It would appear to a casual observer that former carpooling mom Robin Stevens Payes was always focused squarely on the road ahead as she shuttled her three teenage kids and their friends from soccer to band to drama to art on a typical weekday afternoon.

Payes was indeed focused on the road ahead — but not just the paved one with the white stripe down the middle.

With eyes looking straight through the windshield Payes was in the midst of a hardcore eavesdrop, hearing the children in the backseat share their thoughts, hopes and dreams for the future.

“They wanted to be diplomats AND play in a jazz band AND study medicine AND invent a steering wheel heater for those cold morning drives to school,” the author recalls. “Those carpool moments were rich sources of teen-speak for me.”

Is it any wonder that today Payes is a social marketing consultant and science writer specializing in reaching — and decoding — teen brains? Her brand, Edge of Yesterday, is built on transforming learning through story, interactive engagement and hands-on experiences. Her goal is to inspire young people to pursue their dreams. 

A SCIENCE-MINDED MISSION

Nowhere is that mission more clearly unraveled than in her Edge of Yesterday series for teens, with the third book, Saving Time, having recently been released (Small Batch Books).

The book picks up the exciting time travel adventure of young Charley Morton that began in books one and two — Edge of Yesterday and Da Vinci’s Way — as she transports herself back in time 500 years to Florence, Italy, and the Renaissance, rubbing elbows with the master Leonardo Da Vinci himself. 

Saving Time does three things extremely well: serves up an engrossing story sure to captivate its targeted teen audience, provides great learning for those teens about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math), and beautifully captures the language of this generation to a tee — a language to which teens can relate, thanks to Payes’s efficient listening skills and careful study of her old carpooling coterie. 

“My youngest child, in particular, was a practitioner of the art well into his college years. And then there’s Urban Dictionary. Helps me keep up with the language. As for writing in character, Charley really talks to me. She knows her mind and, when I’m in that zone, I can just channel her.”

TIME TRAVEL ON A TIME CRUNCH

In the story, as part of a school project, Charley builds a time machine spurred by a drawing by Da Vinci. Lo and behold it works! Da Vinci, of course, did not possess the science or technology to actually build it back in his day. 

Now she must enlist the master’s help to figure out a way back — to be with her ailing mother and, oh yes, enter her invention in the school science fair.

While Charley needs the brilliant mind of Leonardo, she also finds herself in the unusual position of educator, informing him on the world of the future. “Leonardo is totally gonzo over my [computer] tablet that is showing him the future that he is now determined to invent. Including painting the Mona Lisa (‘cause history says he won’t actually start to paint it for another 10 years).”

While being able to foretell the future has its advantages, it’s not something Charley wants to stand up and shout about. Having the ability to make claims about what will happen hundreds of years from now — flying machines, future events — is a trait that the Florence locals, including Florentine ruler Lorenzo de’ Medici, associate with witchcraft, punishable by a slow burn at the stake. Charley wisely keeps her tablet and phone, as well as herself, out of sight and out of the limelight.

While the masses fear a seer of the future, Leonardo, known for his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, does not: “Carlotta, I am here at your command. And I desire to understand … everything!”

LEARNING THROUGH LEGEND

Payes masterfully weaves in discussions about math, physics, science and the arts, and it’s hard not to get a firsthand history lesson. The author does not hit readers over the head with these subjects but fluidly incorporates them into the plot. The dialogue between Charley and Leonardo is clever and entertaining, with the girl introducing legendary figures that mean nothing in 1492:

Charley: “You have no idea! In the twentieth century, Albert Einstein proves that time and space are, in fact, one!”

Leonardo: “Unity of time and space. But this is heresy! Only God can see such things!”

In Leonardo, Payes has chosen the perfect character to shape her story and its themes. While he is integral to the storyline and Charley’s quest to return home, he is the right person to carry the author’s message to young minds: “A new avenue of discovery!” he declares. “For you see, learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.” 

As for Charley, she has a message for readers as well, as written in her blog: “If you are struck in any way by my tale of passion and pretense, progress and portent, pride and prudence, I invite you to reach for your own star, no matter what the cost. The journey is its own reward.”

Buy this book!

Robin Stevens Payes is a social marketing consultant and science writer specializing in reaching — and decoding — teen brains. She drove headfirst into parenting teens when her three kids were trying their wings and testing their limits. Since her passion is storytelling, she relished listening in on backseat conversations between her children and their friends. As her kids grew, Payes tuned in to how their language, ideas and attitudes transformed along with their bodies and brains. She lives in Rockville, MD, where she works with teens on STEAM learning — science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and math — and consults with readers on creating new apps, games and storylines. This is her third book in a series for teens.