Video: Teen Readers Voice Opinions on A Princess of Mars

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Since March 9, somewhere between 30 and 50 million people have seen the movie John Carter, and as a result, during the month of March, A Princess of Mars was number one on the Project Gutenberg download list — meaning many people are discovering the books as a result of the movie. These are some teens who read A Princess of Mars as part of a JCF reading project undertaken with Long Beach Teacher Rebecca Baeder Garland. What did they think of the book? Give a listen. Their interviews start around 1:45.

I have to say — it was a real treat to see teens get excited about ERB.


  • John Carter paperbacks were my first real introduction to reading when I was a kid and I found myself ahead of other youngsters when it came to English expression and imagination.

  • Thanks Rebecca — let me just add one point of clarification before Steve pounces on it. There were two phases to what we did — the first phase was the focus group where we had them do questionnaires — and the students in the video were part of that initial focus group. 14 out of 20 who signed up read the book and did the questionnaires.

    Then we had a phase two where we stopped doing it as a focus group and just did it as a project for kids who were interested, having them read the book and do a creative project.

    My reason for clarifying this is that even though you did make it clear that 14/20 returned questionnaires, there was a possible opening for “attack” on the issue of, well if you had 60 kids do it, why only 14 questionnaires came back? I just want to make very clear that the initial focus group phase was limited to 20 kids and 14 returned questionnaires that were very positive.

    And also — just a big public THANK YOU to you is in order for all the work you did on this and other ERB related things. I can’t believe that even with something as goodhearted and positive as this, it’s necessary to mount a defense against attack, but hey — it’s the internet.

  • An excellent video and I am heartened to see young adults being introduced to ERB. I picked up APOM at about the same age as these kids off the shelf at my local library and grew to love ERB’s work from that point forward. It was my first introduction to science fiction. It is good to see that kids still “get it”, that they can think for themselves and still value a good book in this day and age of constant distraction and video games.

    As for steve….get a life dude.

  • Wow, Steve, it baffles me how your mind works. BTW, I met these kids, saw them talk enthusiastically, in person, about how much they enjoyed reading POM, so it really irks me to read what you posted here. These kids are the genuine article and sincere in all that they shared. Man, I’m just shaking my head here! You’re a real piece of work!

  • Steve Davidson wrote:

    Guys, I know I’m the gloomy gus around here

    Then dont be! If you can not see the good in getting kids to read ANYTHING. Shut your pie hole. I dont care if Disney was using this as propganda(which they weren’t) or anyone had a hidden agenda was promoting it. Kids reading = a good thing. Kid’s who read will be the leaders of our future and I dont give a tinkers cus to whatever gets them reading because the will keep reading. ERB is a gateway book to bigger and better things. Its great that someone is getting kids turned on to reading for fun. In these days where time for free reading in schools is being axed along with art and music in favor learning facts to regurgate on standards of learning tests, this program should have everyones backing. even the “gloomy gus’s” of the world!

  • When I was in High School my teacher required us to read The Last of the Mohicans. I could barely get through it without falling asleep. I wish he had introduced me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Princess of Mars. I had to wait until the movie John Carter came out to prick my interest. The key to getting kids to love to read, is to give them material they can relate to and want to read.

  • Here I am! It was Mother’s Day yesterday after all, so sorry for my tardiness to defend the teen-readers.

    To Steve, et. al…
    Many students from all over the world (60+) signed up to read the book and fill out the questionnaire (registration occurred via this site). The project was publicized on Facebook, JCF and by word of my mouth by myself, Michael, and other book fans. I called teachers, librarians and friends from all over to see if their children/students would like to participate. There was no school credit, but there was incentive that those who read the book and completed the questionnaire would get to see John Carter for free.

    As Michael stated, about 14 completed the reading and turned in the questionnaire. Those who did not, were sent inquiries to find out why not. Eight replied that they didn’t have time because of other obligations. Only one said that she just couldn’t get into the book. The rest never responded except for the initial sign up.

    Of those 14 students, as Michael stated, all of them reacted favorably to the text. They brought their completed questionnaires to the meeting before any questions were asked by any adult.

    Most of the students are avid readers. One girl has a reading disability so she took a lot longer to read the text. She was not interviewed in this clip, but eventually finished the text, albeit very slowly.

    I’m not exactly sure why you want to accuse us of propaganda by encouraging students to read Burroughs. The sole purpose of this activity was to see if “A Princess of Mars” was still relevant to today’s students. For those who read it and participated, it seems that it was.

    There is also a second part of this project that just wrapped up where students completed an original project after reading the book. I’ve got them all right here on my computer, and a hard copy of a comic book based on the chapter “I Elude My Watch Dog”.

    As Michael stated earlier, the students who were interviewed, plus a few others who joined us a little later accompanied us to ECOF. They were special speakers and the audience members were just so thrilled that Burroughs had reached a new audience.

    What’s funny is that I get absolutely nothing out of promoting this book or movie. Nothing. I have been accused of being a studio plant, and a liar, and now a propagandist. What I really am is someone who loves to read, loves to watch movies and loves kids. I got to combine those three things into a project, so I jumped on it and have enjoyed the ride ever since.

    I’ll never understand why people like to attack positive things.

  • Why not have kids read John Carter? “Captive audience,” indeed! Sorry, Mr. Davidson, I think that’s a ridiculous thing to say, & here’s why. Think back to our schooldays in English class, having to read 100-plus year-old classics, & learning to enjoy them (or not…) That’s the very definition of a captive audience! We were stuck in (mandatory) English class; we were told which books constitute great literature, & we analyzed them to death. As kids, would we have chosen to read “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Silas Marner,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” or even Shakespeare on our own? Probably not. Many times, when we had to read such books for class, we ended up parroting back to the teacher what we “learned” from them. We were taught a narrow definition of what constitutes “literature,” & what’s worthwhile to read & ponder. (For example, when I was in high school, my American Literature teacher asked us to bring a book by an American author to class. I brought ERB’s “Tarzan of the Apes.” She roundly slammed me in front of everybody for bringing “junk literature” to class.) From seeing my child’s reading lists for school, I’m glad to see that the definition of “literature” has expanded today, that kids have a wider range of books from which to choose for their school classes. I’m thrilled to see kids reading & discussing books outside of school. Kudos to teachers such as Rebecca Baeder Garland for showing kids that older science fiction books can be great reads; for encouraging them to discuss what they’ve read; & for helping them to discover the roots of the books/movies/games that they enjoy. Nothing engages a kid faster than showing him/her that a book is “relevant” (a dirty word in my day!) to things they experience & enjoy every day.

  • This is awesome. I’m looking forward to rereading the books as an adult and reading it with our kids this summer, once they get their school work done. It’s great to see the kids’ reactions to the book. I’d really like to see more 🙂

  • HRH The Rider et al….
    I will let Rebecca Baeder Garland who ran the program come on and give a more detailed answer but I’ll give the basics. I wrote the post wondering aloud how today’s 10-15 year olds would respond to the material. Rebecca, a substitute teacher in Long Beach who came to the material movie-first when she saw Nielsen test screening in December, volunteered to help put together a focus group of students willing to take on the task of reading the book and reacting to it. We also posted a link on the site and some kids signed up that way. Yes, many of the kids who signed up were reading Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc — and we thought that was a good qualifier since part of idea was to see — “if you liked Hunger Games, HP, etc, what do you think of this?” They were given questionnaires and Rebecca can report details of that, but all of the ones who completed the books and questionnaires (about 2/3 of those who started the program) liked it, would recommend it, etc. I assume those who dropped out were not as enthralled and they could be considered to have voted by not finishing the project — although logging every one of those as a “no” vote is probably wrong too, since it required 8-10 hours of work, no school credit, hand some kids will flake……

    There is other footage of them which I have not edited when they were at the ERB ECOF convention (more than were interviewed here) and were answering questions from Rebecca and the audience. I might put that up here at some point.

    Re self-sorting: Well, I think the premise was — how will modern day kids who enjoy books like the Hunger Games , Twilight, react to 100 year old ERB. We didn’t make “did you read the Hunger Games” a pre-requisite, but also didn’t feel that we had to get people who were not into those books in the group — it would be enough, to our way of thinking, to just get sense of how kids who love these mega-popular modern series (representing a huge potential market for ERB) reacted to APOM.

    Rebecca — over to you!

  • Okay, I’ll give Mr. Davidson the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not just a bomb thrower but wants to “stimulate” some conversation. (I know, naive little me.) Can Michael tell us how these kids got into the reading group, what “adult supervision” went on (if any), the questionaires that were distributed, if any school credit was given, etc. More importantly, were there any negative reactions to the book? While it’s nice to hear these kids relate to a 100 year-old book, I’d be interested in knowing if some just didn’t get it and why.

    There is a certain level of self sorting going on with this group. All of the ones interviewed were into sf/fantasy (the girls with The Hunger Games and Twilight, the boys with Eragon and some other names I didn’t catch.) So as a group they are primed to be open to ERB; they just probably don’t know anything in the field existed before Tolkein.

    As for myself, I grew up with the advantage of finding Lupoff’s “Master of Adventure” not long after discovering ERB (without adult supervision!) and so discovered the history of his precursors (and imitators). Concurrently there was the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series and Lin Carter’s introduction to those books (along with his “Imaginary Worlds”) and so I knew of the extensive history of fantasy literature. Do any of these young readers know of the history of the field before, say, 1960? (I think I’m being generous with choosing that date.) Hell, give that kid who liked the Eragon books “The Worm Oroboros”; it would probably blow his mind.

  • Steve Davidson, you are more than a “gloomy gus” – you’re a needless mass of negative energy who seems hell-bent on damning not only a great movie but also this attempt to introduce its source material to a new generation. You probably rooted for Darth Vader, Ming the Merciless, Valdemort and Khan, too. I heartily invite you to keep your negativity to yourself and allow the rest of us to enjoy John Carter and and the beloved fantasy worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  • Steve Davidson wrote:

    Guys, I know I’m the gloomy gus around here but I still have to say that I think this clip is just about the rawest piece of propaganda going yet.

    These are kids in a captive audience. They’re being TOLD what’s great about John Carter – and not insignificantly the second student interviewed parrots back exactly what Michael Sellers had said earlier in the piece.

    A case might be made for where you are trying to go – but only if you can find kids who are acquiring and enjoying these books without adult supervision.

    Nice try – doesn’t fly.

    Hmmm….I thought your reflex hostility was directed toward the movie and Stanton, but I see now that it’s directed more toward….I dunno…. anybody trying to say anything positive about anything? Whatever. Okay……no worries……

    This was done as part of a project that started with me wondering aloud — what will today’s 10-15 year olds think about A Princess of Mars. You can read the original post here. These kids are indeed a “captive audience” — otherwise known as a “focus group”. I didn’t invent that concept, and it’s not normally associated with propaganda; rather, it’s a fairly standard practice for trying to assess audience reactions to anything. Becky Garland, a teacher from Long Beach, ran the focus group (she’s the one talking) ….. this meeting where we taped some of the students’ comments after it was over was the wrap-up of the focus group. Later they also participated at the ECOF (Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship) convention, where Becky asked them specific questions and they answered it. They also filled out questionnaires, etc. Of the 20 or so kids who participated, all of those who finished the book and filled out the questionnaire (about 14 I think) either positive or very positive on the key questions of did you like it, would you recommend it, will you read the next book. It can be presumed that among those who didn’t finish the book, and thus didn’t finish the questionnaire, there would have been some negative reactions. There was no particular pre-qualification – it was open to kids who said they were interested in reading the book once made aware of it. It turned out that most of them have been reading Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, etc…..and they compared it favorably to those books when asked, although that wasn’t on the questionnaire — it was just verbal.

    You’re welcome to consider that whole process invalid and “raw propaganda” ………

    Here’s my question to you. Assuming you were interested in seeing how today’s kids would react to A Princess of Mars, how would you go about it?

    If, as you say, the only valid way would be to interview kids who came upon the book “without adult involvement” — how would you find them? Would they be a valid test sample? Wouldn’t that depend on how they did find it, given that there was no push by Disney to make the books widely available, or promote the books, or even let anyone know that the film was based upon the book (unless you read the fine print of the credits)……..In other words, that group would be uber-geeks simply by virtue that they found the material when it’s not likely to come to their attention unless an adult brings it to their attention — so they by definition would be even less valid than this focus group….Or maybe not. What do you think?

  • Hey I would have loved if a teacher had forced my high school English class to read A Princess of Mars.

    I may not agree with everyone concering the movie but if there was one good thing that did come from it it was reintroducing ERB’s work to a new audience.

  • Yeah, you can have a glimpse of the gun Michael points at them at 3:52 to make them say nice things about A Princess of Mars. Seriously.

    That’s great that a new generation can discover and appreciate ERB’s work, and I hope it’s only the beginning.

  • geez talk about being cynical. I don’t see anything wrong with kids getting excited about reading a classic novel regardless if it was required reading or not. I didn’t actually read Hamlet until i was in college and I was just trying to get the reading done so i could pass the class. little did I know that it was going to blow my mind. that world literature class may have been the most rewarding class I ever took. I’m a fan who found out about the barsoom series after watching john carter and I just started reading the book a princess of mars like these kids.

  • Guys, I know I’m the gloomy gus around here but I still have to say that I think this clip is just about the rawest piece of propaganda going yet.

    These are kids in a captive audience. They’re being TOLD what’s great about John Carter – and not insignificantly the second student interviewed parrots back exactly what Michael Sellers had said earlier in the piece.

    A case might be made for where you are trying to go – but only if you can find kids who are acquiring and enjoying these books without adult supervision.

    Nice try – doesn’t fly.

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