Charter for Compassion International's Education Global Read


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Petey by Ben Mikaelsen


Published by Hyperion Books for Children, 1998


At the age of two, Petey's distraught parents commit him to the state's insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. Bound by his wheelchair and struggling to communicate with the people around him, Petey finds a way to remain kind and generous despite the horrific conditions in his new "home." Through the decades, he befriends several caretakers, but is heartbroken when each eventually leaves him. Determined not to be hurt again, he vows to no longer let the hope of lifelong friends and family torment him.

That changes after he is moved into a nursing home and meets a young teen named Trevor Ladd; he sees something in the boy and decides to risk friendship one last time. Trevor, new to town and a bit of a loner, is at first wary of the old man in the wheelchair. But after hearing more of his story, Trevor learns that there is much more to Petey than meeets the eye.

Petey is a touching story of friendship, discovery, and the uplifting power of the human spirit.


During a chance conversation at a Montana barn dance, I first heard of Petey Corbin (his real name was Clyde Cothern). Despite a limited, degrading and frightening life, Petey possessed an irrepressible happiness. Initially, I was merely curious how anyone could exist locked inside their body. After meeting the real-life Petey, however, I became entranced by the depth of his perceptions and appreciations-considering he came from the time-warp isolation of an insane ward. I discovered that for fifty-five years Petey had been befriended by a slightly retarded, clubfooted boy. The two had developed a close, life-long bond-becoming islands of hope for each other in a chaotic, insane world.

Their close relationship was severed in 1973 whenmodern institutional reform discharged them to different locations. After several years, they gave up hope of ever seeing each other again. Realizing the tragedy of their separation, I became obsessed with locating Petey's friend and reuniting them. That effort changed my life forever. I uncovered a world filled with tales of murder, courage, fear, heart-breaking love, and separation. When I decided to write Petey, people came from every conceivable source to help me piece together the haunting jigsaw.

Slowly, I gleaned a rough and astonished comprehension of Petey's life. My main concern writing this book was that I might be digging up ghosts of a past best left buried. These concerns were swept aside by a flood of gratifying events. I fictionalized the story first for liability reasons. Also, I could never pretend to know all that happened. For brevity, I combined the more important aspects of several people into single characters. Fictionalizing gave me license in reconstructing much of the dialogue and events. I let research and Petey's recollections guide my efforts. The story of Petey is 90% a true story. I have tried to remain true to the spirit of the real life Petey, Clyde Cothern.

I hope each word helps convey the triumph, hope, and joy this special man found in life. Clyde Cothern did become my real life Grandpa Petey.

Learn more at

Lesson Plan

By Ben Mikaelsen Activities by J.E.T. Torrence

Activity #1 Writing PETEY Poetry Objective: Using vocabulary, new ideas and terms for people with disabilities.

Project: Writing simple letter poetry. Using any appropriate word i.e.; INDEPENDENCE or PETEY.


I I love to be independent.

N Nevertheless, I sometimes have to ask for help.

D During my life as a handicapped girl, independence has become very important to me.

E Even the smallest act of independence is precious to me. and so on...

Activity #2 A Chat with PETEY Objective: Writing dialogue. Using politically correct terms and forms of address.

Project: Students are asked to write twenty lines of dialogue. "Chatting" is a form of writing that students are familiar with and is an attention-getting method. Students are allowed to use "chat" form, spelling and popular words and phrases.

Activity #3 "It's Harder than You Think" Objective: Voicing opinions in writing about handicapped accessibility problems in public buildings.

Project: Place students in a manual wheelchair. Have them face the problems of wheeling up and down a ramp, opening doors, and trying to get into a bathroom. After students have their 'wheelchair' experience, they are assigned their final project.

Ideas for this writing might include:

After reading PETEY, have you had an altered attitude about people with disabilities?

Present ideas about the usage of politically correct terms in writing and oral address.

Make suggestions about how to improve buildings to make them more accessible.

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