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Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Beverly Johnson
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 8, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Hacks the computer system at NYU to attend classes
- Builds inventions to help the homeless
- And talks to Albert Einstein! (Okay, that’s just in her imagination)
The stench of horse manure woke Max Einstein with a jolt.
Even though she was shivering, she threw off her blanket and hopped out of bed. Actually, it wasn’t really a bed. More like a lumpy, water-stained mattress with frayed seams. But that didn’t matter. Ideas could come wherever they wanted.
She raced down the dark hall. The floorboards—bare planks laid across rough beams—creaked and wobbled with every step. Her red hair, of course, was a bouncing tangle of wild curls. It was always a bouncing tangle of wild curls.
Max rapped her knuckles on a lopsided door hanging off rusty hinges.
“Mr. Kennedy?” She knocked again. “Mr. Kennedy?”
“What the…” came a sleepy mumble. “Max? Are you okay?”
Max took that question as permission to enter Mr. Kennedy’s apartment. She practically burst through his wonky door.
“I’m fine, Mr. Kennedy. In fact, I’m better than fine! I’ve got something great here! At least I think it’s something great. Anyway, it’s really, really cool. This idea could change everything. It could save our world. It’s what Mr. Albert Einstein would’ve called an ‘aha’ moment.”
“Yes, Mr. Kennedy?”
“It’s six o’clock in the morning, girl.”
“Is it? Sorry about the inconvenient hour. But you never know when a brainstorm will strike, do you?”
“No. Not with you, anyway…”
Max was wearing a floppy trench coat over her shabby sweater. Lately, she’d been sleeping in the sweater under a scratchy horse blanket because her so-called bedroom was, just like Mr. Kennedy’s, extremely cold.
The tall and sturdy black man, his hair flecked with patches of white, creaked out of bed and rubbed some of the sleep out of his eyes. He slid his bare feet into shoes he had fashioned out of cardboard and old newspapers.
“Hang on,” he said. “Need to put on my bedroom slippers here…”
“Because the floor’s so cold,” said Max.
“You needed to improvise those bedroom slippers because the floor’s cold every morning. Correct?”
“Maxine—we’re sleeping, uninvited, above a horse stable. Of course the floors are cold. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the place doesn’t smell so good, either.”
Max, Mr. Kennedy, and about a half-dozen other homeless people were what New York City called “squatters.” That meant they were living rent-free in the vacant floors above a horse stable. The first two floors of the building housed a parking garage for Central Park carriages and stalls for the horses that pulled them. The top three floors? As far as the owner of the building knew, they were vacant.
“Winter is coming, Mr. Kennedy. We have no central heating system.”
“Nope. We sure don’t. You know why? Because we don’t pay rent, Max!”
“Be that as it may, in the coming weeks, these floors will only become colder. Soon, we could all freeze to death. Even if we were to board up all the windows—”
“That’s not gonna happen,” said Mr. Kennedy. “We need the ventilation. All that horse manure downstairs, stinking up the place…”
“Exactly! That’s precisely what I wanted to talk to you about. That’s my big idea. Horse manure!”
“It’s simple, really, Mr. Kennedy,” said Max, moving to the cracked plaster wall and finding a patch that wasn’t covered with graffiti.
She pulled a thick stub of chalk out her baggy sweater pocket and started sketching on the wall, turning it into her blackboard.
“Please hear me out, sir. Try to see what I see.”
Max, who enjoyed drawing in a beat-up sketchbook she rescued from a Dumpster, chalked in a lump of circles radiating stink marks. She labeled it “manure/biofuel.”
“To stay warm this winter, all we have to do is arrange a meeting with Mr. Sammy Monk.”
“The owner of this building?” said Mr. Kennedy, skeptically. “The landlord who doesn’t even know we’re here? That Mr. Sammy Monk?”
“Yes, sir,” said Max, totally engrossed in the diagram she was drafting on the wall. “We need to convince him to let us have all of his horse manure.”
Mr. Kennedy stood up. “All of his manure? Now why on earth would we want that, Max? It’s manure!”
“Well, once we have access to the manure, I will design and engineer a green gas mill for the upstairs apartments.”
“A green what mill?”
“Gas, sir. We can rig up an anaerobic digester that will turn the horse manure into biogas, which we can then combust to generate electricity and heat.”
“You want to burn horse manure gas?”
“Exactly! Anaerobic digestion is a series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material, such as horse manure, in the absence of oxygen, which is what ‘anaerobic’ means. That’s the solution to our heating and power problems.”
“You sure you’re just twelve years old?”
“Yes. As far as I know.”
Mr. Kennedy gave Max a look that she, unfortunately, was used to seeing. The look said she was crazy. Nuts. Off her rocker. But Max never let “the look” upset her. It was like Albert Einstein said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Not that Mr. Kennedy had a mediocre mind. Max just wasn’t doing a good enough job explaining her bold new breakthrough idea. Sometimes, the ideas came into her head so fast they came out of her mouth in a mumbled jumble.
“All we need, Mr. Kennedy, is an airtight container—something between the size of an oil drum and a tanker truck.” She sketched a boxy cube fenced in by a pen of steel posts. “Heavy plastic would be best, of course. And it would be good if it had a cage of galvanized iron bars surrounding it. Then we just have to measure and cut three different pipes—one for feeding in the manure, one for the gas outlet, and one for displaced liquid fertilizer. We would insert these conduits into the tank through a universal seal, hook up the appropriate plumbing, and we’d be good to go.”
Mr. Kennedy stroked his stubbly chin and admired Max’s detailed design of the device sketched on the flaking wall.
“A brilliant idea, Max,” he said. “Like always.”
Max allowed herself a small, proud smile.
“Thank you, Mr. Kennedy.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Well, that container there. The cube. That’s what? Ten feet by ten feet by ten feet?”
“And you say you need a cage of bars around it. You also mentioned three pipes. And plumbing. Then I figure you’re going to need a furnace to burn the horse manure gas, turn it into heat.”
Max nodded. “And a generator. To spin our own electricity.”
“Right. Won’t that cost a whole lot of money?”
Max lowered her chalk. “I suppose so.”
“And have you ever noticed the one thing most people squatting in this building don’t have?”
Max pursed her lips. “Money?”
Max tucked the stubby chalk back into her sweater pocket and dusted off her pale, cold hands.
“Point taken, Mr. Kennedy. As usual, I need to be more practical. I’ll get back to you with a better plan. I’ll get back to you before winter comes.”
“Great. But, Max?”
Mr. Kennedy climbed back into his lumpy bed and pulled up the blanket.
“Just don’t get back to me before seven o’clock, okay?”
Max glanced at her watch.
It was only 6:17 a.m. She, unlike Mr. Kennedy, was an early riser. Always had been, probably always would be. The morning, especially that quiet space between dreaming and total wakefulness, was when most of her massive ideas floated through her drowsy brain. The ideas helped tamp down the sadness that could come in those same quiet times. A sadness that all orphans probably shared. Made more intense because Max had no idea who either of her parents were.
Max creaked her way back up the hall to her room as quietly as she could. She could hear Mr. Kennedy already snoring behind her.
Max had decorated her own sleeping space in the stables building the same way she had decorated all the rooms she had ever temporarily lived in: by propping open her battered old suitcase on its side to turn it into a display case for all things Albert Einstein. Books by and about the famous scientist were lined along the bottom like a bookshelf. Both lids were filled with her collection of Einstein photographs and quotes. She even had an Einstein bobblehead doll she’d found, once upon a time, in a museum store dumpster. She used it as a bookend.
Max couldn’t remember where the suitcase came from. She’d just always had it. It was older than her rumpled knit sweater, and that thing was an antique.
The oldest photograph in her collection, the one that someone other than Max (she didn’t know who) had pasted inside the suitcase lid so long ago that its edges were curling, showed the great professor lost in thought. He had a bushy mustache and long, unkempt hair. His hands were clasped together, almost as if in prayer. His eyes were gazing up toward infinity.
That photograph was Max’s oldest memory. And since she never knew her own parents, at an early age, Max found herself talking to the kind, grandfatherly man at bedtime. He was a very good listener. She became curious as to who the mystery man might be, and that’s how her lifelong infatuation with all things Einstein began. Like how he was born in Germany but had to leave his home before the Second World War. And how he was so busy thinking of big, amazing ideas, he sometimes forgot to pay attention to his job at the patent office. They had a lot in common.
Next to the photograph was Max’s absolute favorite Einstein quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
“Unless, of course, you don’t have the money to make the things you dream up come true,” Max muttered.
Mr. Kennedy was right.
She couldn’t afford to build her green gas mill. And she couldn’t ask Mr. Sammy Monk for his horse manure or anything else because Mr. Sammy Monk couldn’t know anybody was living in the abandoned floors of his horse stable. She’d just have to imagine a different solution to the squatters’ heating dilemma. One that didn’t cost a dime and could be created out of someone else’s discarded scraps.
Max turned to her computer, which she had built herself from found parts. It was amazing what some people in New York City tossed to the curb on garbage pickup days. Max had been able to solder together (with a perfectly good soldering iron someone had thrown out) enough discarded circuit boards, unwanted wiring, abandoned processors, rejected keyboards, and one slightly blemished retina screen from a cast-off MacBook Pro to create a machine that whirred even faster than her mind.
She also had free wi-fi, thanks to the Link NYC public hot spot system. She could even recharge her computer’s batteries (discovered abandoned behind one of the city’s glossy Apple stores) at the kiosk just down the block from the stables. (Reliable wi-fi was one of the main reasons Max had selected her current accommodations. Easy access to a top-flight school was the other.)
Max clicked open a browser and went back to the internet page she had bookmarked the night before.
It was a nightmarish news report about children as young as seven “working in perilous conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to mine cobalt that ends up in smartphones, cars, and computers sold to millions across the world.” The children, as many as forty thousand, were being paid one dollar a day to do backbreaking work. They were also helping make a shadowy international business consortium called the Corp very, very, very rich.
The story broke Max’s heart.
Because Max’s heart, like her hero Dr. Einstein’s, was huge.
Max was packing her bookbag for school when she heard a commotion down on the street.
She dropped her backpack and raced to the nearest dirt-smeared window to peer through a hole in the glass.
She saw two police cars. Their roof bar lights were swirling. Even from four stories up, Max could hear snatches of orders crackling out of the cruiser’s dashboard radio: “Squatters… eviction… arrest… trespassing…”
Then she saw two officers, a man and a woman, escorting Mrs. Rabinowitz—a sweet widow who lived on the third floor—out of the building and toward their police car. Mrs. Rabinowitz’s frumpy housecoat was flapping in the breeze, exposing her knee-high stockings.
“There’re more squatters upstairs,” said the female cop. “We may need backup.”
“On it,” said a cop, casually leaning up against one of the cruisers with a radio mic in his hand. He seemed to be the man in charge. “Yeah, this is Alpha Three Five Oh,” he said matter-of-factly into his microphone. “One suspect in custody. More in building. Request backup.”
Max had heard enough.
She raced down four flights of steep, switchback staircases and into the bright morning light.
“Excuse me, officers,” she said, holding up a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. “Might I have a word?”
“What? Who are you, kid?” asked the cop who seemed to be in charge.
“Maxine Einstein, sir.”
“Like the egghead Einstein? The E equals M-C squared guy?”
Max didn’t answer. Instead, she tried to keep the conversation focused and on point. She had learned long ago that it was hard to achieve your desired scientific outcome if you let your mind wander into trivialities.
“Why are you arresting Mrs. Rabinowitz?” she asked, her voice strong and firm.
“Because, little Miss Einstein, your friend here is a squatter. She can’t live in this building without paying rent. Neither can any of those other people upstairs.” The police officer gave Max a menacing look. “Neither can you, kid.”
“Officer, if I may, are you familiar with the legal term ‘adverse possession’?”
“Oh. So now you’re a little lawyer?”
“No, officer. I have not completed the necessary course of study, nor have I passed the New York State bar exam. However, I do know that adverse possession is the legal term for occupying someone else’s property. When you do so, you obtain what are known as ‘squatter’s rights.’ In the state of New York, a person has to live on the property openly and without permission of the owner for a period of at least ten uninterrupted years to be able to claim adverse possession.”
“You telling me these folks have been squatting over Mr. Monk’s stables for more than ten years and he just now called us about it?”
“No. I believe the squatters have only been in possession of this particular premises for six or seven months. I will have to check with Mr. Kennedy for specifics.”
“Well, little Miss Einstein, six or seven months isn’t ten years.”
“True. However, in New York City the laws are different than they are in New York State. We have our own set of adverse possession laws, which you, of course, are sworn to uphold. In New York City, sir, a person is granted squatter’s rights after just thirty days.”
The cop stared at Max with a blank expression on his face. She often had that effect on people.
“After thirty days,” she continued, “a New York City squatter has the right to continue living in a building until the actual owner—in this case, Mr. Sammy Monk—goes through the lengthy and, I am told, very expensive process of legal eviction. From my understanding, that can take up to a year. Sometimes longer.”
The other police officers were now staring at the one holding the radio microphone, wondering what to do next. Two of them still had their hands gripped on Mrs. Rabinowitz’s arms, waiting for orders.
The officer in charge shook his head.
“Let her go.”
The other officers did.
Mrs. Rabinowitz rubbed her arms where the police had been clutching them and hurried over to Max to give her a kiss.
“Thank you, dear,” she whispered.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Rabinowitz. Glad I could be of assistance.”
“I found a bagel with cream cheese yesterday. Want it?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Rabinowitz. I already ate breakfast.”
“Good. It’s the most important meal of the day…”
The frail widow scurried back into the stables.
“Hey, Einstein?” said the lead cop.
“What school do you go to? I wanna send my son there.”
Max ran upstairs to grab her backpack.
The discussion with the police officer had knocked her off her very rigid schedule.
She had to force herself to stay organized—not always easy when you’re absentminded and prone to what Mr. Kennedy called “too much daydreaming.” He thought you should only dream while you were asleep. “You know—nightdreaming!”
But Max didn’t have a mother or father to tell her when it was time to wake up, go to bed, do her homework, eat her vegetables, turn off the TV, or hurry because she’d miss the subway if she didn’t. Max was completely on her own.
Well, not completely. She had Mr. Kennedy, Mrs. Rabinowitz, and the other squatters in the building. But, to be honest, none of them really possessed what Max would call “stellar time-management skills.”
But they loved her and she loved them back. That was good enough for Max. The homeless people camping out above the stables were the closest thing she’d had to family in a long time. Max didn’t even know if “Einstein” was her real family name. Was she related to the famous genius?
She didn’t know.
Max Einstein had no idea who she was, where she came from, how she ended up in New York City, or where she got the name Max Einstein. She liked to think of it as the one great mystery in life that she couldn’t begin to solve, especially not today. She was running late (even for her).
“Have a good day at school, Max!” Mrs. Rabinowitz cried out as Max bounded down the staircase to the third floor.
“You sure you don’t want half of this bagel? It’s got strawberry cream cheese.”
“No, thanks. Gotta run.”
She made it to the main floor of the stables. “Morning, Domino, Kit Kat, and Opie!” she cried.
The horses whinnied in their stalls and flicked their tails.
“Keep making manure, guys,” said Max. “One day, we’re going to build that green gas mill!”
The day after I win the lottery, she thought.
The horse stables were on the western edge of Manhattan, close to the Hudson River. Max had to dash four blocks east and a couple blocks south to take the downtown subway at West 50th Street and Eighth Avenue.
She caught a lucky break. A train screeched into the station just as she hurdled down the steps. Max leaped through the doors, which were closing like a hungry steel mouth, and tumbled into the crowded car.
“Sorry,” she said, as she bumped into a clump of commuters clutching a pole. She found a handhold just before the train lurched forward. When it did, she fell slightly backward because of, well, physics. Sir Isaac Newton, the granddaddy of modern physics, developed laws of motion, including the one that says a body at rest tends to stay at rest—even when a train accelerated forward.
That’s exactly what Max’s body (and all the other bodies crammed into the rush hour train) did. When the train came to a stop, they would all lurch forward because, by then, their bodies would be in motion and tending to stay in motion.
While the subway car rocked south at thirty miles per hour, Max observed a fly zipping through the car, headed north.
So how fast is the fly flying? she wondered with a grin. It’s all relative, of course.
That was one of Albert Einstein’s most famous ideas: the theory of relativity.
How fast the fly was flying uptown on a subway car hurtling downtown depended on how you measured things. It was all relative to your perspective.
The fly was, simultaneously, going five miles per hour in one direction and twenty-five in the other.
Someone standing in the subway tunnel as the train rumbled past (a very dumb idea, especially for a scientist) would measure the fly’s speed as moving south at twenty-five miles per hour.
But, inside the car, Max perceived it as moving five miles per hour north.
Until a big guy, two poles up, plucked the poor little bug out of the air in mid-flight and smooshed it.
Then it wasn’t moving at all.
Nine minutes later, Max emerged from the West 4th Street station and glanced at her watch.
She was back on schedule. She saw some kids playing a frantic game of pickup basketball, their bookbags leaning up against the chain-link fence penning in the court. She wondered what that would be like. To play on the way to school. Max didn’t spend much time with other children. There weren’t very many in her world. In a weird way, Albert Einstein was probably her best friend.
As she walked along, she noticed all sorts of things that reminded her of Einstein’s incredible contributions to the modern world—if only he were alive to see them.
She saw a tourist couple consulting a map app on their smartphone. The app, of course, relied on GPS to pinpoint their precise location on the island of Manhattan. It bounced a signal off satellites orbiting the Earth. The app could help them find the nearest Starbucks with GPS, which worked because of Einstein’s theory of relativity and something he called time dilation. Smartphones were smart because Einstein was smarter.
Max glanced at her watch. She had time to stop by Washington Square Park and see if Mr. Weinstock was interested in a quick game of speed chess.
Mr. Leonard “Lenny” Weinstock claimed to be from London, England. Max was never certain if he was telling her the truth about that. Or the fact that he graduated from Oxford. Or that he met the queen. “On several different occasions, mind you.”
Max just knew he was a nice old man with a very proper British accent who always wore checked shirts, a safari vest, and a flat cap—the kind cabbies used to wear. Mr. Weinstock also liked to play chess as much as Max did.
“Ah, good morning, Maxine,” he said when Max plopped down on the bench opposite him at one of the park’s many outdoor chess tables.
“Good morning, Mr. Weinstock.”
“Care for a game?”
“Yes, sir. If you’re up for it.”
“Of course, dear. I believe you’re currently ahead in our ongoing tally of pairings.”
“Yes, sir. Slightly.”
In truth, Max had won far more games against Mr. Weinstock than she had lost. And the ones she did lose, she lost on purpose. There really was no need to crush Mr. Weinstock’s fighting spirit with a string of unrelenting defeats. As it was, he was just about the only regular in Washington Square Park who was willing to play against Max Einstein. Her reputation preceded her.
“Blitz, bullet, or lightning?” asked Mr. Weinstock, referring to the various levels of speed chess.
“Is lightning okay today?” asked Max. “I don’t want to be late for school.”
“Right you are. Lightning it is, then.”
Mr. Weinstock bopped a button on top of a digital timer. Each player would have ten seconds to ponder and make their moves.
“Checkmate,” said Max after five moves. “Sorry about that, Mr. Weinstock. I’m sure you’ll beat me next time when we’ll both have time to think through our moves more carefully.”
Mr. Weinstock chuckled. “Yes, Max. I’m certain we’ll both enjoy having more time for leisurely contemplation. Have a good day at school, dear.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Max hurried off, promising herself that, the next time they played, she’d definitely let Mr. Weinstock win.
- On Sale
- Oct 8, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- jimmy patterson