Arroyo gives young readers thrill, moral guidance

Listeners beware. “Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls” audiobook makes for some exciting and scary bedtime listening. Raymond Arroyo, lead anchor of EWTN News and host of “The World Over Live,” brings Catholicism to children’s fantasy without being preachy or heavy-handed.

Geared for readers ages 8 and older, “Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls” is a fantasy about 12-year-old Will Wilder, who never guessed that a forbidden donkey ride — taken as a bet — would be the beginning of a dangerous mission to save his hometown, Perilous Falls, from demonic creatures.

Unbeknownst to Will, he comes from a line of family members who are endowed with special powers, and who are ordained to protect precious religious relics. Nearly a century ago, Will’s grandfather, Jacob Wilder, rescued the finger of St. Thomas. Now, that relic has fallen into evil hands, and Will must get it back to save his family and Perilous Falls.

As a parent of three children who are in grade school, I’m always on the lookout for quality fiction that will not only tickle their imaginations but also help to form them morally.

It can be difficult to find a fantasy book that has a balance of good and evil and a believable, virtuous protagonist — let alone one who comes from a stable home. “The Relic of Perilous Falls” fulfills all three of these.

The story also succeeds at showing that decisions have consequences. True to real life, Will continually faces choices, and how he acts in those situations changes the course of his life and the lives of those people living in his town. In the story, we see Will makes mistakes, but we also see that he has the courage to try to fix those mistakes even when he is afraid.

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Arroyo

Counter to the stereotype of the genre, adults in Will’s life aren’t portrayed as clueless. When he gets into trouble because of poor decision-making, his Aunt Lucille comes to his rescue. She helps him to understand his powers and how each of us serves a purpose in life that is meant for the good of all. Aunt Lucille tells Will, “Our gifts are given to us for the good of others. We are all set apart from some great work …”

Generally, the author doesn’t narrate his or her own books, so we were pleasantly surprised when not only did Arroyo read the story, but he also read it well. He has an acting background, and it shows in his ability to give unique and believable voices to a multitude of characters. It’s clear Arroyo knows the characters of “Perilous Falls” well, and that may be because they were born out of the stories that he told his three children during their bath time.

Our one disappointment in “Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls” was that it ended on a cliffhanger — much to the dismay of my children. Now, we eagerly await the second book.

Parents and teachers can check out RandomHouse.com’s Educator’s Guide for discussion questions and activities related to the book.

Lori Hadacek Chaplin writes from Idaho.

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