?, Newton Warp is a mystery, even to himself: He wakes up one day in the library with no idea of who he is, how he got there, or where he came from. Newton is quickly assigned to a dorm and makes a friend: Shelly Ravenholt, who creates living, breathing monsters for fun. He’s eager to find out who his family is, but this is high school after all, and he soon has other problems: Newton has to create a last-minute project for the Mad Science Fair and Shelly’s friend Theremin (a robot) is really jealous of him. And that’s not all: the other students at Franken-Sci High soon realize that Newton has a few useful, but surprising quirks. Wherever Newton came from, they start to suspect that he’s not entirely human!

TM & © 2019 The Jim Henson Company


What’s the Matter with Newton?

The boy slowly opened his eyes and sat up. He blinked under the glare of the fluorescent lights above. As his eyes focused, he could see that he was in a room filled with rows of shelves holding glass jars. Inside each jar was a mass of gelatinous gunk.


He had no idea who he was, or where he was. He looked down at himself.

He was sort of tall—teenage-size, he guessed. He was wearing jeans that looked new. Gray sneakers. Light-blue shirt with a collar. Tagged to the shirt was a student ID: NEWTON WARP, FRESHMAN, FRANKEN-SCI HIGH.

Newton Warp. That was his name, he suddenly realized. At least he knew that. The other stuff, he wasn’t so sure of. Have I ever heard of Franken-Sci High before? he wondered. Nope, don’t think so!

Then he felt a prickling sensation on his neck and turned to see that one of the brains with eyeballs attached to it was staring at him.

“What are you looking at?” Newton whispered to the brain. Then a loud voice made him jump.

“Theremin, you can’t do that! That’s cheating!”

Newton peeked through the shelf of brains behind him and saw two people in the next aisle. One of them was a girl. Good, I know what a girl is! he thought.

This girl had brown hair and big glasses. She was wearing leggings with polka dots, a fake-fur poncho, and a long scarf around her neck—or was it a snake?

And that other person is a robot, Newton thought. The robot was shorter than the girl, with a metal body, and round, blue lights where a human’s eyes would go. Instead of walking, he hovered a few inches above the floor.

Newton saw that the robot was connected to one of the brain jars by a cord. One end of the cord was attached to a port on the jar, and the other was plugged into the robot’s head.

“It is not cheating, Shelly!” the robot replied. “You would do it too if you had a plug in your head!”

“I absolutely would not, Theremin, and you know it,” Shelly replied.

The robot’s eyes flashed red. “Fine!” he yelled. Then he angrily pulled out the plug, disconnecting himself.

In a flash, the jar tipped over, the lid popped off, and the brain flew out and hit the window behind them. Splat! Newton watched, fascinated, as the brain slowly slid down the glass, leaving a trail of slime and making a loud squeaking sound before finally hitting the floor.

The robot stared at it for a moment.

The girl laughed. “It’s not going to bite. Come on, let’s pick it up,” she said.

The robot gingerly held out the jar as the girl picked up the slimy brain, plopped it back in, and wiped her hands on her poncho as if she did this all the time.

“Whose was it?” she asked as Theremin put the jar back on the shelf.

“Sir Isaac Newton,” the robot replied.

Newton? That’s my name! Newton thought as he quietly watched from behind the shelves.

Then Shelly started to laugh.

“What’s so funny, Shelly?” Theremin asked.

Yes, what’s so funny? Newton wondered.

“Don’t you get it?” she asked.

Theremin shook his head. “Get what?”

“What goes up, must come down . . . ,” Shelly hinted.

Theremin shrugged.

Shelly sighed. “It’s fitting because the brain slid down the window, observing the laws of gravity discovered by its former owner, Sir Isaac Newton!”

After hearing his name again, Newton felt like he had to say something.

“Newton! That’s my name too!” he blurted out.

Shelly and Theremin rushed over to Newton.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Theremin blurted out aggressively.

Shelly quickly stepped between him and Newton. “Sorry about that. My friend is not great with strangers,” she apologized. “So let’s try that again. Hi, Newton! Are you new here?”

“Actually, I’m not sure where ‘here’ is,” Newton replied. “Or why I’m here, or where I came from.”

“No idea at all?” Shelly asked.


Shelly and Theremin exchanged glances.

“Have you ever seen him on campus before?” Shelly asked Theremin.

Theremin’s eyes flashed as he checked his memory banks. “Never.”

“So he’s new, but he doesn’t know where he is, or where he came from . . .” Shelly’s voice trailed off as she pondered this. “Wasn’t Odifin working on an amnesia formula? Maybe Newton’s a new student, and Odifin decided to test out the formula on him?”

“What’s an Odifin?” Newton asked.

“Odifin Pinkwad is one of the students here at the school,” Shelly replied. “But not one of the nicest.”

“That’s for sure,” Theremin agreed.

Shelly held out her hand. “We’ll help you, Newton. I’m Shelly Ravenholt, and this is Theremin Rozika.”

Theremin slapped her hand away. “Wait, Shelly! We don’t know where he’s been.”

As Theremin floated up to Newton, a flashlight popped out of a compartment on his head, and he shone it in Newton’s eyes.

“Hey, what are you—” Newton started to protest, but the robot interrupted him.

“This won’t take long,” Theremin said. “We have to examine you to make sure you’re not dangerous.”

“I don’t feel dangerous,” Newton said.

“Arms up and shoes off, please,” Theremin said.

Shelly tried to explain. “Don’t mind Theremin. He’s just being cautious. Last month Tabitha Talos made a mecho-humanoid android of herself to take tests for her. But the android wasn’t properly wired and it melted.”

Newton’s eyes got wide, and Shelly shrugged. “Stuff like that happens all the time here.”

“And ‘here’ is . . . ?” Newton asked.

“Right,” Shelly said. “Sorry. You’re in Franken-Sci High. It’s a school for kids who want to be scientists. Most of us are the children of scientists, but not all of us.”

“Mad scientists,” Theremin grumbled. He got to work even though Newton had only taken off one shoe.

“What’s a mad scientist?” Newton asked.

“It depends on your point of view,” Shelly replied. “The world might see some of our parents and ancestors as mad scientists, but that’s just because they were not afraid to take risks! To explore areas of science that others might find frightening or unconventional. To imagine that anything—”

“Aha!” Theremin cried. He pointed to the bottom of Newton’s foot. “A bar code.”

Newton and Shelly looked. Theremin was right. The black lines of a bar code glistened on the bottom of Newton’s foot.

“Now, that’s interesting,” Shelly remarked, adjusting her glasses to see better.

Theremin’s eyes flashed, turning to red lasers as he scanned the bar code.

“Nothing,” he muttered. Then he scanned it again.

“So, if many of you are the kids of scientists, does that mean I am too?” Newton asked.

“You could be,” Shelly replied. “Are you sure you don’t remember?”

Newton shook his head. “I’m not even sure if I have a family.”

“Oh, how awful!” Shelly said sympathetically. “Listen, I’m thinking that Odifin must have used an amnesia formula on you. He might have thought it would be funny to prank the new kid.”

“That sounds like the most logical explanation,” Theremin agreed, and then he tried reading the bar code again. “Still nothing.”

“Theremin and I can take you to the school’s headmistress,” Shelly continued. “She’ll make Odifin give you the antidote. She’ll know who your family is too.”

The bar code . . . amnesia formula . . . mad scientists . . . Newton’s head was spinning. How do I know this girl and this robot are telling me the truth? he wondered. For some reason, he felt he could trust Shelly. Besides, he had no choice. He had no one else to trust right now.

“I’d love to go see her,” Newton replied. “Except . . .” He looked over at Theremin.

Theremin was still holding on to Newton’s foot. His eyes kept flashing . . . and flashing . . . and flashing. . . .

“Uh-oh!” Shelly said. “Theremin, are you glitching?”

Theremin whacked the side of his metal head with his hand. “I’m fine,” he insisted. “It’s probably just a loose wire.” He whacked his head again, and his red eyes flashed . . . and flashed. His head bopped up and down.

“It doesn’t make sense!” Theremin cried, filled with frustration. “It’s a simple bar code. Why can’t I scan it?”

“Let me help,” Shelly said, and she pressed a reset button on the back of his head.

Theremin’s eyes stopping flashing. His head stopped bopping.

“Better?” Shelly asked.

“I think I need to get my eyes checked,” Theremin responded. “My bar code scanner must not be working.”

“First we have to help Newton,” Shelly said.

“You can bring him to Mumtaz,” Theremin snapped. “I need to see Nurse Bunsen.”

“All right. I’ll check in with you later, okay?” Shelly said, but Theremin floated away without another word.

Newton put his shoe back on. “So, this brain room is part of the school?” he asked.

“It’s part of the library, actually,” Shelly explained as they walked. “Many of the world’s greatest scientists donated their brains to the school. We can connect with them to research a project, or to study for a test.”

“So why did you say that Theremin was cheating?” Newton asked.

She showed him a rectangular device. “Everyone has a tablet—it’s like a small computer. You’ll probably remember that when you get your memory back. You can plug it into a port on the jar of the brain you want to get information from. The brain gives out electrical impulses that communicate with the tablet.”

Newton nodded like he understood, although he really didn’t.

“Theremin has a tablet too,” Shelly continued, “but he was plugging the brain directly into his own hard drive. That’s against the rules.”

“I hope Isaac Newton’s brain is all right,” he added.

“Me too,” Shelly said.

As they made their way to the headmistress’s office, Newton was silent. Students walked by, talking and laughing, and Newton looked at every face, hoping to find a familiar one. But he didn’t recognize a soul.

About The Author

© Mark Young

In the “real” world Mark Young makes a living as a multiple Emmy winner who has written and produced the animated TV shows for Netflix, Disney, Nick Jr., ABC, CBS, and NBC. However, in his “inner” world, Mark believes that Franken-Sci High isn’t actually his creation but a real school where budding mad scientists learn how to create synthetic eyeballs, travel to different dimensions, try gravity gum, and design inflatable pets. Mark lives in Southern California with his wife. Between them, they have four amazing kids. More about Mark at

About The Illustrator

Mariano Epelbaum is an illustrator and character designer form Buenos Aires. He enjoys trying different styles of illustration, as he is inspired by each project he works on. Mariano worked as art director and character designer on the animated movie Underdogs. He has published books in the US, Spain, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. When he’s not working, he likes playing with his two daughters, watching movies, and going for outdoor walks. Visit him online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon Spotlight (August 27, 2019)
  • Length: 176 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481491303
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 640L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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