Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Pay Attention, Carter Jones Book Poster Image
Butler with cricket bat rescues family in sweet, funny tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The fine points of cricket; info about ballet, art exhibitions, the works of E. Nesbit; other culturally improving pursuits. Lots about the differences between British, Indian, and American culture, including British perspective on Declaration of Independence, as example of not just going along with what everybody thinks. Story assumes reader has a good vocabulary and can handle phrases like "wonderfully evocative connotations," which becomes a recurring motif.

Positive Messages

The butler sends the kids off to school every day with "Make good decisions and remember who you are." At one point he changes it to "Make good decisions and remember who loves you," and, when challenged, says it's the very same thing. Also strong messages of empathy, responsibility, teamwork, thinking for yourself and finding the facts rather than following the crowd, working hard to learn new things.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Not only does the butler excel at imparting gentlemanly values of order, decorum, and responsibility, he's also an insane cricket fan whose passion for the game builds community and camaraderie in the whole town. Carter, who's struggling with  death of a sibling and absence of his deployed dad, is often relatably confused and overwhelmed but thrives and excels under the butler's guidance. Supporting characters emerge as teammates, storytellers, and friends in time of need.


Some don't-try-this-at-home moments as sixth-grader Carter drives "The Eggplant": a huge purple Bentley with steering wheel on the right. Some emotional violence, as in a flashback where Carter and his dad are on a camping trip, Carter struggles in bad conditions to make a campfire, and his military father smashes it to make one that's "better."


Teen and tween characters are dealing with the fact that one kid's mother and another's father have run off with new romantic partners and deserted their families.


One "crap," and frequent statements that someone is a "pain in the glutes." Ned the dachshund barfs, pees, and poops a lot.


A purple Bentley plays a role in the plot.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pay Attention, Carter Jones is Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt's variation on the ever-popular theme of the unlikely outsider who arrives in the midst of some crisis, thinks outside the box, imparts life lessons in creative ways, and generally puts all to rights. In this case, it's an honest-to-goodness old-school English butler who, along with a purple Bentley, lands on the title character's doorstep just as Carter's off to his first day of middle school. Carter and his little sisters are dealing with quite a lot: the recent death of their brother; an uneasy relationship with their absent, deployed father; and their mother's struggles to cope. The butler provides a lot of stability and guidance while opening up entire new worlds -- through the sport of cricket, which soon transforms lives throughout the community. Some characters are also dealing with being deserted by their parents, sometimes for new romantic partners and their kids. Lots of relatable inner turmoil and character development, as well as moments of triumph and pure fun.

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What's the story?

As PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES begins, the title character's family is falling apart in the wake of his brother's death and his father's military deployment. Carter answers the doorbell on his first day of middle school to find "The Butler": a very British, traditional fellow in a "funeral suit" who's been left to the family by Carter's late, unknown grandfather. Soon, the butler not only has the kids off to school in good order and their mom slightly less overwhelmed, but also turns out to be a maniacal fan of the sport of cricket and draws half the middle school into the game.

Is it any good?

Gary D. Schmidt delivers a poignant, funny, relatable tale of a middle schooler, his falling-apart family, and the old-school butler who unexpectedly comes to the rescue in a purple Bentley. Young characters have to cope with family tragedy, middle school, sibling squabbles, and adults who let them down, but they also have a steadfast, resourceful guide in the butler.

"'Young Master Carter, when you walk Ned for your mother, when you attend Miss Anne's robotics competition without observing that such attendance is, if you'll pardon the expression, "a pain in the glutes"; when you cheer at Miss Charlotte's football match even though she barely had a touch; when you accompany your sister to a Turner art exhibition; when you take your young sisters to buy Dreamsicles; when you appear as exhibit A for Miss Emily's Favorite Person of the Week event; when you attend two ballet exhibitions despite your unfortunate and undiscerning distaste for the art; you are telling them that it ["Remember who you are" and "Remember who loves you"] is exactly the same thing,'

"'Is that what being a gentleman is supposed to be?'

"'We are what we love, young Master Carter.'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories where unlikely characters swoop in to rescue forlorn kids and get them on a good path, like Pay Attention, Carter Jones. Why is this a favorite storytelling theme? Have you ever seen this happen in real life? Who was involved, and how did that person make things better?

  • Do you play cricket or know anyone who does? If you've ever watched a match, how do you think it compares with other sports you like?

  • Have you ever had to deal with one of your parents being away for a long time? How did you cope?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love middle school books and stories involving divorce

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