Meet Ben Mikaelsen!

Touching Spirit Bear was written by Ben Mikaelsen in 2001. Ben was born in La Paz, Bolivia in 1952, although he is of Danish decent. Ben moved to the United States of America in when he was in seventh grade. Below are some questions answered by Ben Mikaelsen about his novel and his experiences. (Taken from:

La Paz, Bolivia. Fun fact: La Paz is the highest capital city in the world – it is 3640m above sea level!

Questions with Ben Mikaelsen: What was your inspiration for the Book (Touching Spirit Bear)?

“I was born to conservative white parents in Bolivia, South America. This gave me a perspective on justice not shared by many American children.

By the time I was ten years old, I had been through three revolutions, walked the streets stepping over dead bodies, had a man shot to death only feet away and watched my first execution.  Because our home in Bolivia was up at 14,000 feet on the high plains above La Paz, there were no schools.  As such, I was never sent to school or home-schooled until fourth grade, at which point I was sent away to boarding school.

Location of Bolivia.

The school was run by strict English matrons that ruled with iron fists.  Minor infractions were punished with a stick.  Severe infractions were punished with a leather strap that left my hands in bandages.  My own personal infractions never seemed to be minor.  Also, a child such as myself who couldn’t read or write was not dealt with remedially, but rather punitively.  If I did the best I could on an assignment but failed, the next day I had to improve or get a strapping.  To know that a strapping was coming and I had already tried my hardest was probably the most frightening thing about boarding school.

I also learned early in life the sting of racism.  I knew what it was like to be held down and have mud smeared in my face and to be called a “Gringo.”  I learned at a tender age what it was like to look at my skin and hate myself simply because one thin layer of my body was different from other children.  When I came to the United States as a teenager, I discovered that people’s differences went much deeper.  Sadly, it took becoming an angry teenager and seeing the inside of a few police stations before I learned to embrace my differences and to be proud of them.

This is a long way of explaining that Touching Spirit Bear is the book I wished I could have read when I was adolescent. The hard lessons learned over the years were ones I wanted to share with today’s teenagers.”

Questions with Ben Mikaelsen: Tell me about the bullying you experienced in school.

“Coming to the U.S. at age 12, everything about me seemed different; the clothes I wore, the games I played, how I spoke…everything. I thought at first that I was bullied because I there was something wrong with me. I was so ashamed of my differences. It took me many years, but with time I became proud of what made me different.

I did learn that bullies were bullies because they were afraid. Bullies always pick on students who are different and on those they don’t understand. What I learned about people in general is that we fear what we don’t understand and we try to destroy whatever we fear. That is why most bullies are bullies.”

Additional Facts

  • For 27 years Ben’s other “roommate” was a 750 pound black bear, Buffy, that he adopted and raised. Buffy died in 2010. One story about Buffy is when Ben and Buffy drove into town and they were stopped for speeding in his pickup truck. As the highway patrol officer wrote me a ticket, Buffy, poked his head out the open window, grabbed the ticket pad from the officer’s hand and ate it.
Author Ben Mikaelson shares a book with Buffy, his bear.
  • My favorite Ben Mikaelsen quote is: “Write stories that have feelings. If you don’t make the reader care, it doesn’t matter if the words are spelled correctly.”
  • Ben was a defiant student that struggled through school. As ben states “…every paper I got back had a big fat F on it. By the way, the first F I received, I thought it stood for Fabulous.

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