FEATURED POET: Barbara Juster Esbensen

One of our goals is to introduce you to (or reacquaint you with) accomplished poets whose work is enjoyed by children or teens. We start with the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children winners before moving on to other poets.

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BARBARA JUSTER ESBENSEN

(American, 1925-1996)

“Too many school children are worried about being right, about not being wrong, and about not saying something stupid. They don’t want to be laughed at. If you have an accepting, adventurous atmosphere in a classroom, you may find some poets.” — Barbara Juster Esbensen (Language Arts, Vol. 71, November 1994)

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From the reissue of Swing Around the Sun (Carolrhoda Books, 2002):

Raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Barbara Juster Esbensen developed the courage to play with words from the books of L.M. Montgomery. In 1939 she showed her favorite teacher, Miss Eulalie Beffel, one of her poems. Ms. Beffel’s encouragement changed Barbara’s life. She said, “You are a writer.”

Although always interested in writing, Barbara chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree in art education at the University of Wisconsin. For many years, she taught art to grades K-12 and was a creative arts consultant at the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota.

Barbara published her first book, Swing around the Sun, in 1965 with Lerner Publications. After taking a break to raise six children, Barbara continued writing. A complete list of Barbara’s books is available on the Barbara Juster Esbensen Memorial website.

In 1994, Barbara was honored with the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her aggregate body of work. Barbara’s books won a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award for The Star Maiden, an NCTE Teacher’s Choice Award for Great Northern Diver: The Loon, a National Science Teacher’s Association Notable Children’s Book Award for Tiger with Wings: The Great Horned Owl, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Dance with Me. In 2002 she was posthumously awarded the Kerlan Award “in recognition of singular attainments in the creation of children’s literature.”

An active supporter of the arts, Barbara enjoyed visiting schools and teaching children about the beauty and creativity of words. A teaching award has been established in memory of Barbara. The award is given each year to the teacher who has made the best use of her book A Celebration of Bees: Helping Children Write Poetry.

In November 1994, M. Jean Greenlaw published an interview with Barbara in Language Arts (Vol. 71). You can download the free PDF by clicking here.

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One thought on “FEATURED POET: Barbara Juster Esbensen

  1. Thank you Steven.
    Barbara and I did exactly the same thing! We studied Art and taught children from K to grade 12.
    I’ve happily ordered 2 of her books. I’m trusting Amazon again.
    Jeanne

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