CARY – After overcoming illiteracy, battling bullies in school, becoming a skydiving champion and adopting a 700-pound black bear, award-winning children’s book author Ben Mikaelsen has a lot to tell students.
The author talked to students at Cary Junior High School on Wednesday during an assembly that marked the end of the school’s summer reading initiative. Mikaelsen told stories about how he came to the United States from Bolivia and was bullied almost immediately for the way he dressed and for his struggles with the English language.
“His story really resonates with the middle-school students because a lot of what he talks about they either have experienced or they know someone who is experiencing it,” said Valerie McCall, director of curriculum and instruction at Cary School District 26. “It’s very appropriate.”
The assembly, which was sponsored by the Cary Education Foundation and the Cary Junior High PTO, was a celebration for the students who completed their required summer reading.
Mikaelsen was frequently beaten up when he was a young student in Minnesota. He told stories of how other children would throw snowballs at him when he was riding his bike and assault him in the school hallways. The bullying made him resentful and angry, but he found peace through skydiving and cliff diving. And he took flying lessons in high school and eventually got his pilot’s license.
In college, Mikaelsen still struggled with spelling and grammar, but his professors knew he was a strong storyteller. He worked with a tutor every day of his freshman year and eventually learned how to turn his colorful stories into coherent works of literature. Mikaelsen told the students Wednesday that hard work and persistence were the keys to his success.
“Believe in your dreams, believe in yourself and never give up,” he said.
Mikaelsen has written many children’s books, including “Rescue Josh McGuire,” “Sparrow Hawk Red,” “Stranded, Countdown, Petey” and “Touching Spirit Bear.” He has won the International Reading Association Award and the Western Writer’s Golden Spur Award for his work.
Today, Mikaelsen lives in Bozeman, Mont. For 26 years, he lived with a 700-pound North American black bear named Buffy, which he adopted before it was to be euthanized.