Ignatius Press and Ave Maria University Team Up to Bring Book Fairs to Catholic Schools

Parish-based plans also in the works, to offer quality literature to students and their families and fellow parishioners alike.

Families check out new offerings during a book fair.
Families check out new offerings during a book fair. (photo: Ignatius Press )

Eight years ago, Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press, and Mark Middendorf, president of Ave Maria University, saw a need for what some would consider a David standing up to another Goliath in the field of book fairs at Catholic schools: quality Catholic and classic books.

Scholastic Press was dominating the field, as it had for many years. For the fiscal year 2022 that closed in May 2023, Scholastic’s children’s book publishing and distribution group had $1.04 billion in sales. But something had begun to change long before. “We started noticing, eight years ago, different books coming out from Scholastic that were promoting the LGBTQ agenda,” Middendorf told the Register.

Father Fessio, who remembers Scholastic book fairs when he was a student growing up, said they had great books, adventure stories, back then. “But, then, they started getting more and more liberal, more progressive, and now ‘woke.’ It’s terrible what they’ve got now.”

Scholastic’s resource guide for pre-K through grade 12 lists more than 110 titles on LGBTQIA+ stories and themes, including graphic material. Promoting these, their guide states, “Books and literature are never neutral; by engaging with queer literature for children and young adults, you are disrupting the status quo …” Occult themes are also included among the offerings.

Finding such books, especially the sexually explicit content, “shocking,” both men saw the need for an alternative for Catholic schools to provide quality books to students, “offering lives of saints, books on the sacraments, books on Church and salvation history, and so much Scholastic doesn’t do. We can be a better fit for a Catholic school than Scholastic is,” Father Fessio said.

“The idea is to stand in the breach,” Middendorf added. “And we have the means to stand in the breach.” Ignatius Press is one of the largest Catholic publishers in the world and has the means of amassing all of the books and the relationships, with the ability to ship a high-quality, beautiful and fun book fair anywhere in the United States, according to the Ignatius press room.

Middendorf stressed that the Ignatius Book Fairs will be “helping to edify [students’] minds to shape their character to deepen their Catholic faith. These book fairs are where, really, the power of literature meets the richness of Catholic values, making a lasting difference in these students — these young readers’ — lives.”

Children check out books at the Catholic book fair coming to a Catholic school near you!
Children check out books at the Catholic book fair coming to a Catholic school near you!

Father Fessio pointed out that children are under attack in many ways, from television to “especially the internet and social media. We have to provide something which nourishes them and retains their innocence and helps them grow up formed in a way that’s pleasing to God. What they’re getting elsewhere often is not that at all.”

“The attack on the innocence of children has become almost omnipresent, and we want to use our resources to provide young people with good, wholesome literature and give them a love for reading,” Father Fessio continued. “At the same time, we want to provide what no other book fair provides: namely, the best in Catholic literature for young people that will form them in ways that they will build upon throughout their life.”

Ignatius and Ave Maria University officially agreed to be book-fair partners on an auspicious date: Sept, 8, 2023, our Blessed Mother’s birthday. “And on that day, we consecrated this fully to her,” Middendorf said. “We enhanced the partnership, on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, and then we re-consecrated again to her, so we’re all-in for her to let her use us.”

Father Fessio’s hope is that “this will be the go-to book fair for Catholic schools. It raises money for the schools as well as providing good books.”

Father Fessio speaks with educators and parents at a recent book fair.
Father Fessio speaks with educators and parents at a recent book fair.

There were 800-plus titles on hand from the start, including beautifully illustrated children’s books for all different grade levels from Ignatius’ partnership with Magnificat and others with titles like Holy Mysteries, Through the Year with Tomie de Paola, and a series called The Adventures of Loupio, as well as the “Vision Book” series from Simon & Shuster, “so we have all these lives of the saints,” Father Fessio said. “We had a great inventory of good Catholic books. Plus, we have good relations with other publishers.”

Ignatius Book Fairs, aimed at grades K-8, launched at 28 schools across the country for the winter-spring semester 2024, with additional fairs already lined up for the next school year.

Wholesome Reads

Rose Trabbic, the director of mission and vision for the Ignatius Book Fairs, speaks as a parent as well, with five children ranging in age from 5 to 14 years old who all attend Catholic school.

“I just absolutely love children’s books, so it is such a dream to be able to work on something like this that incorporated all of those things that I love,” she said.

Her children are “all really big readers” — which requires parental oversight. “Parents in this date and time and this culture, we have to be so attentive what our children are reading, we want to make sure that all the media they consume is wholesome.”

She added, “Anytime you put a good story into a kid’s hands, you’re forming their imagination in a positive way. About 30% of our books are Catholic books. And we’re hoping to draw on the best of all Catholic publishing available now, the best in children’s literature. And about 70% of the books we have are what we’re calling secular wholesome books that have been fully vetted. We’re really looking for a good story that really captures the child’s imagination. Every time a child reads a good book, it’s cultivating the child’s palate for good books. Every time that you succeed in getting a good book into their hands, you’re setting the stage for them to crave another good book.”

Trabbic makes sure each book selected for the fairs “is a beautiful book, and it has a good story, something that engages a child’s imagination and that they’re excited to read.”

Top Ratings All Around

Dominican Sister Maria Guadalupe Hallee, principal of St. Isaac Jogues School in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, hosted an Ignatius Book Fair this past February 2024. “We had a great experience with Ignatius Book Fairs,” she told the Register. “We were looking for a book fair which would provide quality children’s books which had been thoroughly vetted, so that we could be confident in allowing our students to browse to find something they would like. The selection of books, the variety of authors and genres, and the assistance we received from the staff of Ignatius Book Fairs led to a very successful event. We raised a generous amount of money for books for our school library, and we received very positive reviews from our librarian, our parents, our teachers, our students and our parishioners. We are already looking forward to our next Ignatius Book Fair.”

In Columbus, Texas, St. Anthony Catholic School also hosted an Ignatius Book Fair in February. Librarian Joan Hill said, “Everyone was so impressed with the outstanding quality and selection of the books. It was so rewarding to see the parents’ excitement over books that they had read [as children]. Now, they bought these books for their children. When our students joyfully bought books about our Catholic faith, we felt so blessed to be giving honor and glory to God. It was a great selection of books about the Catholic faith for children. It was more than saint books.”

The founders pray that the other 4,700 Catholic grammar and middle schools in the U.S. will be next to sign up.

Future plans call for adding “book clubs for classrooms,” likely by next semester, as well as parish-based fairs to accommodate religious-education students and Catholic families as a whole, plus all parishioners.

The parish book fairs will be tested this June. Father Fessio foresees their impact: “One, most Catholic children do not go to a Catholic school, but they're involved in a Catholic parish. And, two, we want to include books for the parents, books for adults, as well as children’s books.”

And, since the majority of the fair’s book offerings are not specifically “Catholic,” the aim is to expand to charter and classical schools, with an eye on public schools to follow.

Ultimately, Middendorf emphasized, “It’s about the salvation of souls.”

Student Endorsements

The fourth-graders at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School in Tempe, Arizona, are good readers, according to school librarian Anna Cameron, who tracked the students’ excitement and reactions.

Josh Pezzuto liked the “great books” including one that “helped me learn more about pilgrims.” Galilea Nieto was really drawn to “the different books about saints and different countries.” Her favorites were The Courage of Sarah Noble and a book about Galilee. She said the fair “helped me because I learned about a person and a country I did not know about.”

Besides the popular Loupio comic books, Eliana Gikdenstern had a distinct favorite. “I liked the Holy Mysteries best because they were so intriguing,” she said. The fair “helped me be a better person,” she reported. She enjoyed the whole fair “because it was so cool. I mean, like it was so cool!”

Dominic Cook summed up the range of books and the excitement among students. “I liked it because it celebrates the Catholic religion, and it has good Catholic books. It has baseball books, too,” like Pinch Hit, which he was excited to read.

But the best thing about it, he reiterated: “It has good religious books for Catholics.”


Visit the Ignatius Book Fairs website to learn more about a book fair at your school or parish. When a school signs up to host the book fair, parents can continue to shop all year on the website, and their school gets credit.