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.
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?"