Reaching these young readers at a critical age is Arroyo’s goal with the second installment in his best-selling series, Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders (Random House Crown), which arrived in bookstores earlier this month. The importance of childhood literacy is what led Arroyo to found Storyented a few years ago. The initiative, a project of DP Studios, works to connect best-selling authors with their readers, discussing the canon of work, allowing kids to ask questions, and creating online videos that parents and teachers can use to help excite kids about reading. Arroyo said he hoped to be a sort of “passport agency” to literacy. And his Will Wilder books are doing just that.
Arroyo said he was astounded by the book’s impact. Asked why he thought it was so successful, he pointed to two pieces of positive feedback that he was repeatedly given. The first was that readers loved the idea that Will made mistakes, and that those mistakes had consequences, but that there were ways for him to go back and repair the damage that he had caused. “That gave them a sense of hope,” Arroyo commented. He added that readers – especially kids from at-risk backgrounds – were reading about the demons that Will battles in the book and projecting onto these demons their challenges and battle of their own lives.
“The real-world impact of how they project themselves into the story has really amazed me,” he said, explaining that numerous readers had told him, “Will gave me hope that I could conquer my own demons, that I could overcome the things that I’m struggling with.” With some 67 percent of fourth graders reading beneath proficiency at the national level – and studies showing a correlation between illiteracy and jail or welfare later in life – the ability to excite kids about reading is no small feat. “Kids really want to go on a fun adventure,” Arroyo said. If a book is exciting and has a protagonist that kids can identify with, “they want to go on a journey and find out how it ends.”