By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Last year, middle-school readers were introduced to the antics of Newton Warp, Shelly Ravenholt and Theremin Rozika in the series Franken-Sci High, created by Lake Arrowhead resident Mark Young.
The series grew out of a discussion Young had with Halle Stanford, the head of development for The Jim Henson Company. They were looking for new ideas, Stanford told Young. Did he have anything hidden in a drawer?
As he prepared to meet with Stanford, the idea of Franken-Sci High popped into his head. “I wrote two or three sentences about a secret school where mad scientists send their kids,” Young said.
Over time, Young and the folks at Henson developed the layout of the school, the nature of the teachers, the curriculum. The school, located on a craggy island in the Bermuda Triangle, was founded in 1536 as a refuge for generations of brilliant – and sometimes eccentric – young minds.
Books One and Two – What’s the Matter with Newton and Monsters Among Us – were released last year. Earlier this year, Books Three, Four and Five – The Robot Who Knew Too Much, Beware of the Giant Brain! and The Creature in Room #YTH-125 – were released. Book Six – The Good, the Bad and the Accidentally Evil! – is due to be released on Dec. 22. (Spoiler alert: Shelley, who likes to be the monster builder, turns evil and her buddies have to help her.)
Simon & Schuster committed to at least the first six books, a boxed set of which will be available in the spring. Young has been working on story arcs for the next six. The publisher, he said, will assess sales to determine if there will be additional books in the Franken-Sci High series. He certainly hopes so as Book Six ends “with a pretty tasty cliffhanger,” he said.
Lisa Henson, Young said, has taken a personal interest in the series and will pitch the idea of an animated series or movie to a number of platforms. Mariano Epelbaum, the illustrator for the books, has made some adjustments to the design, something that is necessary in the transition from the page to the screen.
Meanwhile, Young has been developing the idea for another book series, aimed at the same age group, he is tentatively calling Robot Planet. In the series, there is a world out there that is made up of all robots – all the creatures, all the plant life, everything is metal.
“The robot kids eat cereal that’s gears, nuts and bolts,” Young said. “While three teenage robots are out working, they see what looks like a falling star. When they investigate, they discover it’s a pod from outer space. And, when they open it, they discover a biological toddler – a human/alien that’s green.”
They have never seen such a creature – or green, Young said. “They decide to protect and raise it.”
Each of the three teens is from one of the three castes on the planet – builder, programmer, artist. “They become friends because they are individuals.”
Epelbaum has already done some illustrations for the series to bring Young’s conceptions to life.
In both series, Young’s characters pose the questions that plague readers in middle school: Who am I? How do I fit into my family? What is my place in the world?
“In middle school,” Young said, “students start wondering about themselves.”
The Franken-Sci High books are available on Amazon. Young welcomes comments and input from his readers and will even sign books for local readers. Contact him at [email protected]