The hunt is on for the best new short stories of 1994, stories that no six- to nine-year- old will want to put down. The reward? A pounds 2,000 prize and publication in the Independent for the winning entry. Two joint runners-up will receive pounds 500 each, and the top 10 entries will be printed in a specially produced anthology by Scholastic Children's Books, making these the top awards in the country for unpublished work for children. The invitation is open to professional writers, but we want especially to encourage new talent.

Parents are only too aware that there are many children who know perfectly well how to read; the trouble is, they don't want to. They'll do anything but: bounce a ball against a wall for hours on end; watch Jungle Book on video for the thousandth time. These children simply don't believe that they are missing out on something more satisfying and stimulating than television, Take That or computer games.

How to change their minds? Certainly not by going on about it. They'll just turn to the nearest Game Boy, or the next episode of Neighbours. The answer is to give them stories that will make them forget they are reading at all; that feel more like flying than sitting down with a book.

This is what the Story of the Year competition is about: finding writers who can hook this vital age group on the reading habit for life, with plots that twist and turn, characters who convince, and endings that surprise or even shock. Stories that transport the reader, that celebrate words but go beyond them and offer a world of possibilities, to read again and again.

It is not easy. It is arguably harder to write for children than for adults. The writer must not condescend or patronise, but at the same time must show good judgement of what a child can or can't make sense of. He or she must remember deep inside what it was to read at this age - but not be old-fashioned.

This year's judges include the internationally-acclaimed writers Anne Fine and Terry Jones and other leading figures in the world of children's literature, as well as children from schools around the country (see below). They will be looking for a shortlist of 20 funny and sad, magical and exciting stories. Write us such a story.