Surprises often come with a ring of the doorbell, but it’s unlikely you’ll find a butler on the front step like the family in “Pay Attention, Carter Jones,” by Gary D. Schmidt.
The Joneses could use help; Carter, a sixth grader, his two younger sisters and mom have a lot on their plates with their dad overseas in the service. So when they discover the British butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, “a gentleman’s gentleman,” will be serving them, it’s a blessing.
They learn the butler's services have been bequeathed to them upon the death of the children’s grandfather, a far flung relative, their dad’s father, who none of them have ever met.
All is not honky-dory at first. Carter and his siblings must adjust to being driven to school by the butler in a vehicle “big and long and purple—like an eggplant,” drinking tea, and adhering to the rotund Butler’s strident manners. But this male Mary Poppins spouts wisdom and is just what “Young Master Carter” needs, especially when a bombshell is dropped—one that prompts a secret to be revealed that’s haunted Carter, involving his father and a trip they made to Australia.
As the butler fits into his new role, he introduces students at Carter’s school to cricket. Each chapter is preempted with a rule, which provides a rudimentary understanding of the sport that comprises a lion’s share of the book. While students might find the sport entertaining, this reviewer just wanted to return to the developing relationship between Carter and the butler.
Told from Carter’s perspective, there are extremely funny situations in this fast read, and poignant ones as well—a common denominator in Schmidt’s books, which are abundant with wisdom and pull-outable quotes.