Author Ben Mikaelsen gave students at Fairgrieve Elementary school an important assignment: to write the story of the rest of their lives. On his November 15 visit to the school he challenged students to stand tall and be themselves, to be “big” on the inside, and to make the choice to work toward their dreams. Mikaelsen told students, “You might already be the best writer in the school and you don’t even realize it!”
Mikaelsen overcame many obstacles before realizing his dreams. He was born in the Andes Mountains in Bolivia where there were no schools and had no schooling until he was sent to live at a boarding school in fourth grade. Once there he struggled with being judged by the color of his skin, being teased because of the clothes he wore, how uneducated he was, and by the language he spoke. He started coping with his difficulties by writing down his feelings.
After moving to Minnesota as a teen, Mikaelsen thought he would fit in better with classmates who looked more like him, but he continued to struggle. He found inspiration for change in the first book he ever read, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He made a conscious decision to stand up, be himself, and work toward his dreams. The book inspired him to learn to fly. He told students that he started by learning to dive off cliffs. Then he worked odd jobs to earn money for flying lessons and sky diving classes. By the time he graduated from high school he was diving off 70 foot cliffs, had earned his pilot’s license and won the Minnesota State Sky Diving Championship. When Mikaelsen entered college, he was asked to skydive into the homecoming football game.
Although he found success in flying, his struggles with English continued after high school. He still struggled with spelling, grammar and punctuation. Fortunately, his father worked at a college so he was admitted on a probationary basis. In his first college English class he was confronted by his professor. Mikaelsen told the students that it was that professor who made him realize that he was actually a good storyteller, but needed a lot of work on the mechanics of writing. He struggled through his first year of college, being tutored in English for an extra hour every day.
Hard work and perseverance has paid off for Mikaelsen as he is now an award winning author of nine books. His most recent book, Ghost of Spirit Bear, is the sequel to the award winning favorite of Fairgrieve students, Touching Spirit Bear.
Mikaelsen explained to the students that he is really a “rewriter,” and usually rewrites his books about 12 times. Until last year, he did a lot of his rewriting in the company of a 750 pound black bear (Buffy) who Mikaelsen raised from a cub. He does not think people should raise wild animals, but Buffy had been used for research and would be killed if not adopted. He shared pictures and told stories of the bear’s antics and the sense of loss that came when Buffy died of old age last year.
Mikaelsen also shared exiting news that his book, Petey, might be made into a movie. There is work underway to secure funding for the project. Many of the Fairgrieve students and staff have read the book and shared the author’s excitement.
The author program was arranged by Fairgrieve Librarian, Barbara Senecal through the Arts and Education program. His visit was partially funded from money raised through a recent book fair.