St. Mary’s Visitation Parish School Assistant Principal Becky Pogacar and Principal Siegfried Spelter with some students during the school’s recent book fair. (Submitted photo)

It had been a few years since St. Mary’s Visitation Parish School in Elm Grove had hosted a book fair.

“In my memory, our school hasn’t had a book fair in quite some time,” said Courtney LoCoco, whose children attend the school.

LoCoco is passionate about the content and quality of the literature her children and their classmates are exposed to, and part of this labor of love has become spearheading the school’s search for a book fair company that offers titles that not only entertain but enrich the mind of the reader.

She stumbled upon Good News Book Fair, a company that specializes in titles that, in the words of founder and CEO Liz Lantigua, “inspire minds and souls.”

“Our mission is to provide fun, clean reads that will inspire students to read more, laugh more and learn more,” Lantigua said.

When LoCoco presented the option to SMV Principal Siegfried Spelter, he said he was compelled by the variety of titles Good News offered — it was far more extensive than he had anticipated.

“When you look at a Catholic book company, the first thing that comes to mind is, OK, they’re going to have some books of the saints, they’re going to probably have G.K. Chesterton — what else is it going to be?” he said. “All these are good things to read, but when you’re dealing with kids, you want to have something that piques their interest, as well. This company had a good mix. There were popular series that people are familiar with and lots of really intriguing books that pop off the page.”

Lantigua said the company’s curation process is rigorous. “Every book gets read and reviewed with specific guidelines to make sure they align with our faith and values,” she said. “We select books that are engaging, appealing, fun and inspiring. We want to make sure children read, not just for homework, but that they associate reading with entertainment. When it comes to the faith, we want to create avid readers that will continue reading and develop a thirst for learning.”

The company offers hundreds of titles in different genres for pre-K to primarily eighth grade, with a section for parents and teachers. It is based in Florida with a second distribution center in Ohio.

Spelter said Good News offered pricing that was comparable to competitors as well as opportunities for the schools to receive a percentage of the sales. Good News Book Fairs also offer teachers the chance to create wish lists, a feature that was popular with the educators at SMV.

LoCoco described the school’s partnership with Good News as “an easy way to support a business that supports our jobs as parents and educators.”

“They’re our allies,” she said. “I really believe Catholics ought to prop up businesses like this one, as they are in line with our faith.”

When she was looking for a company to partner with, LoCoco said she specifically avoided the children’s publishing giant Scholastic, whose name has become almost synonymous with school book fairs in America. She was dismayed by the company’s recent announcement that schools are not allowed to opt out of offering specific controversial titles in their book fairs, even titles that contain themes that are in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching.

This was something Lantigua could relate to. As she volunteered in her own daughters’ school book fairs, “I noticed the books becoming edgier, with sexual content, graphic violence, topics of the occult and foul language,” she said. “It became harder to identify because the books published were more and more deceiving, with wholesome-looking covers and descriptions but inappropriate content inside.”

It was that very issue that drove her to found Good News Book Fairs in 2014, and she said the company gets “many requests daily, and they are all looking for an alternative to the current secular book fairs.” So far, she said, they have worked with hundreds of schools all over the country.

“This is much deeper than a simple ‘I’d recommend GNBF to others,’ because as Christian consumers we have both privileges and responsibilities,” said LoCoco. “Money talks, and we hold considerable power as we discern where that money goes.”

“We do have a responsibility as a Catholic school to be stewards of what our kids read,” said Spelter. “As a Catholic school, we need to be cognizant that every single book that we have is aligned with our mission, is aligned with our values and is ultimately in line with teaching kids good lessons that will lead them to God.”