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Groves native publishing children’s book about Notre Dame de Paris

Between traveling, studying and taking the Texas Bar Exam, 2005 Port Neches-Groves High School graduate Nicolas Jeter found time to begin writing his first children’s book — “The Girl and the Cathedral.”

Nicolas Jeter

“The Girl and the Cathedral” is a short story centered around the long but glorious history of the Notre Dame de Paris, a monument that has been a huge influence in Jeter’s life, who has stayed and lived in France on three occasions.

“Even though we’re in America and Notre Dame is in France, it’s an important monument for our culture, for our people, even outside of the religious context,” he said. “Like many people who have had the chance to visit Paris, my relationship with the cathedral is personal.”

Jeter visited France for the first time a year after he graduated high school as part of a two-year missionary trip.

Upon returning home, he worked on a degree at Lamar University before transferring to Brigham Young University to study international relations and French, which led him to return to Paris as an intern for the U.S. Embassy for three months.

Jeter returned to France once more as a legal intern for a French law firm in 2016 before recently returning home after studying in New York and completing the Texas Bar exam. During his time and travel, his former BYU roommate and now book publisher, David Miles, approached him about collaborating on a children’s book about Notre Dame.

“I’ve been writing my whole life,” he said. “I love creative writing. In law school, I obviously hadn’t done a lot of it because it’s mostly technical writing. At the end of my tax program, I was a little more comfortable with school, so I started taking some time to write again.

“Miles knew that I had a relationship with that cathedral in particular and with the language, history and people. I started working on the story and he started working on finding illustrators and suppliers.”

The story follows a little girl and an unnamed narrator who can be found conversing about the history and scenes that unfold in front of them with Notre Dame at the center.

Jeter said the hardest challenge was finding a way to present it in a way that children would understand and appreciate.

“It’s a lot of history and some of it is ugly history,” he said. “So, we present it as this little girl is planting a garden, and in the garden, she says, ‘I’m planting a garden of people’ and out of the garden grows Paris and her greatest flower is Notre Dame. She describes how it has its roots deep in the people and in the island.”

The book captures several historical moments for Paris, including the effects of WWII on the city, the French revolution and the monarchy. Jeter said the scenes get to describe the real history of Notre Dame’s influence and power as a symbol for the French people.

“We observe an old woman crying in the cathedral because her son’s off to war,” he said. “We see a homeless person sleeping on the steps or a lost boy looking for his mother. It’s the center of the people, because it’s the center of everything that the people do.”

Jeter said the original idea for the plotline and main character came from a series of ideas and models, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book “The Little Prince,” old Sunday “Calvin and Hobbs” cartoons and French influence.

“I really like the girl in the story,” he said. “As far as her personality goes, I liked the concept of characters who are children but don’t talk like kids. In this story, the child is the one speaking and teaching the lessons.

“The other big one is I wanted her to be a girl, because the history of France is filled with female figures. All of their legends are about female leaders. Throughout history the French have attached themselves to female symbols; even into today the symbol of France is still a woman, so I wanted this little girl who represents France to reflect that.”

Jeter said the climax of the story comes near the end, depicting the burning of Notre Dame this year in early April.

“The narrator shows up and the girl says, ‘My flower is burning,’” he said. “They watch and discuss what is going on and the girl is scared because she’s done everything right and doesn’t know how it could be burning. Then, they see all the people in the garden coming together to try to help.”

The final scene comes also comes from memory, where Jeter said he saw the effects of just how important Notre Dame was to its people.

“It’s about these people and their relationship with this place that has endured for a long time,” he said. “I put a moment in the book where the girl is in despair and she sees all the people coming together and singing and says, ‘they’re going to save my flower’ and the narrator asks how. She says, ‘I did not plant Notre Dame in water, I planted her in the people and the people are going to come together and save my greatest flower.’”

In the end, the fire dies. Notre Dame doesn’t. The sun comes up. The girl picks up a shovel and starts working in her garden again.

The final scene is an imagining of a refurbished Notre Dame.

“The Girl and the Cathedral” is written by Nicolas Jeter, illustrated by Sara Ugolotti and will be published in late March, early April 2020 by David Miles’ Bushel and Peck Publishing.

For more information or to help fund the project visit https://bit.ly/2yxfHGF.