Relics and bedtime stories: the tale behind Arroyo's new children's series

Raymond Arroyo author of the new work Will Wilder The Relic of Perilous Falls Courtesy of Raymond Arroyo CNA Raymond Arroyo, author of the new work

For over 800 years, the heart of St. Laurence O'Toole was preserved in a wooden, heart-shaped box inside an iron cage bolted to a wall in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.

In 2012, the heart disappeared. It hasn't been seen since.

The relic certainly had religious and cultural value; St. Laurence is remembered for bringing the Catholic faith to Dublin. When St. Laurence died, his body was buried in France, but his heart was returned to Ireland.

But Christ Church Cathedral houses more obvious valuables including artifacts, manuscripts, and riches, including a silver plate from William III of England.

So, why steal a relic?

That's the question Raymond Arroyo weighed while standing in front of the vacant iron cage in the Dublin church.

"When you have gold and sapphire and diamonds in every corner of this place … why would you go through the trouble to steal a relic?" Arroyo, an EWTN journalist and New York Times bestselling author, said. "Who would steal a relic, of all things?"

Thus was born Arroyo's new youth adventure series which begins with Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls (Random House, 2016). The series tells the story of a mischievous 12-year-old who accidentally unleashes an ancient evil on his town of Perilous Falls when he borrows a sacred relic for his own purposes.

At the heart of the story is a battle between good and evil, Arroyo told CNA.

"In this series, there are shadows," Arroyo said. "Will encounters creatures and ancient evils that he never expected. But, we want children to know…if you stay true – even if you make mistakes – if you stay true and on the right path, good triumphs. Good endures and love endures and family endures. That's really what this series is about."

What makes "Will Wilder" particularly appealing is the fact that most of the relics and antiquities featured in the series can be found in museums and libraries across the world, including Walters Museum in Baltimore, the Louvre, and the Vatican Museums.

"It's just been fascinating for kids to realize…that these things are still with us…and that they can make contact with them in some way," Arroyo said. Just this week, a father reached out to tell Arroyo that his 10-year-old son had been asking about relics all day after reading "Will Wilder."

The series is also unique to middle grade fiction because its main character has a full and engaged family. Most youth fiction protagonists are abandoned or orphaned because it fosters instant sympathy. Arroyo thought a full family was more true to most kids' experience. In fact, Will Wilder's two siblings are based off of Arroyo's own children.

Arroyo's three children were the first to hear about Will Wilder. Arroyo created the character for bathtime and bedtime stories. As he developed the book, his children and their friends became his focus groups.

"They were like a pint-sized firing squad," Arroyo said. "They were brutal critics."

His kids love the final product, which has raving reviews from authors including Dean Koontz, Dave Barry, and Mary Higgins Clark. "Will Wilder" has also been championed by Barbara Marcus, who launched Babysitters Club and Goosebumps and discovered Harry Potter.

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Arroyo hopes the book will inspire children to pick up more books. In preparing the book, Arroyo consulted dozens of librarians, educators, and parents and came to realize the size of the United States' literacy crisis. Twenty-two million Americans are unable to read and nearly three quarters of fourth graders cannot read at their grade level.

"The implications of that are immense," Arroyo said. "I felt I had to do something, not only to give my kids and my family something entertaining to read, but I also wanted to inspire kids to literacy and encourage them to read and get lost in this world."

"Will Wilder" comes just months after Arroyo launched his new literacy initiative Storyented. The program aims to connect readers with best-selling authors to engage interest in the process of writing and the power of words. The program selects a book each month and Arroyo interviews the book's author. Readers can call or email in their own questions for the authors.

Librarians have adopted Storyented in their classrooms and many book clubs are using the program to add to their discussions, Arroyo said.

"I think books are powerful tools and too often they're neglected," Arroyo said. "It's my attempt to root children in a love of reading and get families and groups of kids talking about books! What could be better?"

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