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The Paris Project


About The Book

“Une histoire d’espoir—a story of hope.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A memorable, heartfelt read.” —Publishers Weekly

Fans of the Nate series by Tim Federle and The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm will love Cleveland Rosebud Potts in this poignant and heartfelt novel from the award-winning author of Lily and Dunkin.

Cleveland Rosebud Potts has a plan. If she can check off the six items on her très important Paris Project List she will make it out of the small-minded and scorching town of Sassafras, Florida, to a rich and cultured life at The American School of Paris.

Unfortunately, everything seems to conspire against Cleveland reaching her goal.

Cleveland is ashamed of her father and angry that her mother and sister are never around because they have to work extra shifts to help out the family. Her Eiffel Tower tin has zero funds. And to top it all off, Cleveland’s best friend Jenna Finch has decided she’s too fancy for her and her neighbor Declan seems to be hiding something.

As Cleveland puts her talents to the test, she must learn how to forgive family for their faults, appreciate friends for exactly who they are, and bloom where she’s planted—even if that’s in a tiny town in central Florida that doesn’t even have a French restaurant. C’èst la vie!


A Bad Beginning A Bad Beginning

MONDAY I GOT KICKED OUT of ballet school.

Not just a class, mind you. Apparently, what I did was bad enough to get me banned from the entire school for the rest of my life.

Maybe I should have listened to Miss Delilah, the school’s owner, when my sister, Georgia, signed me up at the beginning of August, three weeks before school began.

“Cleveland, dear.” Miss Delilah stared at me over the frames of her eyeglasses. “You should start in the beginner class, since you don’t have other dance experience.”

I didn’t tell Miss Delilah how Georgia and I used to dance like no one was watching. (Until we discovered the creepy neighbor boy, Jacob Andrews, was actually watching. He peeked at us through the window of our trailer because he had a big, heart-busting crush on Georgia. Luckily for us, Jacob and his family moved to a remote Alaskan island for his mom’s job as a geologist, where the only things he’d be spying on were snow, melting ice, and polar bears, which was really good news unless you were a polar bear who liked its privacy.)

I also didn’t tell Miss Delilah there was no way—pas question—I’d go into a class filled with babies who picked their noses and fell over sideways when they tried to stand in third position. I had learned about ballet positions, posture, poise, and other important things online, so I’d be prepared to enter the advanced class for girls my age. I’d been practicing in front of the mirror in our bedroom.

Tugging on the sides of my red beret, I kept my back pencil straight, like I figured French girls were trained to do when talking to the heads of their dance schools. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather take a class with girls my age.”

Miss Delilah contorted her face in a very unflattering way, as though she were trying to hold in a toot. “Cleveland, I’m sure you’re very talented, but it’s my professional opinion—”

“If Cleveland wants to be with girls her age,” Georgia interjected, “that’s where she should be.” Then my sister opened her I VERMONT wallet, which she bought because she planned to attend the University of Vermont the following year, and she pulled out a bunch of twenty-dollar bills that I knew came from her job cashiering at Weezie’s Market and Flower Emporium.

Georgia had to scan a lot of cans of creamed corn to earn that much cash. I would’ve had the money to pay for the class myself if only…

“Here’s the fee for the advanced class,” Georgia said.

I felt like a balloon filled almost to bursting. Thank you, Georgia!

“Okay, Cleveland,” Miss Delilah said. “Let’s head over to the studio and see what you already know.”

Georgia and I followed her to a room with a mirrored wall and a barre along the opposite wall. It felt so official that I got twelve kinds of tingly.

I stood in the middle of the dance floor while Georgia hung back by the door, her arms crossed, like she was daring Miss Delilah to say one mean thing to me. Everyone should have a big sister like Georgia. She’s protected me like the secret service since I was in kindergarten and Joey Switzer put a worm down my shirt. Let’s just say that boy hasn’t even looked at me sideways since Georgia, who was in fifth grade at the time, had a little chat with him at recess. We Potts girls stick together and look out for each other like that.

Miss Delilah held on to the barre and faced me. Her posture was stick-straight like the women in the videos. “Demonstrate first position, please.”

I held myself tall and turned my feet out in my best first position, wishing I were wearing ballet slippers instead of my ratty old sneakers, with holes forming near the pinkie toes. I hoped Miss Delilah didn’t notice.

She didn’t seem bothered by my sneakers. “Fine. Second position, please.”

I moved my legs apart and held my arms out, like they were delicate feathers about to float down to my sides.

“Third position.”

This one was tougher, because I don’t think feet are meant to turn so far in the opposite direction, but I did it and forced myself to smile like I saw a ballerina do in a book called Ballet for Beginners. I’d be able to do a better job when I was wearing a leotard and tights instead of shorts and a T-shirt, but I guessed I was doing all right because I peeked up at Georgia, and she nodded. I could tell from how happy she looked that she was proud of me.

That filled me up, squeezed out the nervousness.

“Let’s head back to my office now, girls.”

Georgia and I sat on the same chairs in front of Miss Delilah’s desk as when we first came in.

“Well then.” Miss Delilah lowered herself into her seat and folded her hands. “I suppose we could put Cleveland in the class with girls her age. At least she’ll be starting at the beginning of the year with everyone else. Classes start the same day school begins.” Miss Delilah removed her eyeglasses and let them hang on a beaded chain around her neck, then rubbed the bridge of her nose, like she was trying to relieve a headache. “Even if Cleveland’s willing to work diligently, I still don’t think advanced ballet is the best—”

“Thanks so much,” Georgia said, cutting her off before she could say something my sister didn’t want to hear.

“Yeah, thanks,” I offered. Joy bubbled inside me because I had the forethought to learn the ballet positions online so I didn’t look like an imbécile in front of Miss Delilah when she tested me. It felt like when a teacher gave a surprise quiz in school and I knew all the answers.

“The permission form and contract require a parent’s signature,” Miss Delilah said.

Georgia pulled out the forms Mom had signed last night. “We printed them from your website.”

What my sister didn’t say was we printed the forms at the Sassafras Public Library on Main Street and Third Avenue, because we didn’t have a printer at home, and we had only Georgia’s old laptop, which Mom and I borrowed when we needed to.

“All righty then.”

When Miss Delilah got up to file the forms in a cabinet, Georgia flashed me a thumbs-up and winked.

I tried to wink back, but both eyes closed at the same time. I stunk at winking. It didn’t matter. I was going to be a ballerina! I imagined myself wearing a black leotard and pink tights and spinning, spinning like the ballerinas I watched and read about. I wondered if there would be any boys in the class whose job it would be to throw us into the air. That might be fun, as long as they didn’t drop us because we weighed too much for their scrawny muscles. Maybe we could toss the boys into the air instead. The thought made me giggle, so I covered my mouth.

Miss Delilah’s lips moved as she silently counted my sister’s cash. “The class costs a hundred dollars, plus the registration fee for new students. You owe me twenty more dollars.” She held out her palm, fingers spread.

Georgia dug into her wallet and plucked out one more crumpled bill, which she dropped into Miss Delilah’s hand.

I’m sorry, I wanted to say. It wasn’t my fault I didn’t have the money to pay for the class myself. A bolt of anger sizzled through me. Then guilt stabbed at my stomach for feeling angry. I knew things were hard for Dad right now, so I felt uncomfortable every time I got angry with him. But really, things were difficult for all of us because of what he’d done. And that made me angry all over again. I let out a slow breath, hoping the anger would leak out with it.

The corners of Miss Delilah’s mouth rose slightly. “Cleveland, we look forward to your joining our little family here at Miss Delilah’s School of Dance and Fine Pottery.”

Even though I already had a family and didn’t want to be part of Miss Delilah’s, a tingle zinged along my spine. I felt better. The first item on my Paris Project list was about to be accomplished and checked off. Only five more items to go, and then I’d be on my way to Paris, France. I could practically smell the warm, buttery croissant I’d nibble as I strolled past the Eiffel Tower, breathing in all that refreshing Paris air. Everything about going to school and living in Paris would be a thousand times better than doing those things here in Sassafras, Florida, where people could be downright nasty for no good reason. Plus, it wouldn’t be so blasted hot in Paris. I checked. In Sassafras in August, it’s a disgusting average eighty-two degrees of pure humidity. The average August temperature in Paris is seventy-five degrees of pure perfection. I couldn’t wait.

Life in Paris would be magnifique!

Things were finally going like they were supposed to.

Until Jenna Finch and her stupid pinkie toe had to go and ruin everything.

Oh la la la la! (Which, for your information, actually means “Oh no no no no!”)

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

The Paris Project

By Donna Gephart

About the Book

Cleveland Rosebud Potts has a plan. If she can check off the six items on her très importante Paris Project List, she will make it out of the small-minded and scorching town of Sassafras, Florida, to live a rich and cultured life at the American School of Paris. Unfortunately, everything seems to conspire against Cleveland reaching her goal, and she must learn to forgive family, redefine friendships, and bloom where she’s been planted. C’est la vie!

Discussion Questions

1. What do you know about Paris? Have you ever visited, or would you like to plan a trip there some day? What French phrases do you know? Have you ever eaten at a French restaurant? Do you know any of the iconic tourist destinations? Why do you think Cleveland is so fascinated by French culture? Do you have any other suggestions to add to her list?

2. Are you familiar with the Madeline book series, which inspired Cleveland’s love of all things French? What elements of the books do you think most intrigued her? Have you come across any other books or movies that take place in Paris or France? What ideas did they give you about what life is like there?

3. Paris appeals to Cleveland because she wants to escape and leave her current life behind. Do you have a place you like to go to take a break from daily life? Where is it? Why do you think it draws your attention? How do you feel when you’re there?

4. Do you think it’s possible that changing your geographic location can change your life? Do you think there are any other factors that go into making you feel happy and content? What do you think Cleveland learns about her life in Sassafras?

5. Think about how you learn of the biggest troubles in Cleveland’s life. What clues does the author provide that make you realize Cleveland’s dad committed a crime and that her family is struggling financially?

6. Talk about the complicated feelings Cleveland has about her dad. If she is so angry at him for stealing her money, why does it upset her when other people say bad things about him? How do you feel about the questions Cleveland poses to herself: “Did the couple of bad things Dad did erase all the good things before that? Was he really bad?” How does Cleveland’s father both display and defy expectations we have for a father figure? What advice would you have for her?

7. Cleveland says, “Dad wasn’t the only one being punished. Our whole family was too.” Do you agree with that statement? What evidence do you see?

8. How does Cleveland feel when she realizes the dance class is pitying her? Do you sympathize with Cleveland’s feelings of shame and embarrassment over her family’s situation? Why can pity and shame be such uncomfortable emotions? If you had a friend going through a similar experience, how might you reassure them?

9. When Cleveland’s dad is arrested, the neighbors watch them “as though what was happening to our family was some sort of reality TV show.” Why do you think the neighbors behaved that way? What do you think this shows about human nature? How can being slightly removed from a situation, like watching as a neighbor or a TV viewer, change your perspective?

10. Cleveland says, “I got a glimpse of Dad’s terrified eyes, which scared me more than anything,” and then she sees him crying. Have you ever seen your parents sad or scared? How did that make you feel? How can you help support your family in difficult times?

11. Cleveland feels that her life is divided into two segments: before and after her dad’s arrest. Why do you think she feels that way? Have you ever experienced a defining life event? Think about the birth of a sibling, a move, a new school. How can these experiences have both positive and negative elements?

12. Cleveland finds it hard to visit her dad in prison, and even her mom gets nervous on visiting day; it’s easier to be in the waiting area where “nobody judged anyone, because we understood what it felt like.” Why do you think it can be helpful to be around people going through a similar experience? What communities or groups do you feel close to, or how might you go about finding a strong community? Think about your school, your neighborhood, your town, your family. How would your community or group react if they saw you or another member facing a problem?

13. Reflect on the Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights. How did reading the bill make you feel? Which right would be most important to you? How do you think Cleveland would have reacted while reading it?

14. Cleveland feels that her former friend Jenna changed after moving with her family into a big house. What evidence do you see that supports or disproves Cleveland’s belief? How would you have addressed this situation if you had a friend like Jenna? Think about a time one of your friendships changed. Why do you think that happened? How did you handle the situation? What qualities do you look for in a good friend?

15. Cleveland says, “I left Declan’s trailer filled with happiness. It was always like that with Dec.” Think about Declan and Cleveland’s friendship, and what they mean to each other. How can you tell they care about each other? When Declan falls for another boy, he doesn’t tell Cleveland about it right away. Why do you think he keeps it a secret, and why do you think her feelings are hurt when she learns about it? Why do you think he refuses her help with the bully at school?

16. Describe the book’s setting. How does it impact Declan’s, Georgia’s, Cleveland’s, and Cleveland’s mother’s lifestyles, choices, and goals? What are some of the perks and challenges about living in a small town like Sassafras?

17. Betrayal is a recurring theme in the book. Name some of the people who have betrayed Cleveland, and what form these betrayals have taken. Why is it hard for Cleveland to forgive and trust? Do you think her feelings of betrayal are justified? Can you find someone in the book who models a good, trusting relationship? What might Cleveland learn from them?

18. Cleveland’s mom seems able to forgive her dad. Cleveland thinks, “She might not have liked what Dad had done, but she sure loved him.” What does unconditional love mean to you? Do you think you can love someone but hate their actions? Can you find other examples in the book where someone’s actions hurt those close to them? Are those situations ever resolved?

19. Cleveland says of Declan and herself, “No matter how much fun we were having, there was always that part of us missing the people who weren’t here.” Have you ever experienced two conflicting emotions at once? Do you think you can miss someone and still enjoy what’s going on around you? Explain your answers.

20. Why do you think Cleveland is finally able to stand up to Jenna? Think about changes in Cleveland’s situation and relationships, and the experiences she’s gone through. Give some examples of ways she’s grown, and how these new understandings might influence her future actions.

Extension activities

1. Choose a destination, and make a list similar to Cleveland’s “Paris Project” to help you get there. Include at least ten items, explaining the reasoning for each.

2. Research some delicious-sounding French recipes or other European cuisines, and design a mini cookbook to share with the class. You can draw your own illustrations or use photographs.

3. Using the information in the book’s back matter as a starting point, research and write a report about incarcerated parents in America. What information most surprises you? What do you think are the most important things that people should understand about this topic?

4. What kind of place do you hope to live in as an adult? Would it be a large city or a small town? What kind of job might you do there, or what kind of house might you own? Write an opinion essay about why you prefer a city or a town, and how that setting might impact your life.

5. Pair up with a classmate and use the French words and phrases from the back of the book in conversation. Practice correct pronunciation, watching videos online or listening to audio recordings if needed. Then choose a different language and translate this same list of words and phrases. Do you notice any similarities in the structures or spellings? Are there any words or phrases that don’t have an equivalent in the new language you’ve chosen?

6. Cleveland’s love of the Madeline books when she was younger had a big impact on her goals. What book has had a big impact on you? Write a review or record a video review to convince a friend to read that book.

7. The author, Donna Gephart, has written other novels about kids in middle school. Choose another of her books and write a book report. Include biographical information about the author, and compare and contrast the book’s protagonist and Cleveland.

Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

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About The Author

Photograph by Rhea Lewis

Donna Gephart’s award-winning middle grade novels include Lily and Dunkin, Death by Toilet Paper, How to Survive Middle SchoolThe Paris Project, and others. She’s a popular speaker at schools, conferences, and book festivals. Donna lives in the Philadelphia area with her family. Visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (October 6, 2020)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534440876
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 740L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"This authentic, ultimately hopeful story of forgiveness and empathy is a memorable, heartfelt read."

– Publishers Weekly

"[A] upbeat story about generosity, forgiveness, and love."


"Readers will wish this sympathetic narrator well."

– Booklist

"Gephart once again compassionately creates complex characters....Readers won't "pity" Cleveland (she wouldn't want any), but they'll be rooting for her all the way...Une histoire d'espoir—a story of hope."

– Kirkus Reviews

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More books from this author: Donna Gephart