Karen Coats

Karen Coats

Karen Coats is director of the Centre for Research and Children’s Literature at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, and professor emeritus at Illinois State University, where she received the 2016 Janice Witherspoon Neuleib Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement. Her many acclaimed works of scholarly criticism include the co-edited Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature (Bloomsbury, 2010) and the Children’s Literature Association’s 2018 Edited Book Award-winning Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, coedited with Lisa Rowe Fraustino (U Mississippi P, 2016). 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 picture books.

Areas of Expertise

  • Children's Literature
  • Young Adult Literature
  • Cognitive Poetics
  • Literary Theory

Courses Taught

  • Children's Literature and Critical Theory
  • History and Criticism
  • Young Adult Literature


  • Ph.D., The George Washington University
  • M.A., Virginia Tech
  • B.A., Virginia Tech

Publications & Articles

  • "Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature," Shelby A. Wolf, Karen Coats, Patricia Enciso, and Christine A. Jenkins, Eds. (Routledge, 2011)
  • "The Gothic in Children's Literature: Haunting the Borders," Anna Jackson, Karen Coats, and Roderick McGillis, Eds. (Routledge, 2007)
  • Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children's Literature,, University of Iowa Press, 2004
  • The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: From The Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism, co-edited with Lisa Rowe Fraustino (winner of the 2018 ChLA Edited Book Award)


  • Book Review Editor, Children’s Literature
  • Staff reviewer for Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, UIUC
  • Keynote speaker at the 2013 Francelia Butler Conference

Research Interests

  • I am researching children’s poetry, illustration, and children’s media in light of performance theory, metaphoric understanding, and an affective-cognitive poetics of response.