The Language of Julia Donaldson: Rhetoric, style and cognition

Arts 103, University of Birmingham
Wednesday 15 January 2020 (14:00-15:00)

Lecture by Michael Burke (University College Roosevelt, Utrecht University)


Julia Donaldson has been a highly successful children’s author over the past twenty-five years. She has published more than 100 books and many of her works have been translated from English into other languages. In 2011 she received an MBE for services to literature and she was the Children's Laureate from 2011-2013. She has received honorary degrees from Bristol University in 2011 and from Glasgow University in 2012. In addition to being a writer of children’s books, Donaldson is also a playwright and a performer. She has worked closely over the years on many of her stories with children’s book illustrator Axel Scheffler. The number of books they have sold together runs into the millions. A pertinent question therefore that this study will address is just what it is that young listeners (and perhaps readers) are drawn to in the stories of Julia Donaldson? Is it just the plotlines, the characters and the illustrations or might something else also play an important role, for example, the style, the rhythm and rhyme, the narrative and the rhetorical arrangement in general. Moreover, might the embodied cognition that underpins these literary and linguistic phenomena, triggered by both text and images - also tell us something about what might draw young listeners (and perhaps readers) to the works of Julia Donaldson? This question is what this talk sets out to investigate. 

Keywords: Cognition, Julia Donaldson, Language, Rhetoric, Style

Selected References

  • Burke, M., (2011) Literary Reading, Cognition and Emotion: An Exploration of the Oceanic Mind. New York: Routledge
  • Burke, M. ed. (2014). The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics. London: Routledge
  • Coats, Karen (2018) The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Fox, M. (2001) Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. New York: Harvest/Harcourt.
  • Gibbons, A. and Whiteley, S. (2018). Contemporary Stylistics: Language, Cognition and Interpretation.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Meek, M. (1988). How Texts Teach What Readers Learn. Stroud, Glos.:Thimble Press.
  • Nikolajeva, M. (2014). Reading for Learning. Cognitive Approaches to Children's Literature. John Benjamins.
  • Nikolajeva, M. and Scott, C. (2006). How Picturebooks Work. London: Routledge.

Speaker biography

Michael Burke is Professor of Rhetoric at Utrecht University where he is also currently the Honours Dean (pro-vice chancellor for innovative teaching and learning). He is a former chair of PALA, the Poetics and Linguistics Association. He regularly teaches modules in classical rhetoric, argumentation analysis, literary stylistics, persuasive language and comparative rhetoric. He also teaches inter-faculty master modules on leadership and on interdisciplinary research. His publications include Literary Reading Cognition and Emotion: An Exploration of the Oceanic Mind (Routledge, 2011); Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues Between Literature and Cognition (together with Emily Troscianko eds., OUP 2017) and The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics (2014). His current research interests also include the style and function of children’s literature and the digital future of reading and writing.