94 pages 3 hours read

Ben Mikaelsen

Touching Spirit Bear

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2001

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.


Touching Spirit Bear

  • Genre: Fiction; upper middle grade/young adult realistic contemporary
  • Originally Published: 2001
  • Reading Level/Interest: Lexile 730L; grades 5-9
  • Structure/Length: 2 parts; 28 chapters; approx. 256 pages; approx. 5 hours, 51 minutes on audio
  • Protagonist and Central Conflict: Hot-tempered and embittered 15-year-old Cole Matthews faces prison for injuring a peer. He agrees to an alternative sentence based on Native American Circle Justice: Cole must survive alone on a remote Alaskan island for a year, where a surreal encounter with a spirit bear finally moves him to seek redemption.
  • Potential Sensitivity Issues: Violence; physical and emotional abuse

Ben Mikaelsen, Author

  • Bio: Lives near Boseman, MT; writer, photographer, world traveler, and adventurer; anti-bullying speaker; 26-year companion to a 700-pound black bear, Buffy, to whom this book is dedicated
  • Other Works: Red Midnight (2002); Tree Girl (2004); Ghost of Spirit Bear (2008)
  • Awards: ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults (2002); Nautilus Award for YA Literature (2002)


CENTRAL THEMES connected and noted throughout this Teaching Unit:

  • Healing and Reconciliation, Both Within and Outside of Oneself
  • Life as a Circle
  • The Damage Caused by Bullying and Control

STUDY OBJECTIVES: In accomplishing the components of this Unit, students will:

  • Develop an understanding of the Tlingit culture and its role in the personal transformation of the novel’s protagonist by exploring their own connection to an animal, as well as by reading and viewing information about the culture.