An interview with Catholic author Lizette M. Lantigua about the Good News! Book Fair program she created.
By Lori Ann Watson
Lizette M. Lantigua has an adventurous story of her own, and now she’s using her experiences and energetic spirit to help bring great literature to classrooms across the country.
Liz, your book, Mission Libertad, is a historical adventure about a courageous 14-year-old boy. Can you tell us a little about it?
Fourteen-year-old Luisito has lived all his life in a country where the government controls everything. It controls how much you can eat, where you can go, even what you are allowed to believe. This is not a dystopian make-believe society. Sadly, this novel is historical fiction. Luisito’s parents decide it’s time to escape Cuba the only way they can—on a homemade raft, facing inclement weather, in rough, shark-infested waters. Luisito must leave his poor Abuela (his grandmother) behind. She would have never been able to survive such a dangerous journey at her age. Before he leaves, Abuela whispers a secret mission he must accomplish. The story is a fast-paced, humorous at times spy thriller, packed with adventure!
How did your own personal experiences help to shape the writing of this book?
I was born in Queens, NY, and raised in South Florida, but my parents fled Cuba in 1961 in search of freedom. As a news reporter covering the South Florida community, I interviewed hundreds of young Cubans fleeing Communism and arriving by different means to this country. The scariest escapes were accomplished on flimsy, floating, homemade contraptions at sea. This reflected the refugees’ desperation for freedom. Some never made it. Their stories were like Hollywood movies but, unfortunately, were true! I noticed not many people outside of Florida knew about this, and I just had to share it with others. I want our young people to know how blessed we are to live in freedom.
You started Good News! Book Fairs in 2015. What led you to that effort, and what is the best fruit of it that you’ve seen so far?
As my three daughters were growing up, I realized that their school-required reading lists often featured depressing or not-age-appropriate books. I started doing my own research to find books that were clean reads and aligned with our Catholic faith and values. It was no surprise that the vast majority were found in Catholic/Christian publishing companies.
Some people have the perception that these companies only publish devotionals, Bibles and saints’ biographies, but this is far from the truth. They also publish great fiction and non-fiction books of many different genres! My idea was to create a large book fair where students could meet local authors, browse through many different book titles, and also purchase contemporary Christian music, t-shirts, and gifts. When we bring the book fair to a parish school, we start on Sunday and invite parishioners after Mass. We also invite the youth group and other ministries. The rest of the week, the book fair is held for school and religious education students. In other words, the book fair is for the whole parish family!
Once I started the book fair in South Florida, I began to receive inquiries from principals, parents, and media specialists from all over the country. We are now scheduling book fairs outside of our state of Florida for the fall of this year, and we launched an online store (www.GoodNewsBookShop.com) due to the requests of parents and teachers who want to purchase books all year long.
What advice would you would give to someone who wants to break into a writing career?
If you have a story to tell, then just write it. Don’t talk about it or wait till you have the time. Just sit down and write! Write about what you know and what you truly care about! You must feel passionate about your topic, for you will be doing many revisions before it gets published. As with any sport, you need to practice your skills. To be a good writer, you need to practice writing and reading every day!
If teachers would like to schedule a Good News! Book fair, where should they contact you?
They can contact me through our website: www.goodnewsbookfair.com or directly at Liz@goodnewsbookfair.com. I can be reached at any time for suggested reading lists, and teachers can purchase these books at volume discount for their classrooms or grade. Love to talk about books!
Buy Lizette’s book, Mission Libertad.
Lori Ann Watson teaches, homeschools, blogs about Catholicism, and almost never gets caught up on laundry. She writes from North Central Florida.