143 – The Poetry of Taylor Swift

What does the world’s biggest pop star have to do with Lord Byron? Quite a lot actually, at least in terms of her poetry. Taylor Swift writes catchy songs about dramatic, volatile relationships — the kind that aren’t a good idea in real life but are awfully fun to sing about. And her song “Blank Space” is a great way to introduce poetic analysis to children.

By starting out with pop songs instead of unfamiliar classics of poetry, kids will be to understand that people in the past felt the same way about trendy poetry as modern kids feel about popular music. Children will also be much more eager to analyze rhyme, meter, and imagery when they are studying the lyrics of a song they already love. Having learned how to do poetic analysis in a fun, familiar setting, students will later be more able and willing to analyze great works of poetry from the past.

Rhyming in “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

Overall, these lyrics feature very few traditional or perfect rhymes. Meters and sounds only occasionally match up. Thematically, this reflects the story being told in the song: that the man and woman are an imperfect match. They will link up perfectly only for a short time, and then quickly fall out of step with one another.

Perfect Rhymes

There are perfect rhymes sprinkled through the song, such as “friends” and “ends”, “far” and “scar”, and “who is she” and “jealousy”. But these pairings are only occasional and don’t follow a real structure, just like the personal relationships being described.

The first and third lines of the song match in rhythm and rhyme and are organized into three iambs (a poetic unit with two syllables) and a single rhyming syllable at the end. The rhyme only works if it is presented in a standard American dialect. For many other dialects of English “been” and “sin” will not rhyme:

Nice to / meet you, / where you / been?
Magic / madness / heaven / sin

This pattern is repeated a few lines later with a similar pairing, although the syllables don’t match perfectly. The word “new” has only one syllable, where “ain’t it” has two, but the internal words “money” and “funny” rhyme perfectly, as well as the words “tie” and “fly” at the end of the lines:

New / money / suit and / tie
Ain’t it / funny / rumors / fly

The pattern is repeated one more time, again with one syllable mismatch, although the lines are bound together twice; once with the thematic linking of “lips and kisses” as well as the perfect rhyme “skies” and “lies.”

Cherry / lips / crystal / skies
Stolen / kisses / pretty / lies

This rhythmic pattern is repeated one more time, but with a slant rhyme.

Slant Rhymes

The percussive pattern from earlier verses is used one last time, but instead of a perfect rhyme it uses a slant rhyme, where the general sound of the rhyming words is similar, but in this case the nasal sound M is followed by the nasal sound N:

Screaming / crying / perfect / storms
Rose / garden / filled with / thorns

Flipping back and forth between N and M sounds happens again in the chorus, along with the use of a long A sound for a bit of assonance. These words don’t rhyme perfectly, but their sounds are similar enough to tie the chorus together:


These rhymes aren’t perfect but they are good enough, which reflects the song’s theme of an unstable relationship. This is seen in pairings such as “my hand” and “weekend,” which also pairs the opposite words “bad” and “good” to describe the same people:

Grab your passport and my hand
I can make the bad guys good for a weekend

Activity: Analyze the Lyrics of Your Favorite Song

Ask students to select a song lyrics for analysis. Print or write out the lyrics line by line, then use a highlighter to identify rhyming words. Identify different sorts of rhymes as well as the ways opposite ideas are tied together in the the lyrics to heighten the volatile and extreme relationship that forms the subject of the song.

142 – Where’s Wally Has Lore

This was supposed to be a short video about a good use of localization in children’s books and then I found out that Where’s Wally has far deeper lore than you would expect. And then my wacky imagination ran with it.

Lots of localization is annoying, because it’s done by publishers who don’t have confidence that children can understand foreign words or cultural references. This can strip away the flavor of a book, but the Where’s Wally series by Martin Handford is a really great example of localization because these books are not about plot so much as making a personal connection with the children who scrutinize the massive pictures full of funny little vignettes.

What’s Wally called where you live? Which one of the books or pictures is your favorite? Also, what do you think of my interpretation of the surprisingly deep lore of these characters?

141 – Hamlet Unplugged Review

I saw Hamlet performed by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire on June 22, 2024.

This theater company performs Shakespeare plays the way they were done back in the Bard’s day: no microphones, minimal sets, props, and costumes, and an all male cast. It was a fascinating experience to see Hamlet performed in a way that Shakespeare himself would have recognized, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily my imagination filled in the blanks. “The play’s the thing,” after all, not elaborate sets or even actors who perfectly look the part.

Learn more about The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the important work they do to present Shakespeare plays in their original style at tlcm.co.uk.

140 – Jane Austen: Sassy Teen Author

Jane Austen didn’t wait to become an adult to start writing. As a kid she was telling stories to her family, and in her early work you can see her wicked sense of humor and her ability to step inside the mind of another person — even if that person held views completely different from Jane’s.

The History of England was written in 1791, when Jane was just 16 years old. It is full of short, hilarious, and wildly inaccurate biographies of some of the kings and queens of England, focusing mainly on a woman who was never a queen of England at all.

Teenagers can learn a lot from Jane by reading this book. You don’t have to wait to be a grownup to start writing. Books don’t have to be long in order to be really fun to read. And you shouldn’t automatically consider a narrator reliable just because the word “history” is in the title of the book.

Listen to my audiobook recording of Jane Austen’s History of England and see Cassandra Austen’s illustrations here:

139 – Audiobook: The History of England by Jane Austen

This is a recording of “The History of England, from the Reign of Henry the 4th to the Death of Charles the 1st” by Jane Austen, written when the author was only 16 years old. It was illustrated by Jane’s sister Cassandra and completed in 1791.

138 – Can Peter Jackson Recapture the Magic?

Peter Jackson is getting the band back together to make movies about . . . finding Gollum?? For real? Will these films be any good? Will this be another case of a filmmaker trying and failing to recapture the magic? Find out what I think about the prospects for these new films. Check out the video version to witness a perfect reenactment of what happened when I went to see The Phantom Menace in 1999, complete with butterfly hair clips.

137 – Peter Pan Goes Wrong made us LAUGH

Co-hosts T.Q. Townsend and Chloë Townsend recently went to the Curve Theatre in Leicester to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a hilarious comedy interpretation of J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s play and novel about Peter Pan, the Darling Children, the Lost Boys, and of course, Captain Hook. The play was put on by Mischief Theatre, a company that specializes in the most spectacularly silly shows we’ve ever seen.

We talk about which parts of the technical production were the most impressive, which parts of the story were the most interesting, and which moments just made us laugh the hardest. This play lovingly pokes fun at a story we all know very well, and that’s why it works. It’s also an example of how classic children’s stories never go out of style, and that there is always a fun, creative way to reinterpret them.

The traveling tour of Peter Pan Goes Wrong concluded in our city of Leicester, and we were lucky to catch one of the very last shows. But you can see it on video, or hopefully one day see it on stage as we did! Make sure you get there early though, because the show starts before “the show.”

136 – Butterfly in the Sky

I’ve just seen the documentary Butterfly in the Sky, which is about the public TV show Reading Rainbow. This show, which was hosted by LeVar Burton, helped millions of kids, including me, to understand just how magical it was to take a look in a book. Watch me try not to get choked up as I tell you about my favorite moments in this documentary. Also, I have a little idea regarding the theme song that I hope some of you will be interested in . . .

135 – Sold A Story Episode 10

Emily Hanford is back with Episode 10 of Sold a Story. I wanted to take some time to listen to this one several times and think about it before responding, because it addresses some very serious challenges in the literacy wars.

Some people who were confronted by the failings of Balanced Literacy — the highly profitable but thoroughly unscientific school of thought pushed during the last few decades — were unable to accept new information, and have clung to their old, ineffective ways of teaching. Why? And how can we move forward without replacing one evangelical movement with another one? Follow along on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/childrenlisteraturepodcast Check out more episodes of the show: https://www.childrensliteraturepodcast.com