Heavy Medal Finalist #8: Pay Attention, Carter Jones
Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Jen Bartkus
We meet Carter Jones on the morning of his first day of sixth grade. Our arrival into his life coincides with the surprise of a butler on his doorstep, sent by his grandfather’s estate to help Carter’s mom navigate life with four kids, while his father is stationed in Germany. Expecting a typical story of the ups and downs of a new middle-schooler, I was instead wonderfully surprised with a much deeper, richer story detailing the realization that the loss of a loved one, no matter what the circumstances, is tremendously difficult and hard to express. Told with humor, tenderness and conviction to the principle of: “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” Carter and The Butler journey into many life lessons. Themes of disappointment, determination and finding joy in the unenjoyable are everywhere and what author Gary D. Schmidt does so well is to be subtle, to hide these lessons in the usual – walking the dog, eating dinner at the local pizza shop, and driving the car. He intricately weaves Carter’s present day emotions with those from a previous trip to the Australian wilderness with his father.
And since we only see the father through Carter’s eyes, Schmidt tasks the Butler with teaching Carter to be better, to be a gentleman in whatever he does. That line, that level of personal responsibility is something that I think a teen reading this book would really relate to…hoping to be better but wondering if it is possible.
“And so you face a curious dilemma, one you will face often if you choose to live a life of integrity and challenge. Is it better to consider all ideas, to determine which one seems to you most reasonable and worthy, and then to speak your mind? Or better to follow old patterns and to acquiesce quietly into a general conformity?” (125)
Along with these life lessons, The Butler brings cricket to the small New York community where Carter lives. The reader learns the ins and outs of this sport, alongside Carter and we see just how important it can be in bringing together a family, a team and a community. (I smiled to myself as I wrote this because cricket seems so random, yet fits so perfectly with whom The Butler is and whom Carter hopes to be).
This book is wonderful – I laughed as much as I cried and look forward to hearing what others think.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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