Between travelling, studying, and taking the Texas bar exam, Nicolas Jeter, a graduate of Port Neches-Groves High School in 2005, found time to start writing his first children’s book – “The Girl and the cathedral”.
“The Girl and the Cathedral” is a novella centered on the long but glorious history of Notre-Dame de Paris, a monument that had a huge influence on the life of Jeter, who stayed and lived in France three times.
“Even though we are in America and Notre-Dame is in France, it is 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 first visited France a year after graduating from high school as part of a two-year mission trip.
Back 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. at the United States Embassy for three months.
Jeter returned to France once more as a legal intern for a French law firm in 2016 before returning home recently after studying in New York and passing the Texas bar exam. During his time and travels, his former BYU roommate and now book editor, David Miles, approached him about collaborating on a children’s book about Notre Dame.
“I’ve been writing all my life,” he says. “I love creative writing. In law school, I obviously didn’t do a lot of that because it’s mostly technical writing. When I finished my tax program, I was a little more comfortable with school, so I started making time to write again.
“Miles knew that I had a connection with this particular cathedral and with the language, the history and the people. I started working on the story and he started looking for illustrators and suppliers.
The story follows a little girl and an unnamed narrator who can be found conversing about the story and the scenes unfolding before them with Our Lady at the center.
Jeter said the toughest challenge was finding a way to present it in a way that kids could understand and enjoy.
“It’s a lot of history and an ugly part of history,” he said. “So we present it as this little girl plants a garden, and in the garden she says, ‘I plant a garden of people,’ and out of the garden grows Paris, and her biggest flower is Notre Dame. She describes how he has its deep roots in the people and in the island.
The book captures several historic moments from Paris, including the effects of World War II on the city, the French Revolution, and the monarchy. Jeter said the scenes tell the true story of Notre Dame’s influence and power as a symbol of the French people.
“We watch an old woman crying in the cathedral because her son is off to war,” he said. “We see a homeless man sleeping on the steps or a lost boy looking for his mother. It’s the center of people, because it’s the center of everything people do.
Jeter said that the original idea for the plot and the main character came from a series of ideas and models, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book “The Little Prince”, the old Sunday cartoons “Calvin and Hobbs” and the French influence.
“I really like the girl in the story,” he said. “As for his personality, I liked the concept of characters who are children but don’t speak like children. In this story, the child is the one who speaks and teaches the lessons.
“The other big problem is that I wanted her to be a girl, because the history of France is filled with female figures. All their legends speak of female leaders. Throughout history, the French became attached to feminine symbols; even 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 Notre Dame fire that year in early April.
“The narrator introduces himself and the girl says, ‘My flower is burning,'” he said. “They watch and discuss what’s going on and the girl is scared because she did everything right and doesn’t know how hot it could be. Then they see all the people in the garden gathering together to try to help.
The final scene also comes from memory, where Jeter said he saw the effects of Notre Dame’s importance to its people.
“It’s about these people and their long-standing relationship with this place,” he said. “I put a moment in the book where the girl is desperate and she sees all the people getting together and singing and says, ‘they’re going to save my flower’ and the narrator asks how. She says, ‘I don’t I didn’t plant Our Lady in water, I planted it in people and people will come together and save my greatest flower.”
At the end, the fire goes out. Notre Dame no. The sun is rising. The young girl takes a shovel and starts working in her garden again.
The final scene is an imagining of a renovated 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.