Scholastic book fairs have been dying out at Catholic schools unwilling to risk including the sale of material contrary Catholic teaching on faith and morals that has increasingly slipped into the genre of children’s literature.
For that very reason, Lizette Lantigua, a mother of three and herself a children’s author, became founder and CEO of the Good News! Book Fair in 2015, along with her husband, Adolfo, a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus and the business development lead for the company. Their goal is to provide fun, clean reads and faith-filled books to support the academic and spiritual mission of Catholics schools. The Florida-based business recently opened a second regional distribution center in Cincinnati, Ohio, to meet the growing demand. Fairs have grown to include 11 states.
Then COVID-19 hit, shutting down the in-person fairs. At that point, there was an opportunity to reach the geographical areas the fairs had not been able to get to and to expand the selections for parents with virtual, “live-action” fairs through their online store.
“When the pandemic is over, we will still do in-person book fairs,” Lizette Lantigua told the Register. “It is important to the children and means so much to them. We make it a lot of fun. Often, we have authors come to speak.” Lizette had fond childhood memories of school book fairs, but once her three daughters were school age, she discovered children’s literature was getting darker. “What used to be controversial 10 years ago is mild today,” she said. “And often with a series, the first book or two can be a clean read, but by the third book, it becomes inappropriate. For instance, in one series, there’s a boy with a crush on another boy—and this book is for fourth graders.”
Michael Juhas, superintendent of Pensacola-Tallahassee Catholic schools, has hosted Good News! Book Fairs in their schools. “As a parent, I’ve experience negative influences in a series that you would not expect to be there, glorifying bad behavior and giving kids bad ideas. We want to promote reading, but we want it to be reading that aligns with the values we are trying to teach.”
“We like to sell fun, inspiring and faith-filled books,” said Lantigua. “We want books that will inspire students to read more, laugh more, learn more and grow in their faith and relationship with God each day.” In addition to Catholic children’s literature, both current and classic, are wholesome secular stories. For adults, there are books on parenting and family, good fiction and general-interest topics, such as cooking books and tomes on getting organized, as well as books focused on faith, humor and inspirational topics.
Top-selling books in the last 12 months include: The Puppy That No One Wanted by Anthony DeStefano, Catechism of the Seven Sacraments by Mary O’Neill and Kevin O’Neil, and Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls (Book 1) by Raymond Arroyo.
Caroline Crouch, the librarian for Overbrook School on the Dominican campus in Nashville, Tennessee, has been a librarian for seven years and a teacher for almost 20. She explained, “The Good News! Book Fair has done an excellent job of providing engaging, age-appropriate literary choices that fulfill the interests and curiosities of young readers. Additionally, in this period of distance learning, Good News also delivered a book-fair opportunity for students working from home. During a recent Zoom call with a first-grade class, students were so happy to hold up the books they bought at the online book fair.”
Father Doug Brown, pastor of Mary Queen of Peace in Cleveland, Ohio, hosted a book fair in February, a month before schools closed. “We were open for six days, so the home-schooling and parish families had time to attend [the fair], too,” he said. “The other [secular] book company told us they would take out the books we would not want, but that can be laborious; and they didn’t get where we were coming from. They also had a lot of trinkets, like shaped erasers and posters. The Good News! Book Fair is mostly books, and that should be the point.”
The fairs serve as fundraising events, but Father Brown said it was more about providing good books with good messages to their families. “The other thing that is refreshing is that it’s a family-run company,” he said. “Adalfo was in there hauling in books and setting up.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.