The Story of the Year competition, run by the Independent in association with Scholastic Children's Books, aims to flush out fresh stories that will delight child and adult alike as they share them.
Write a short story for six- to nine-year-olds and you could not only win pounds 2,000 but also see it in print in the Independent Magazine in June.
The two runners-up will win pounds 500 each, and the top 10 stories will be published in an anthology by Scholastic Children's Books in the autumn.
This is the fourth Story of the Year competition, which offers the biggest award for unpublished children's fiction in this country.
The judges include the comic actor Adrian Edmondson, star of television's The Young Ones and Bottom. He is married to the comedienne Jennifer Saunders and they have two young daughters. He has recently recorded the Dr Seuss stories on tape.
Other judges are the writer Blake Morrison, who is the former literary editor of the Independent on Sunday, David Robson, the Independent's Saturday Editor, Wendy Berliner, Private Life page editor of the Independent, Anne Everall, a librarian and manager of the Centre for the Child in Birmingham's Central Library, and David Fickling, editorial director of Scholastic Children's Books. Jo Williams, vice-chair of the Federation of Children's Book Groups, will represent the views of children who will read the 20 short-listed stories.
To start you off, we have asked some children and their grown-ups what stories they enjoy reading together.
Alison Pylkkannen, editor of She magazine. Her niece, Ella, is eight and her nephew, Noah, is 10. They go to Sabben Country Primary School in Lancashire.
ALISON: I'm a rather far-flung auntie, but I seem to have taken on the role of book-provider. When they come to stay in the holidays I read to them, and if I haven't seen them for a while they ring up and tell me what they're reading. They have crazes on favourite authors and they'll say, "Auntie Al, can you find out when the next book by so-and-so is coming out?" As I'm in magazines, they expect me to know about everything that's in print.
Books have changed since I was their age. There's much more humour now. From early on they loved madcap things such as Dr Seuss, Willy the Wimp, The Queen's Knickers and, of course, Roald Dahl. The great thing about being an aunt is that you can encourage them in a certain amount of naughtiness and subversion. I've given them books about why school's a nightmare, which probably their parents wouldn't.
You try to offer different, modern things, but secretly you're gratified when they like the books you liked. This happened when we read The Railway Children, and now they're going through all the Noel Streatfeild books and noticing my name in childish writing in the front. Little Women they liked very much, and Mary Poppins. It was the child's perspective that appealed to them. Not just "this is what happens to children", but "this is how children see the world". They appreciate that approach.
Some books seem to grow up with them. Even when they were very little we read Tin-Tin together, doing all the different voices. Then it was just a story about a boy and his dog. Now it's the more ludicrous aspects that appeal to them, such as the Thompson Twins. The stories work at lots of levels.
ELLA: I'm reading The Upside Down Mice by Roald Dahl at the moment. It's about this old man who has mice in his house. So he buys mousetraps and puts them on the ceiling, and all the mice start laughing at him. So the next day he gets all his furniture and sticks it upside down on the ceiling, and the mice think it's the floor so they all go upside-down, then the blood flows to their heads and they all die.
When Ali, my auntie, was a little girl she had White Boots and she gave it to me and my brother. It's about a little girl who's really ill and her legs are all cotton wool-ish. The doctor says she has to skate to get them strong. She's poor, but she meets this rich girl, Lala, at the rink who wants to be a champion. My mum's reading that to us at the moment. When we go to Ali's to stay she reads to us. She's read a lot of fairy tales to me. The best one was Bluebeard, who had loads of wives. He kills them all and puts them in a room. Then he gets a new wife and he gives her all the keys except the one to that room. But she goes in and sees all these people and then he kills her as well.
NOAH: I like reading the Brian Jacques Redwall stories, and Tin-Tin, and factual books about animals and snakes and spiders. I've been reading Smith by Leon Garfield, as well, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck. If I'm in a really good reading mood I like a long chapter book, or if I'm tired I like cartoons.
When I was little, my auntie got me the Richard Scarry books and Where's Wally?. I like fiddly things with lots of detailed pictures. When I was a bit younger, she read us Tin-Tin. She was really funny because she did different accents for all the different people. My favourite was Destination Moon. They're preparing to go into space, but some spies are trying to get the blueprint for the rocket. They make all the space suits up, with a dog-shaped one for Snowy. That's really good.
My auntie's bought me hundreds of books. She also sends us books in the post. When a new Brian Jacques came out, called The Outcast of Redwall, I couldn't find it anywhere so I rang Ali up and by the end of the day she had it for me.
Dr Nick Tate is chief executive of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority. His son, Oliver, 10, goes to King's College Junior School in Wimbledon.
Nick: There may be a few days or even a week or two when I can't read to Oliver, so my wife usually has one book on the go and I have another. This choice is negotiated with him and he has rights of veto. History is my subject and I've tried to introduce him to some historical novels. We're just coming to the end of Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, which is set in Roman Britain. Oliver has been so excited by it that sometimes he has read ahead, which is rather annoying because he then knew what was coming and I didn't.
Before that we read Cynthia Harnett's The Wool Pack, about a boy in a Cotswold wool town in the 15th century. It's full of precise historical detail and rather long descriptions of the way wool was baled and treated, which I thought Ollie might find boring, but he didn't. It's also about relations between the boy and his father, with a bit of intrigue and adventure as well.
I put a lot of thought into the choice of what we read. Oliver was very excited by doing the Greeks at school and I took advantage of that by reading him Roger Lancelyn Green's The Tale of Troy. And when he was doing the Anglo-Saxons I read the Penguin Beowulf, translating as I went along, missing out difficult words. He was gripped by that.
Reading out loud in our house is something we've done for 20 years, first with our two girls, who are now at university, and now with Oliver. I like the sense of ritual and Oliver likes the undivided attention. He does concentrate extremely well. In fact, his concentration is better than mine. We don't have a television, which may have something to do with it.
Oliver: I love Lord of the Rings, even though it took ages to read. I liked it because it wasn't about daily life. I also liked it when my mum read me Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. She did some of it in American accents, but she got quite a sore throat doing it.
We've got lots of books in the house that I haven't read yet. I like books about animals and books about the War. Blitzcat by Robert Westall has both in it. I've read about half his books. I also liked White Fang by Jack London. It's about a dog who's half-wolf and half-dog, and it gets into the hands of humans and becomes a fighting dog.
I usually go to bed at 8.30pm and get a story from my parents and then I read by myself. Sometimes I read after I'm meant to have turned the light out. My parents don't tell me off unless I'm very grumpy next day.
How to enter our competition
The competition is for adults to write a short story for six- to nine- year-olds. It has a pounds 2,000 prize for the winner and pounds 500 each for two runners-up. Please submit a story of 1,500 to 2,500 words to arrive before 13 April at: Story of the Year Competition, PO Box 10715, London NW1 0AQ.
You may enter once only, and the entry must be made by the writer, not on his or her behalf. Entries must be typewritten, double-spaced and on one side of the paper only. Stories cannot be returned, so please keep a photocopy. Stories submitted must be unpublished, but the competition is open to published writers. We will not accept stories with illustrations. The first page of the entry must consist only of your name, address and telephone number. The story should start on a separate sheet, with no name on any of the pages, so that it can be judged anonymously.
The winning story will be published in the Independent in June. The three winning stories and up to 10 other entries will be published in the autumn in a Story of the Year 4 anthology by Scholastic Children's Books (a list of stories chosen will be published in the Independent at the same time). Any story chosen for publication in the anthology that does not win one of the top three cash prizes will receive a fee of pounds 200.
This competition is not open to employees of, or relatives of employees of, Scholastic Ltd or Newspaper Publishing plc or anyone connected with the competition. Proof of posting cannot be accepted as proof of delivery. No responsibility can be accepted for entries that are delayed, damaged, mislaid or wrongly delivered. The judges' decision will be final and no correspondence can be entered into. Entry grants to Scholastic Ltd the exclusive right to publish an entrant's story in all formats throughout the world for the full legal term of copyright. A copy of the form of contract may be obtained on application to Scholastic Ltd. By submitting a story an entrant agrees to be bound by the terms of this agreement, and to sign it if called upon to do so. Any entry not submitted in the form specified will be deemed invalid. If your story is not published in the anthology or the newspaper by the end of 1996, these rights revert to you. Entry into the competition implies acceptance of these rules.