What Mary Poppins knew: Theory of mind, children’s literature, history

Lisa Zunshine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This essay investigates the phenomenon of “embedded” mental states in fiction (i.e., a mental state within a mental state within yet another mental state, as in, “Mrs. Banks wished that Mary Poppins wouldn’t know so very much more about the best people than she knew herself”), asking if patterns of embedment manifest themselves differently in children’s literature than they do in literature for “grownups.” Looking at books for three age groups (nine to twelve, three to seven, and one to two), Zunshine finds significant differences in their respective patterns of embedment, while also arguing that a critical inquiry into complex mental states is not just a cognitive but also a historicist project. Drawing on research in developmental psychology, rhetorical narratology, and cultural history, as well as on digital data mining, this essay seeks to broaden the interdisciplinary and interpretive range of cognitive literary studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2019 by The Ohio State University.


  • Children’s literature
  • Cultural history
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Mark Twain
  • Narratology
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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