TEACHERS have been known to try anything to get their students to read. But Mitchell Stone had the novel idea of making two of his pupils the main characters in his new book.
Lindfield Public School library yesterday rolled out the red felt for the official launch of The Secret Tunnel.
Students exhaled their most harmonised ''good mornings'' for guest speakers, including the member for Bradfield, Paul Fletcher. But it was Mr Stone and Nicki Jones, the year 5 teacher who illustrated the book, who drew the most interest.
The book grew out of the physical education teacher's love for testing his young pupils' credulity with far-fetched tales after class.
Many students erroneously call him ''the Major'' because of stories from his days in the military. A rabbit also lives in his hat and his acquaintances include a few crocodile wrestlers.
But it was a different story that enthralled two of his year 2 students.
''We've got this old storeroom underneath the classroom,'' Mr Stone said. ''There was a crocodile down there, a skeleton, too. It got more outrageous as time went on.''
Eight-year-old Edward Cameron said: ''We believed him.''
Sophie Simms, 7, added: ''There was a cupboard with a lock on it. We only knew the first number was eight.''
And so the two overcame the challenge of being in different classes and having boy and girl germs to try and crack the code blocking the entrance to a mysterious tunnel.
''They were often sniffing around trying to get inside,'' Mr Stone said.
As a reward for their inquisitive natures, Mr Stone made Edward and Sophie the protagonists of his new book.
''Lindfield PS was hiding something,'' the story opens with the first of many loose parallels. Only the school sports teacher knows the truth; a man with a straight back and a military past.
''A few parents suggested I turn the story into a book,'' Mr Stone told the Herald while fielding requests from students for an autograph. ''I thought it would be a bit of fun.''
Readers' interest is already focusing on Miss Ratch, the battleaxe with a tightly wound bun who runs the detention room like an asylum.
''There are a lot of theories,'' Mr Stone said, while refusing to elaborate.