“Presenting the history of Paris and Notre-Dame in a children’s book is delicate work”, explains the author of the new book The young girl and the cathedral: the story of Notre-Dame de Paris.
News of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019 stunned not only the Catholics who worshiped there, but also people of all faiths around the world. The Register spoke to author Nicolas Jeter about his response to the devastation, in the form of a children’s book.
What made you want to write The girl and the cathedral?
I spent a lot of time in France. I first moved there in 2006, about a year after high school. I spent two years all over Paris and the northwest of the country, getting to know the people and appreciating the peaceful beauty of the history, architecture and language.
I’ve been back several times since that first visit, and I’ve tried to follow the language by reading French literature, Victor Hugo in particular.
Also, even though I was born and raised in Texas, both sides of my family tree go through Louisiana, and before that we were French. The fact is that I have a relationship with the country that I appreciate.
When Notre Dame burned down earlier this year, my friend David Miles, founder of Bushel & Peck Publishing, called me with the idea of coming up with a children’s book about Notre Dame. My affection for France is in a way synonymous with my affection for Notre-Dame.
This is literally the first place I went the morning my plane landed when I moved to France. I spent hours looking at the cathedral, trying to memorize it, feeling its age.
I am by no means an expert, but I certainly count myself among those who appreciate and love it.
And David pointed out that there don’t seem to be many books that 1) present the history of Notre Dame and 2) are aimed at children. So we started thinking about what it might look like, and I agreed to join the team as a writer. I always wanted to write.
I have always written, even as a small child, but I had never had such an opportunity and was delighted to be on board.
Why do you think the history of Notre-Dame has such appeal beyond the borders of Paris?
I think a direct cause is that Victor Hugo Notre Dame of Paris [better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame] brought history to the world, and we have not forgotten it.
Another, broader answer is that the history of France is the history of the world. Much of the art, literature, philosophy and political thought adopted around the world comes from France, so we share important French symbols like Notre-Dame.
As a religious symbol and site, Notre-Dame has dominated the imagination and reverence of Christians of all faiths for centuries. It doesn’t hurt that Notre Dame is so beautiful.
Tell me about the narrative and why you chose to construct this tale through the perspective of a small girl.
We wanted the story to be a sort of ode to and imitation of [the children’s book] The little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in that the story takes place in a fantastic and ethereal setting where the narrator maintains a continuous conversation with the main character.
So we have an anonymous narrator (who is never shown in the story), and he meets a little girl who lives on an island.
She plants a garden, and the garden is Paris, and in this garden she plants her greatest flower, Notre Dame de Paris.
The story is told through the garden, through its flowers, and through the changes and images a garden can show. So the story is both a fairy tale and an absolutely true story.
Like the boy in The little Princethe girl is kind of this timeless, indefinite creature.
She watches over Paris.
I like this model because it allowed me to take the very real, very complicated, wonderful, and often horrifying history of Paris and Notre Dame and place it in a very unreal mythical setting that me and the reader can grasp in a short period of time. delivered.
Another inspiration is Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.
Its main character is a 6-year-old boy, but the boy, Calvin, does not speak or think as children are expected to behave. I wanted the little girl in my story to be like that: a child, but also able to express deep ideas in an adult way.
What’s your favorite part of the book? What sets this book apart from other children’s books?
I love the beginning, where the narrator meets the little girl.
I imagine it as such a peaceful setting: just the girl and the narrator and a cathedral.
I also love the moment when, as the cathedral burns, you see that the spirits of the long dead have joined the Parisians — their descendants — who are watching… with them.
It’s a powerful image, and it’s the best representation of what I felt watching the cathedral burn. I thought of my French ancestors.
I did not seek to simplify the vocabulary nor to make it directly accessible to small children. When telling the story of Notre-Dame, I did not say to myself: “Can a child understand this sentence?” I thought, “Is this a story a child might want to know?” The priority was to capture a vision of who this little girl was.
She doesn’t talk like a lot of kids, and I think that’s something the kids will like.
Illustrator Sara Ugolotti is amazing. His illustrations make this book. Every bit of fun anyone will get from this story is 100% wrapped up in its artwork. I’m so glad she agreed to be a part of it.
What did you learn from studying the history of Notre Dame that you found particularly striking?
I learned a lot of general history.
For example, I hadn’t realized that the bell tower (which unfortunately burned down) was a relatively recent addition.
Also, I didn’t know before how quickly the cathedral was built. I think it took about 200 years.
It just seems quick to me, given the technology of the day.
I learned that the original roof used wooden beams from a forest that no longer grows in France, from a species of tree that is no longer available; so when they rebuild the roof, they can’t use the same wood.
Many of these things are general insights into the story that I have tried to communicate, if not explicitly show, in the story.
How can interested readers get their hands on a copy or get involved in the book launch? Tell me about the effort to give back you’re making alongside the book launch.
We had a successful Kickstarter run over the summer for those who wanted to get their hands on a pre-order.
The book will be ready for shelves by April, with another round of pre-orders starting shortly before that. Once the book is sold, it will be available online at outlets like Amazon and, of course, we get it from libraries.
For every book sold, Bushel & Peck Publishing donates a book to children who do not have access to books.
It’s something quite unique in the business and I think people can get excited about it.
written from Georgia.