Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Date reviewed:4/1/03          Grades 6-8       IL  12+

Awards: YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, ALA – 2002, Florida Sunshine State Award – 2004

Summary: Cole tries to avoid going to jail (for beating up a schoolmate so badly that he suffers permanent damage) by participating in a Native American community sentence called Circle Justice. He doesn’t intend to serve his punishment – to remain isolated on an island for a year. He finds that he cannot escape the island. When he threatens a bear and the bear fights back, Cole’s dying wish is to live! But how to live, when there’s nothing to live for?

Personal Reaction: FANTASTIC! If you liked Hatchet, you’ll like this! I was really into this story because it highlights the Native American attitude of connection between all things, but it offers no easy way out for Cole to suddenly “go native” or solve his problems. I think this book would be an excellent class novel, especially for students in middle and high school who know no other way except fighting. All this – with NO PROFANITY!

Any Cautions:  Yes – Cole’s violence and near-death experience are graphic

Points for discussion with children:  Anger management, Native American culture

Possible classroom uses: Gosh, I think that Circle Justice could be a way to go within the classroom for handling conflicts, so a teacher could start off the year by reading this book before introducing discipline steps.

Connections to other books? Hatchet by Paulsen for survival fiction. Holes by Louis Sachar for juvenile delinquency theme. The Talking Earth by George for Native American sacred-earth culture.

Realia: woodcarvings, totem pole, boulder (Papier-mâché), stuffed mouse, photographs of bears, Alaskan Tlingit Indian resources (photographs, maps), Native American blanket

 Food items connected to story: hot dogs, salmon, Snickers candy bar


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