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Karen Coats



Director of the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge

E-mail Address


+ 44 (0)1223 767600


  • 1998 PhD Human Sciences, The George Washington University
  • 1996 MPhil Human Sciences, The George Washington University
  • 1991 MA English, Virginia Tech
  • 1985 BA English Education, Virginia Tech

Recognition/Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

  • 2019 Graduate Student Mentoring Award, Illinois State University English Department
  • 2018 Edited Book Award, Children’s Literature Association
  • 2016 Janice Witherspoon Neuleib Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement, Illinois State University
  • 2015 Outstanding University Researcher, Illinois State University
  • Advisory Board, Children’s Literature, Culture and Cognition, John Benjamins
  • Advisory Board, Children’s Literature and Culture Series, Palgrave Macmillan

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Karen’s doctoral work in Human Sciences focused on how people create meaning through text and image. Drawing on interdisciplinary theories and methodologies and working at the intersections of aesthetics, subjectivity, and ethics, she is primarily interested in the ways children’s literature and culture instantiates and continues to inform a worldview at conscious and unconscious levels. She views children’s texts and critical theories as mutually informative insofar as even the most revered cultural critics and philosophers developed their aesthetic sensibilities and schemas through (often long-forgotten? repressed? integrated?) interaction with children’s poetry, stories, and images in picturebooks. Paying close attention to these texts thus involves an understanding of embodied debt, cognitive and affective change, cultural and material genealogies and transformational interactions, relational ethics, and the sources of creativity.

Academic Area/Links

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Research Topics

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Cognitive Poetics
  • Children’s Poetry
  • Multimodal Discourse Analysis of Children’s Texts
  • Literary and Cultural Theory
  • Intersections of Continental Philosophy and Children’s Literature

Prospective PhD Applications

Karen welcomes contact from prospective PhD students on any topics broadly concerning children’s and YA literature, in particular in the following areas:

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Cognitive Poetics
  • Children’s Poetry
  • Multimodal Discourse Analysis of Children’s Texts
  • Young Adult Literature
  • Literary and Cultural Theory
  • Intersections of Continental Philosophy and Children’s Literature
  • Religion in children’s and YA literature

Current Research Project(s)

  • Co-editing Moving Stories, essay collection on emotions and youth literature (under review)
  • Co-editing The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Children's Literature (in press)

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Principal and Recent Publications

Coats, K. (2021) 'Line Breaks, Page Turns, and Gutters: Formal Moments of Silence in Children's Texts.' IRCL, reprinted in Silence and Silencing in Children's Literature, ed. by E. Druker et al., Makadam Publishing, pp. 103-117. 

Cadden, M., Coats, K., and Trites, R. S. (2020) Teaching Young Adult Literature, MLA Options for Teaching Series.

Coats, K. (2020) “Diverse Identity in Anxious Times: Young Adult Literature and Contemporary Culture.” Transforming Young Adult Services, 2nd edition. Edited by Anthony Bernier, ALA Neal-Schuman, pp. 17-26.

Coats, K. (2019) "Visual Conceptual Metaphors in Picturebooks: Implications for Social Justice." ChLAQ, vol. 44, no. 4 (Winter 2019), pp. 364-380. (winner of 2021 ChLA Article Award)

Coats, K. (2018) “Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism.” A Companion to Literary Theory. Edited by David H. Richter, Wiley Blackwell, pp. 385-95.

Coats, K. (2018) “Gender in Picturebooks.” The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks. Edited by Bettina Kummerling-Meibauer, Routledge, pp. 119-27.

Coats, K. (2017) The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Bloomsbury Academic.

Coats, K. (2017) “A Primer of Possibilities: Cognitive Poetics and Children’s Poetry” The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry, Edited by Katherine Wakely-Mulroney and Louise Joy, Routledge, pp. 182-95.

Coats, K. (2017) “The Gothic in American Children’s Literature,” The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Literature, edited by Jeffery A. Weinstock, Cambridge UP, pp. 171-83.

Coats, K. (2017) “Teaching the Conflicts: Diverse Responses to Diverse Children's Books.” The Edinburgh Companion to Children's Literature, edited by Clementine Beauvais and Maria Nikolajeva, Edinburgh UP, pp.13-28.

Fraustino, L. R. and Coats, K., eds. (2016) Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism. University Press of Mississippi.