Young adult author discusses how he used writing to escape from bullying in Baraboo middle school presentation

February 6, 2018

A popular young adult fiction author told Jack Young Middle School students Monday how his experiences with bullying eventually led him to writing and storytelling.

Montana author Ben Mikaelsen was invited to speak during the middle school’s annual literacy night and met with students throughout the day as well. During his talks, the author of “Touching Spirit Bear” and “Petey” told students how he grew up in Bolivia and moved to Minnesota at a young age.

As a white child of missionaries in South America, Mikaelsen said he had a hard time fitting in with other kids and attracted more bullies in the United States because he was behind in school and struggled with the English language.

“When I came to the United States at exactly your age, I could barely read a comic book, but I had discovered by then that I could put anything I wanted onto a piece of paper, and it would never tease me,” he said. “That white space became my safe zone, and I started escaping by writing stories on a piece of paper.”

Mikaelsen also shared several anecdotes with students that detailed his life story. He told students how he overcame bullying and earned his pilot’s license, learned to cliff dive, and became a record-holding skydiver and an award-winning author. Mikaelson also talked about his relationship with a 700-pound black bear named Buffy, which he raised and rescued as a cub from a research facility.

Jack Young Middle School literacy coach Maggie Schumacher said the event was intended to get students excited about reading and demonstrate the importance of reading at the middle-school level. Schumacher added that she hopes students were inspired by Mikaelsen’s stories.

“I hope our students realize that the power to be whoever they want to be is in their hands, and I think Ben’s message was a good reminder of that,” she said. “You can start anywhere and build yourself up to who you want to be.”

School leaders were forced to cancel Mikaelsen’s Monday night presentation for students and their families due to hazardous weather conditions. Schumacher said the literacy night will be rescheduled for another evening without an appearance from Mikaelsen. The event still will feature free popcorn and a book for each student, as well as door prizes donated by local businesses.

Mikaelsen ended his talk by encouraging students to pursue their dreams and live out “the most important story they will ever tell.”

“In a few minutes, whether you like it or not, every single one of you in this auditorium has to begin telling the most important story of your entire life,” he said. “I can’t tell the story for you, but I can help you with the title. It’s called the rest of your life.”