Karen Coats

Karen Coats

Literary and cultural critics spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between self and “other,” as if it were a line with only two points. As a teacher and a scholar, however, I have come to think in triangles: moms, dads, and kids; food, love, and power; bodies, representations, and communities; aesthetics, ethics, and subjectivity; persons, cultures, and gods. It is within the spaces opened up by those triangles that we come to be who we are. The study of children’s and young adult literature takes us into the heart of how we learn to negotiate the terms of those triangles through the language, images, and stories of our culture. Fairies, witches, talking animals – they are some of our first companions in our walk through this world; how do they structure our desires and teach us who we are, and who we might become?

Areas of Expertise

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

Courses Taught

  • Children's Literature and Critical Theory


  • 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


  • Founding member of the Children’s Literature Interest Group at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Staff reviewer for Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, UIUC
  • Keynote speaker at the 2013 Francelia Butler Conference

Research Interests

  • I am currently writing The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
  • I am also researching children’s poetry in light of cognitive poetics, tracing how poetic language interacts with cognitive and emotional development.