Currently my class is doing a literature circle on the theme of heroic journeys. For the next few blog entries, I am going to profile some of the books the students are reading as part of the literature circle. The first book is Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.
Touching Spirit Bear tells the story of Cole Matthews, a troubled youth who has been arrested for severely injuring another teen. To escape jail time, Cole agrees to participate in Circle Justice, a program based on indigenous traditions that focuses on healing and restorative justice. He is sent to live alone on a remote island for one year in order to examine his behaviour and heal. Cole does not take it seriously, until he is mauled by a white bear and forced to come to terms with his actions and his troubled past.
This book is a popular one with students, and offers great opportunities for group discussions. Analysing it through the framework of heroic journeys, students have great debates about the character of Cole. Why does the author start off with a character who is the opposite of a hero? Why does he demonstrate such self destructive behaviour? Is there a chance that Cole will change? Was Circle Justice the best choice for him? When groups meet about this book, they have dynamic discussions.
As well, the novel effectively illustrates how even someone who has made grievous mistakes can change. Through his trials on the island, Cole faces the harsh realities of what he has done and aims to change his ways. The next book Ghost of Spirit Bear continues to follow Cole and his victim Peter as they reconcile and struggle to make these changes a reality.