Keeping kids current on reading and writing skills over the summer can be tough. You tell them to go read, and you find them playing Xbox. You tell them to write a letter to grandma, and they've sneaked out the back door and into the neighbor's pool.

But Junior Dispatch might just have the cure to all that: A $100 cure.

The website is running a short story contest with an Aug. 1 deadline. Kids ages 3 to 18 are invited to write a fantastic piece of fiction up to 1,500 words. Be warned, it can't be just any story: It has to be about aliens - the kind that zoom in on flying saucers.

But even with the carrot of $100 dangling in front of them, kids might be reluctant. So how can you tempt a kid to get reading and writing? Well, Junior Dispatch has a few ideas.

GET INSPIRED - Take your would-be writer to the York Emporium's Sci-Fi Saturday and show them around. Check out the sci-fi books with cool covers, meet authors and get creative juices flowing with talk about wormholes, time travel and laser guns.

PLAY FAVORITES - Ask your kid about his or her favorite movie or TV show. Then ask what would happen if an alien showed up. Ask them to write up their idea with some slightly different characters. Spider-Man becomes the Human Mosquito. "The Hunger Games" setting becomes the Death-O-Lympics and so on.


THEMSELVES + CONFLICT - Another way to get kids writing is to ask them to write a story about themselves and how they would react to a situation. Encourage them to have abilities, equipment and skills that their real self might not have. After all, it's a lot more fun to fight aliens when your German shepherd is a robot and you have a black belt in Aikido.

PICTURE IT - Go online and type "sci-fi book covers" into an image search. Pick five or six to show your young author. Then ask them to pick a favorite and write a quick story about their impression of it. Urge them to keep expanding and refining it into a winner.

COMPUTER TIME - Once you have your kids inspired, you need to give them some time at the computer. Pop open your word-processing program and give them some space. Show them how to cut and paste, how to spell check and activate word count. Use this time as an educational opportunity and a chance to help your children flex their creative muscles.

To read all the rules of JD's creative writing contest, go here.

Weekend Junior is a collaborative effort of York Weekend and Junior Dispatch to highlight entertainment options especially for children. Want to suggest a topic? Contact York Weekend editor Mel Barber at 854-1575, ext. 458, or or Junior Dispatch editor John Simcoe at 505-5457 or