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Mikaelsen, Ben, 1952-
New York : HarperCollins, 2001.
IL 5-8, RL 6.7
ISBN 0060291494

(4 booktalks)

Booktalk #1

Cole Matthews has been driven by anger all his life.  Heís happiest when he knows others are afraid of him.  Finally, his anger allows him to seriously injure another boy.  After Cole bragged at school about breaking into a hardware store, Peter Driscal told the police.  In revenge, Cole beats him up so badly he leaves peter with permanent brain damage.  Cole certainly would have gone to jail if parole officer Garvey hadn't sponsored Cole for Circle Justice.  Circle Justice is an ancient Native American practice that focuses on healing rather than punishment.  Cole is to spend a year alone on an Alaskan island.  A year meant to give him time to learn to cope with his anger and heal from his own mistreatment at the hands of his father.  Once he's alone on the island, Cole Releases his anger by burning down his shelter with all his food, clothing, and other supplies inside.  But the worst is yet to come.  (Mary Huebscher, Librarian, Holy Cross of San Antonio, San Antonio, TX

Booktalk #2

Did you ever meet a guy that you really, really didn't like? Didn't like the way he dressed, didn't like the way he talked, didn't like the way he acted--just plain didn't like anything about him?

That's how I felt about Cole Matthews for most of this book.

Cole Matthews is a mean, nasty, bad-tempered, rotten bully. He is used to getting his own way by lying, cheating, and pushing other people around. For years he's been hauled into drug counseling, anger therapy sessions and police stations, and every time he got into trouble he was warned to "shape up because this was his last chance." And he has learned that he can always count on having one more "last" chance.

But when Cole beats up a younger kid and smashed his head against the sidewalk, he is in the biggest trouble of his life. Peter may be permanently brain damaged. When Cole is offered Circle Justice, a system based on Native American traditions that attempt to provide healing for the criminal offender and the victim, he plays along,trying to avoid a prison sentence. The Circle sends Cole for a one-year banishment on a remote Alaskan island, where he is mauled by a mysterious white bear during an attempt to escape. As he waits for death, Cole's thoughts begin to change, and he begins to accept responsibility for his actions.

He is not suddenly cured, however. After six months in the hospital, Cole returns to the island, accompanied by Edwin, a Tlinquet elder who has agreed to teach him. On the first day back on the island, Edwin hands Cole a big rock to carry up a hill....

read exerpt from book (this skips around in a few paragraphs) pp. 155-157, hardback edition:

"How far are we going?" Cole asked.
Edwin continued up the long slope.
Grumbling, Cole followed. As they walked, Edwin spoke. "Your life isn't an accident. Many generations of your ancestors struggled through life, learning lessons, making mistakes, just as you have. Each generation passed on to the next what they learned and all that they became."
After several hundred feet, Cole's right arm ached from carrying the heavy stone. He stopped and looked back. They were barely halfway up the slope.
"Pretend that rock is your ancestors," said Edwin. "Climbing this hill is your life. With each step, you carry your ancestors with you, in your mind, in your heart, and in your soul. If you listen, your ancestors reach out from the rock and teach you the lessons of their struggles. Hear your ancestors. Someday, you'll pass those lessons on to others."
Cole acknowledged Edwin's words with a weary grunt and struggled on without complaining. By the time they reached the top, he breathed heavily. He was about to drop the rock to the ground when Edwin reached out, took the heavy stone, and set it down carefully. "Treat your ancestors gently," he said.
"What are they, wimps?"
Edwin ignored Cole's comment. "I've carried that stone up this hill hundreds of times," he said.
"This very same rock?"
Edwin nodded.
"You mean you carry it back down again, too?"
Edwin smiled. "There's a better way. Once the rock is set down, it changes meaning. Now it becomes your anger. Roll the rock down the hill. Roll away your anger. Each time you do this, you'll find more meaning. And you'll learn respect."
"What do you mean, each time I do this? I'm not going to carry that stupid rock up this hill every day. What makes you think you know everything that's good for me?"
Edwin drew in a deep breath. "I don't. Nobody does. We all search for answers, same as you."
"They why do you keep telling me what to do?"
Edwin smiled. "That's the first intelligent question I've heard you ask all morning."

Will carrying a rock make Cole a better person? No, it won't. But the rock is part of the healing process. And there's still the problem of Peter, the injured boy. What can Cole possibly do for Peter?

Read the book and find out. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

(by Aarene Storms of the King County Library System,for Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, 2003-2004.)

Booktalk #3

Cole Matthews is an angry, violent young man.  He loves seeing other kids afraid of him.  When a classmate gets Cole angry, Cole beats the boy so severely that he is left with permanent brain damage.  Cole knows he is facing jail this time.  His parents have gotten him out of trouble before but this time he doubts if he'll go free.  It doesn't matter.  He is so tough he isn't afraid of anything.  Cole's parole officer sees something that others can't see.  He sees a Cole who can be saved.  He arranges for Cole to face an alternative justice system.  It's the Native American "Circle Justice".  Cole goes along with it just to stay out of jail.  When the Circle sentences Cole to live by himself on a remote island in Alaska for one year, Cole laughs at the sentence.  He agrees but he secretly plans his escape from the island.  Will he be able to survive his year in exile?  Will he escape?  Can Cole be saved?

Booktalk #4

                  ďAnger is a memory never forgotten.Ē

                    How many in here can recall a time when youíve been extremely angry about something?  Would you say that you could still get angry about that situation right now if we started discussing it again?  Have you ever thought about losing that anger? Or how to deal with your emotions?

                    For Cole Matthews this was no easy task.  Why should he care about his anger? No one cared about him.  This story details this one young manís journey to find his soul and lose his anger over lifeís hard blows and the hard blows heís dealt to others. Cole is a repeat offender at the department of juvenile justice. Heís also no stranger to counselors and intervention programs. So, when the opportunity arises to participate in a quest for finding his true spirit through a Native American Circle Justice program he agrees. Privately, Cole scoffs at the concept of some Indian tradition set to help him find a healing solution; heíll agree to anything to keep himself out of prison. Cole is almost mauled to death by a bear during his banishment on an Alaskan island.  From this mauling, Cole learns the power of healing physically as well as emotionally.  Read Touching Spirit Bear to get in touch with your own spirit; by Ben Mikaelsen.  (Melanie Crumpton,, West Ashley Middle School, Charleston, South Carolina)

SUBJECTS:     Juvenile delinquents -- Rehabilitation -- Fiction.
                        Anger -- Fiction.
                        Forgiveness -- Fiction.
                        Child abuse -- Fiction.
                        Tlingit Indians -- Fiction.
                        Indians of North America -- Alaska -- Fiction.


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