On Wednesday March 8th, sixth grade students were captivated as they were able to participate in a virtual visit with Ben Mikaelsen, author of Touching Spirit Bear, Petey, and many other novels. Many of the students in sixth grade read Touching Spirit Bear as one of their novels in Language Arts classes.
Ben told stories of his childhood growing up in Bolivia, and spoke about the bullying he experienced in school due to the color of his skin. Ben's primary language was Spanish and in the Andes mountains where he lived they did not have schools. Ben never went to school until he was in fourth grade. He couldn't read or write and he could barely speak English.
Ben pointed out that all he ever wanted was not to be "different." He moved to Minnesota where there were more people with the same skin color as him, but the teasing continued even when he was trying so hard to "fit in." Ben learned that instead of trying to fit in, he could just be himself.
Ben found a safe place by writing stories. He spoke of his love for animals, and talked to them about his bear Buffy, that he raised from the time he was a cub. He lived for twenty-seven years. He also read his books out loud to Buffy before he sent them for publication.
He spoke to the students about his novel Touching Spirit Bear and how the book came to be. He described his writing process, rewriting and the importance of making his character's actions and thoughts believable and realistic.
So many of the students involved in the virtual visit were filled with questions. We just wished that we had more time with Mr. Mikaelsen. He is full of words and always writes his thoughts and story ideas down, even if he is in the middle of a presentation. He was so inspirational and so moving with his words, that even Mrs. Bost, our media specialist, became emotional at times during the visit.
All sixth grade students received a special Ben Mikaelsen bookmark, and many of the students are talking about reading all the other books by Mr. Mikaelsen. Ben reminded students to always remember to be kind. The teachers were thrilled and said that the visit was truly an amazing experience!