As I read Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen, I was captivated by the vivid pictures in my mind. Whether it was the descriptive language, the graphic and powerful issues being addressed, or a bit of both, I was experiencing powerful imagery. I do not mean that I played the story through as a movie. Rather I experienced flashes of color, still photographs, expressions, emotions, and sounds.
The strong influence of the Tlingit Indians runs throughout the novel. The peaceful, healing idea of the Circle Justice echoes through my mind as I read absolutely horrific examples of violence and fear. It is strange how peaceful I began to feel when thinking about the idea of Circle Justice and rehabilitation through gaining an understanding of oneself. Of course, Mikaelsen took me through the full range of other emotions as we journey with Cole through his transformation from violent bully to someone who understands how sacrifice of oneself can help others in a good way.
Cole carved a Totem Pole to express his connections. I decided to create the technological version of the totem (it’s a push but I mean well) in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. My goal was to recreate some of the feelings I experienced while reading the book. Trying to find the right colors, pictures and words was not as simple as I thought it might be. I ended up using many pictures that hyperlinked to interesting websites about the Tlingit, Spirit Bear, Circle Justice and Alaska. To use the PowerPoint, one should try to get a feel of the emotion of the book from the pictures and then use the links to gain an understanding of the subjects I included. I see it as an electronic totem with electronic Post-Its. (Corny, I know.)
Literature Circle Extension Project Evaluation
Name: Catherine Zweig Project: PowerPoint
Touching Spirit Bear By Ben Mikaelsen
This project began with my experiences as I read the book. I found the writing and subject matter provoked images and feelings as I read. I decided I wanted to create a project that enabled me to represent these images and feelings to an audience. Part of my decision to create the PowerPoint was due to my comfort in using the application. I wanted to focus on the content of the piece, not on the technology needed in order to complete it. At first I wanted to use a collage and photograph it but because we have just moved, I have not located our camera and find the idea of going through the hundreds of boxes in the family room too intimidating.
Each slide required that I find suitable images to represent my feelings. The obvious choice for the title slide was the Spirit Bear with images of Tlingit culture. Although the book was mainly about Cole, I felt that it was Native American in spirit; reading it helped me feel the sense of understanding Cole finally realized at the end.
The slide on Cole Matthews was the easiest for me. I wanted to express his rage and violence. This is, of course, pre-enlightenment. The colors were used to create the feeling of rage, the images depicted the emotions I connected with Cole. One problem I did have with the picture was the face of Hitler. I did not relate his type of anger and hatred to Cole, so I had to place a word over him. The words ‘Cole Matthews” were deliberately white as I saw innocence in him; he was a product of his environment, not an evil person.
The Seeds of Rage slide was my way of showing the two main influences in Cole’s life. His father’s brutality and his mother’s indifference (perhaps more alarming than his fathers abuse) gave Cole a void in his life, without love or guidance…thus, Cole became the boy that battered Peter Driscal.
Peter Driscal is represented by the image of a victim being bullied. Again, his words are in white to show innocence. The cartoon character is almost exactly how I pictured Peter. I don’t know why; he is much more tragic than the cartoon. I think it was the ‘nerd’ factor; poor Peter did come across as a bit of a nerd to me. This shocked me and made me wonder about how I perceive students who are easily bullied. Considering I run the Peer Mediation program in my school, I am going to think very hard about this. The words selected about Peter also include some that surprised me. I saw him as a victim, as someone to feel very sorry for and, as my discussion comments have shown, someone who deserves as much help in getting over the attack as possible. Yet I also added ‘snitch?’ because Cole beat Peter up for telling on him. I am sure there will be many debates in this word choice.
The Circle slide was designed to represent a recurring theme throughout the novel: the circle applies to so many aspects of the story. I selected pictures with links to circles that had some meaning in relation to the novel. The Totem Pole is a Tlingit pole and is there to show Coles’ struggle with carving and the connection to the circle he eventually managed to do.
The Circle Justice slide came from the Haliburton Family Services website. I wanted to show how this worked and felt it deserved its own slide because it was so important to the story. Cole was given a chance to change, Peter was, in turn, given a chance to recover; the circle continues.
The Island was a character in the novel. It had its own defining characteristics and played a large role in the plot. It was a fearful place for Cole, somewhere he hated and resented. It became a place where he found himself and began to heal. It even became a place of restoration for Peter. The selected words draw upon my feeling about the island, a pace where Cole almost died. Yet the idea that the island created the chance to change and a new beginning for Cole was most important so I emphasized this with the size of the words.
Defining moments for Cole, in my opinion anyway, were the storm, death of the sparrows, the near miss of the fallen tree and the attack of the Spirit Bear. Cole did not change during this time, that came later, but he did open his eyes to the reality of the world, he felt the pain of sorrow and he realized he could die. I don’t think he would have reached his ‘enlightenment’ without these moments.
When thinking about the people in Cole’s life, I began to see types of friendships. They were not the traditional ‘playdate and fun’ type of relationships and my slide attempted to explain the idea that these people could be considered ‘friends’ in some way. The question mark is part of my own confusion. Are these people friends in the true sense of the word? I am still not entirely sure. One person who could not make the list was Cole’s father. He was the antithesis of a friend. The hand in the background was taken from a site on friendship. I particularly liked it because it looked like a circle in the center.
The Breathing slide is my vision of Cole sitting in the cold pond and carrying the stone up the hillside. The overall feeling I wanted to evoke is that of positively. The picture should create a feeling of calm and peacefulness. They seemed like such cleansing activities, opening Cole’s mind to thoughtfulness and discipline. It is this that began my connection to Buddhism.
The final slide comes back full circle to the Spirit Bear. I am no Emily Dickinson but I wanted to write my feelings about the idea of a Spirit Bear and the possibility that Cole did not really see one but needed to in order to find himself. I believe it does not matter if a spirit bear is real, it is much more important to mean something to the beholder.