Ben Mikaelsen teaches Mount Pulaski students to author of their own lives

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[October 23, 2017] 


On Monday, October 16, author Ben Mikaelsen spoke to a group of very attentive students at Mount Pulaski Grade School.

Mikaelsen's website describes him as someone who "has a passion for helping kids break out of labels and discover their own special genius." His messages provide a "Bully-Free stance" with an "impact on children and adults alike."

In Mikaelsen's presentation to third through fifth grade students, he spoke about "Becoming the Author of Your Own Life" He hoped "to teach the students how to reach their full potential and motivate them to read and write on their own."

Mikaelsen shared his life story with students as he talked about his struggles and becoming a writer.

Mikaelsen said when he was around their age, he could not spell simple words, did not know what a sentence was, and had handwriting that looked like chicken scratch. He started his formal education in fourth grade at a boarding school.

As a fair skinned child in Bolivia, Mikaelsen did not look like the other children, who beat him up and smeared mud in his face so he would look like them. The children called him a dummy. Mikaelsen did not want to be different.

Mikaelsen said the school's teachers and headmaster were very strict. At bedtime, lights went out they were told to go to sleep "now." Mikaelsen had a lot of ideas in his head and started taking a piece of paper to bed at night to practice writing his letters hiding under the covers with a flashlight. The headmaster caught him one night and took his flashlight, but still he wrote.

Mikaelsen moved to the United States when he was in sixth grade and discovered children in Minnesota looked like him. He decided to show off and dress up the first day in knicker shorts, a white blouse, suspenders, a bow tie, and black and white saddle shoes, but immediately got called a dumb dork by a girl he thought was cute.

Mikaelsen thought he could do well playing football, not realizing that the football he was used to playing was really American soccer. He did not understand why the football was pointed on both ends and he kicked the ball instead of carrying it. The other boys thought Mikaelsen was an idiot and he got beat up that day and every day.

Mikaelsen said three things changed his future:

1. He discovered he could write anything on a piece of paper and others would never tease him, so he learned to write stories. In one, he was the smartest kid in the whole universe.

2. He started liking animals and over the years has raised cats, dogs, sled dogs, gerbils, a snake, and a bear. Animals did not care what color Mikaelsen was, how he dressed, or how smart he was.

3. He decided to start being himself after getting beat up one day. Mikaelsen went and stared out at a lake and realized he was not dumb.

The first book Mikaelsen read was about a seagull who did not want to get picked on anymore and learned to dive down faster than the other seagulls.

One day Mikaelsen canoed to the nearby lake and began jumping off cliffs, though he could not really swim. He started out doing belly flips but could soon dive from 50 feet up. A bully who heard about Mikaelsen's diving told him, "you're crazy," but did not beat him up.

When Mikaelsen wanted to learn to fly an airplane but his parents could not afford the lesson, he started earning money doing odd jobs and paid for his own lessons. He rode his bike to the airport even in cold Minnesota winters with children throwing snowballs at him to knock him off his bike.

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Mikaelsen said if you have a dream, you need to make it come true. He said bullies are so insecure and he is still angry about how they treated him. Mikaelsen would love to have a time machine and show them he followed his dreams.

Mikaelsen became a skydiving champion, got an altitude record for parachuting, dove over seventy feet off a cliff, and co-piloted a plane to the North Pole, but was still labeled. He said every school has students who do not fit in, but names stick like glue.

Mikaelsen got F's in English, but kept telling his stories. Mikaelsen said he scored at a fifth-grade level in English comprehension on the college entrance exam, but because his dad worked at a college, he was able to go to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota without meeting the entrance requirements.

When Mikaelsen wrote his first one page essay, he put his heart and soul into it. Mikaelsen said most words were misspelled, punctuations was in the wrong place, and handwriting was illegible. The professor corrected it with so many red marks, it looked like a "pizza."

Mikaelsen said the professor asked to meet with him and told Mikaelsen he had serious difficulties with the English language, but was a brilliant writer and storyteller whose story made the professor laugh and cry.

The professor had Mikaelsen meet with a tutor every day to help with the basics.

Years later, Mikaelsen has written several books and won awards. He said characters are loosely based on his life. His book Touching Spirit Bear will soon be on the big screen.

Mikaelsen showed students a slideshow of what goes into a day of writing. In many photos, he was with Buffy, his rescue bear who died four years ago. Mikaelsen often sat with Buffy as he wrote and also read a lot of his stories to Buffy, who sometimes ate the papers.

Mikaelsen said he starts days spending quiet time meditating on his day and reminding himself he is the author of that day's chapter. Mikaelsen does not know anyone who has more fun than him. He has been around the world in his adventures.

Mikaelsen said bullies often feel tiny and inadequate, so they pick on others to make themselves feel better. He told students, "you have a chance to become something magnificent. How you act is how you become."

Mikaelsen said the biggest, strongest people are those who control themselves. To be strong is to be kind, gentle, and respectful.

Mikaelsen closed by telling students they need to tell the most important story of their lives called "the rest of your life" and to "make it the most fantastic story ever told."

Mikaelsen met with other age groups at the school throughout the day tailoring lessons to their level.

[Angela Reiners]

[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

From the author's website:
Author Ben Mikaelsen, has won the International Reading Association Award and the Western Writer's Golden Spur Award.

In addition, his novels have won many state Reader's Choice awards. These novels include Rescue Josh McGuire, Sparrow Hawk Red, Stranded, Countdown, Petey, Touching Spirit Bear, Red Midnight, Tree Girl and Ghost of Spirit Bear. His novels, Rescue Josh McGuire, Petey and Touching Spirit Bear have also been optioned for screen use.

Ben's articles and photos have appeared in numerous magazines around the world. His novels have been carried by Scholastic and Troll book fairs, and are recorded on unabridged audio tape with recorded books. Recently Ben was featured nationally on Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures and also on German national TV.

Ben has a passion for helping kids break out of labels and discover their own special genius. More than just an author, Ben is a seasoned speaker with a unique ability to impact children and adults alike. His Bully-Free stance is far more than a mere wrist-band approach. His presentations, coupled with the powerful messages in his books, like Touching Spirit Bear, have been referenced in People Magazine and have affected positive change in countless students the world over.

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