The latest by Gary Schmidt is truly a perfect middle grade novel. The concept is a warm nod to Mary Poppins, only in this case it's a portly British butler who shows up at the Jones home during a rainstorm--a home and family in complete emotional and organizational disarray--to take the situation firmly in hand. The Butler, or "gentleman's gentleman" as he prefers to be called, a Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, is a hilarious stickler for old-school English elegance, reserve, good table manners, and tactful kindness--qualities mostly in short supply with Carter Jones and his three younger sisters. But somehow the Butler does get through to Carter and make a gentleman of him, all the while throwing Carter's middle school into a panic of cricket-obsession, fixing yet another broken family, teaching Carter to drive his purple Bentley, and helping the boy makes sense of and peace with a couple of tragedies in his life (no spoilers).
There's a laugh on every single page of this novel, and a life lesson on every other. "Make good decisions and remember who you are," the Butler tells the kids each morning as he drops them off at school. Carter learns to pay attention. He keeps the bails up. You'll have to read the book to find out what *that* means. I can't recommend this novel highly enough. And I'm calling it now for next year's Newbery.