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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!

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 8, 2019)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534440883
  • 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

"Readers will wish this sympathetic narrator well."

– Booklist

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


"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