Touching Spirit Bear

(Book by Ben Mikaelsen) Article by London Kasper


Cole: Cole Matthews is the protagonist in our story. He has a terrible home life and bad relationships with his parents, and blames the world for his suffering. He is a juvenile delinquent, and gets sent to the island as a result of attacking a young boy. He changes his point of view by the end of the book, becoming at one with himself and realizing that he doesn't need people to be afraid of him to be happy.

Garvey: Garvey is Cole's parole officer, and a native American of the Tlingit tribe. He suggests that Cole tries Circle Justice and is always there for him.

Edwin: Edwin is a Tlingit elder, and a part of the Inner Circle in Circle Justice. Edwin becomes a very important character in the second part of the book, teaching Cole how to control his anger.

Peter: Peter is the boy that Cole attacked. He receives brain damage and physical harm from Cole's anger. He is afraid of Cole but eventually has to live with him.


There are many displays of symbolism in Touching Spirit Bear. For example:

  • Fire symbolizes Cole's anger. This is repeatedly used throughout the entire book.
  • The feather held during Circle Justice represents respect and responsibility.
  • The Spirit Bear represents trust. The Spirit Bear trusted that Cole would not harm it.
  • The Totem Pole represents new knowledge about the world around you and tradition. (Totems are an old tradition of natives, and the animals are important symbols of specific traits to Cole.)
  • The Ancestor Rock represents anger and tradition. Cole carries it up the slope every day and then rolls it away.

"Think of how much your arm and hip still hurt. Wounds of the spirit heal even slower."

Garvey explains that Peter can't be expected to just forgive Cole, seeing what he did to him. This thematic idea illustrates that you can't blame people for being upset or holding grudges, as they felt a deeper pain than their injuries when you harmed them. Forgiveness takes a while, which is true in multiple situations.

I Am Cole Matthews

I Am Cole Matthews

I am living on and island, and I am carving on my totem.

I wonder how I can get Peter to forgive me.

I hear a fish flopping.

I see a whale swimming.

I want Peter to change his mind.

I am Cole Matthews


I pretend that my arm doesn't hurt.

I feel upset.

I touch the cold surface of my sitting rock.

I worry that Peter will hate me.

I cry for Peter and my mother.

I am Cole Matthews.


I understand that people don't choose to be angry.

I say that I saw a Spirit Bear.

I dream about that fateful night when I was mauled.

I try to keep my anger under control.

I hope that my mom gets custody.

I am Cole Matthews.


  • "Cold Small Pond in an Autumn Forest in Canada | Stock Photo | Colourbox." Colourbox. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
  • "Burning Forest Wallpaper." BURNING FOREST WALLPAPER. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
  • "Spirit of the Great Bear Rainforest." The Canadian Nature Photographer. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.