Teacher encourages boys to read through bathroom humor
One Long Island teacher is aiming to get boys to read by writing books that feature humor.
Raymond Sabini's latest book is titled "Sweet Farts: Rippin' It Old-School." It begins this way: "I don't care who you are, you farted today."
Sabini, 39, of Miller Place is a fourth-grade teacher at Jericho Elementary School in Centereach who writes under the pen name Raymond Bean. In 2008 he self-published his first book, "Sweet Farts," which reached No. 4 on Amazon's "Hot New Releases" list of humorous children's literature. The new book, his second, was published this summer by Amazon Encore.
Authors have had success using bathroom humor to interest boys, who have fallen behind girls in reading, according to the national nonprofit Center on Education Policy. Sabini relies on that tactic, but manages to wrap in history and the scientific method - along with embarrassing aspects of elementary school life.
So tell us about the first book.
The main character, Keith, is blamed for someone else's gas, so it's a social disaster. It's every kid's worst nightmare. So he does a science fair project to find a cure for the smell of human gas. And now, in the second book, he's kind of an accomplished scientist.
Keith (also known as "Silent But Deadly") learns of a letter written by Benjamin Franklin about farts. Is that part true?
Absolutely. There was a letter Benjamin Franklin had written in 1781 which said that if someone could find a cure for the smell of human gas, it would be greatest scientific discovery of all time. So I said, "Now I have something I can hang my hat on, I'm not just writing a silly book." There really was a historical figure, and the kids follow the scientific method in the book.
So how did you discover Ben Franklin's point of view?
I was basically Googling and reading anything interesting that had to do with gas. . . . I came across the [Ben Franklin] letter and researched it more. I tracked it all the way back to the Library of Congress, who helped me find the actual letter and actually sent me a copy. It's kind of an obscure essay that he wrote called the "Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels."
The Center for Education Policy says that boys across the country are falling behind girls in reading. Have you seen this in your classrooms?
I try to focus on the kids that are right in front of me. There are video games and movies and all these things that kids are excited about, but . . . I see they're as excited as they've always been about books they love. As a teacher, I've found that these silly books can be a great way to get kids reading and then exposing them to other books. . . . My goal is to help them learn to love books and to have books as an option when they have free time.
How did you come up with the idea?
I wanted to write a book that kids found funny, and I kept coming back to farts. It's something that's universally funny. But I knew I had to frame it in the correct way, so I was doing research to find out how to tell the story intelligently. . . . Once I found a history connection and I knew I could work science in, I knew I had something. As a teacher and a parent , I could feel good about it.
And you kept your identity a secret under your pen name Raymond Bean?
When I did research on self-publishing, many criticisms said that the author mainly sold the book to friends and family. We wanted to take that argument away, so we published the book under a pen name and were sending it out to publishers and agents. . . . We kept getting rejected, but then it was Amazon who . . . started a conversation about turning it into a series.
What happened when you let the secret out?
We did a "mystery author" event - I told my principal about three weeks prior, and at that point the second book was finished. So we came up with the idea and gave clues about the identity of the author who was going to come in the last week of school. And then . . . they revealed that the author was me. It was really cool for the kids to see me as not just a teacher but an accomplished author.
Were any of your students familiar with the book before they knew you wrote it?
There was a little boy in my class - it was a real challenge to get him reading over the course of the year. Then toward the end of the year he was reading, and during the last month of school the kids were asked to come up with a list of books they'd want to read over the summer, and he raised his hand and said he wanted to read "Sweet Farts." I had to bite my tongue!
I'm almost completed with book three. . . . As a teacher, it's a real transition, because I can talk to my kids about the writing process as a professional author and show them the comparisons, so it should be really interesting moving forward.