Writer's Quest with Edgar Rice Burroughs

Writer's Quest

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) had tried many jobs — from ranch hand to pencil sharpener wholesaler — before he found he could earn a living writing. Burroughs, born in Chicago, is best known for creating "Tarzan" — one of the most memorable fictional characters of all time. It has been 100 years since Burroughs first introduced readers to his jungle hero and to "John Carter" — a hero whose adventures take place in a very different setting — the planet Mars.

Burroughs' stories about Tarzan and John Carter were first serialized in pulp fiction magazines in 1912 and then published as books. Though Burroughs didn't start writing until he was 35 years old, he managed to write more than 90 novels before his death in 1950. And while his work is the stuff of adventure, fantasy, and science fiction, he also served as a war correspondent during World War II.

To celebrate the long life of Burroughs' beloved characters, and to recognize the inspiration Burroughs has provided to many readers, writers and filmmakers, you can give your students the chance to learn more about Edgar Rice Burroughs and have a writing adventure of their own with these thought-provoking prompts.

More about Edgar Rice Burroughs

Winner's circle!

Thank you to all the talented young writers who submitted such good work to our Writer's Quest challenge. We've selected the best of the best to be recognized here. View the winning entries by category below:

Learn more about our 2012 writing challenge:

General information

The contest begins on March 9, 2012 and ends May 4, 2012. Winners will be announced by May 18, 2012 and prizes will distributed beginning May 25, 2012. There are four grade levels for entries:

  • Level I: K-grade 2
  • Level II: grades 3-5
  • Level III: grades 6-8
  • Level IV: grades 9-12

Entries must be 500 words or less. Please use one of the following acceptable file formats: Word document, PDF, or jpeg.

For full details about the rules, please see the Official Contest Rules page.

Related article: Science vs. Science Fiction

The prompts

The leveled prompts for the Writer's Quest contest are inspired by Burroughs — his distinctive styles, themes, and influences. The prompts are accompanied by resources specifically related to each prompt (for example, a prompt that asks for students to write an original poem will include links to poetry resources).

Prompt for grades K-2 (Level I): Ex Libris

A bookplate is a small printed label that the owner of a book sticks to its inside front cover. To make sure everyone knows the book belongs to him, a bookplate includes the name of the book owner. It also typically once included an illustration, motto, coat-of-arms, or crest that related to the owner of the book. Many bookplates are extremely well designed or illustrated and are considered by some people to be a unique art form.

The Library of Congress has a bookplate that Edgar Rice Burroughs used for the books in his home library. The bookplate was designed by his nephew and includes drawings that represent characters in Burroughs' famous books as well as details about his life. Burroughs explains the meaning behind the pictures in his bookplate in this letter to a bookplate collector.

Create an illustrated bookplate for the books in your home library. Have your design represent you — who you are and what you like to do! Then, as Burroughs did, write a letter that explains the meaning of your pictures and why you chose to draw those particular images for your bookplate.


Prompt for grades 3-5 (Level II): Fasten your seat belts

When planning for a vacation or a visit to a new place, people often look up information about where they are going. They might read about the place in a book or on a website, or look at a brochure. A travel brochure is like a commercial. It is brief. It has information you need and it is written and designed to grab your attention.

Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't write travel brochures, but he got readers' attention with his science fiction stories about Mars that were written like travelogues. In a travelogue, you get to read all about what happens on a trip!

Take a look at some real travel brochures. Then get ready to write one of your own — for a trip to Mars! Your travel brochure can be about the real Mars and full of facts about the red planet. Or your brochure can be a work of fiction, filled with imaginary places to visit and things to see and do. If you write about the real Mars, be sure to include the Burroughs Crater in your brochure. (A large crater on Mars is named for the author.) And if you write about a Mars in your imagination, write it from a Martian point of view and use the real Martian name for Mars — whatever you think that might be. (Burroughs called the Mars in his book Barsoom.)


Prompt for grades 6-8 (Level III): Scifaiku

Though he wasn't famous for it, Edgar Rice Burroughs did write poetry. As a boy he wrote poems and drew pictures to entertain himself. Later in life, he continued to compose poems for his children, nieces and nephews, and sometimes included poetic lines in letters to family.

But it may very well be that Burroughs' science fiction books helped inspire a new poetic form.

Scifaiku is a recent invention and a very specific form of haiku that is about a science fiction topic. Haiku is a form of poetry from Japan. It is composed of 17 sounds, or syllables. There is no title for a haiku poem. There is no punctuation. There are no capital letters. But there is a specific form you need to follow:

  • Line 1 has 5 syllables
  • Line 2 has 7 syllables
  • Line 3 has 5 syllables

Scifaiku generally follows the haiku format. Because many scientific and technology terms found in science fiction are many syllable words, several scifaiku may need to be written in a series to best make your point.

Write a scifaiku or scifaiku series based on a technology word — such as robot, laser, or microchip — or a science fiction setting — like Mars, the future, or cyberspace.


Prompt for grades 9-12 (Level IV): What's in a name?

Tarzana, California. Can you guess the history behind the name of this Los Angeles bedroom community? The neighborhood of some 35,000 residents is located where the Edgar Rice Burroughs ranch once stood. Burroughs named his ranch Tarzana after his jungle hero character Tarzan.

For this prompt, you may choose between fact and fiction. Write about the real history behind the name of your hometown and create the text for a roadside historical marker. Or imagine you are given the chance to propose a new name for your town and have to provide detailed reasons in a letter to your local government for your particular choice.


Additional resources

Recognition and prizes

A prize package will be awarded to the winning entry in each writing category and for each grade level. Prize winners will receive:

  • Publication of their writing on ReadingRockets.org and AdLit.org
  • A gift collection of age-appropriate books
  • Posters and T-shirts from Disney's John Carter courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group
  • A set of John Carter books, courtesy of the Library of Congress
  • Personalized certificate from Reading Rockets, mailed to their home or school.

We want to acknowledge the wonderful work of all the students who participate in the Writer's Quest contest. Please feel free to download and print a certificate of participation. (1.5 MB PDF)*

Writer's Quest certificate

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