Pay Attention Carter Jones

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“Look when the rain has fallen from the sky

I know the sun will be only missing for a while

I says, common people like you and me

We’ll be builders for eternity

Each is given a bag of tools

A shapeless mass, and the book of rules”

-- The Heptones (1973)

“Late that afternoon, it started to rain. I mean, really rain. Like an Australian tropical thunderstorm.

I decided to clean my room.

Sort of.

I took the photograph of Captain Jackson Jonathan Jones standing in front of an American flag and folded it in half. Then I ripped it in half. Then I ripped the halves in half again. Then I put the pieces in the garbage.

I took the beret from his first deployment and balled it up. I tried to rip it in half, but I couldn’t. So I put it in the garbage.

Then I took the goggles that still had sand in them from Afghanistan, and I twisted them all together, and after I twisted them all together I stomped on them until the eyepieces were broken and the sand of Afghanistan was sprinkled on the floor. Then I put them in the garbage.

I lay down on my bed.

I listened to the Australian tropical thunderstorm.

When the rains came while we were in the Blue Mountains, my father and I would lie in our tent. I wished I could remember what we talked about. I know I tried to talk about Currier, but he didn’t want to talk about Currier, and I almost began to cry whenever I tried, so I never showed him the green marble. Once he tried to tell me about Afghanistan and Germany, but the rain got too loud and we stopped talking.

Because the rain was too loud.”

I’m experiencing a sense of loss at the moment. Along with teaching, being a dad, and managing the other facets of his life, Gary Schmidt spent a year or however long writing his latest book, PAY ATTENTION CARTER JONES. It arrived in the mail, I gulped it down in two days, and soon I’ll be right back to waiting and hoping that he’ll do it all over again.

PAY ATTENTION CARTER JONES, is a coming age story, and a tale of loss and change.

It has been several years since sixth grader Carter Jones lost his little brother Currier. Carter’s the eldest child with three younger sisters. He’s also the man of the house, because his father is in the military, stationed in Germany after serving in Afghanistan. His mother is struggling to raise the four children.

As we’ll soon learn, his father is not coming home to his family. Ever. Carter’s dad has found a new family in Germany.

But before we learn the details, The Butler arrives.

At 7:15 a.m., on the chaotic morning of Carter’s first day of middle school, when he and his three siblings are hastily readying themselves, the doorbell rings. Carter opens the door to find The Butler. His name is August Paul Bowles-Fitzpatrick. He previously served Carter’s grandfather and had attended to Carter’s father’s upbringing. Now, The Butler brings news that Carter’s grandfather has died and has left an endowment that will provide for The Butler to come serve Carter’s family.

He’s a proper British butler. In short order, he will teach Carter to drive his purple Bentley; instigate the formation of an intramural cricket squad at Carter’s school; and teach Carter to be a gentleman. Most importantly, he will be the compassionate adult who assists Carter in coming to terms with the losses of his brother and father.


‘How curious it is, young Master Carter, not only to begin your sentence with a subordinating conjunction, but to trail off vocally as if I were expected to finish the phrase.’”

As Gary Schmidt’s faithful readers have come to expect, there is a good measure of humor folded into the drama. The Butler grapples with Carter over proper use of the English language. And there is the ever-present Ned, the family’s dachshund, who is prone to getting excited and puking on everything.

There’s also a brief but fascinating American history lesson, when The Butler persuades Carter to write about the American revolution from the British perspective. Some young readers will connect the dots and question America’s own involvement in colonialism and its oft heavy-handed role in impeding independence movements elsewhere--despite being history’s most renowned example of a successful independence movement.

Each chapter of the book is preceded by a brief entry explaining cricket terminology and rules. All these years, and I finally know what a sticky wicket is! Thanks to YouTube’s videos, I’ve now watched cricketers in action.

Gary Schmidt conjures up memorable middle school-age boy characters like nobody’s business. Add Carter Jones to the list.

224 pages           978-0-544-79085-8       Ages 10-14

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of Richie's Picks :


Bestselling author Gary D. Schmidt tells a coming-of-age story with the light touch of The Wednesday Wars, the heart of Okay for Now, and the unique presence of a wise and witty butler.

Carter Jones is astonished early one morning when he finds a real English butler, bowler hat and all, on the doorstep—one who stays to help the Jones family, which is a little bit broken.

In addition to figuring out middle school, Carter has to adjust to the unwelcome presence of this new know-it-all adult in his life and navigate the butler's notions of decorum. And ultimately, when his burden of grief and anger from the past can no longer be ignored, Carter learns that a burden becomes lighter when it is shared.

Sparkling with humor, this insightful and compassionate story will resonate with readers who have confronted secrets of their own.--from the publisher

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