Children can plant the seeds of a good summer early this year thanks to the York County Libraries and the Healthy York County Coalition.

The two agencies are partnering again for a summer reading club that invites kids from birth to age 18 to spend a little time with a book in their hands and exploring their world.

The program begins Saturday, June 1, with a special kickoff event at the West Manchester Mall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. At the event kids will find a variety of activities including performances by magician Dave Rojahn, face painting by Skeets the Clown, a visit by WJTL's Kid's Cookie Break and more. JuniorDispatch.com, a website for kids presented by The York Dispatch, will be on hand offering drawing and coloring activities.

York County Libraries Summer Reading Club
Visit your local library branch to pick up a copy of the Gardener's Journal and get started in the 2013 York County Libraries Summer Reading Club. (York County Libraries)

While at the event, kids can sign up for the libraries' reading club and get their hands on the Gardener's Journal, their guide to the summer programs, said Deb Sullivan, community relations director for the York County Libraries.

"We're asking kids to read 20 minutes a day and to aim for the goal of reading 800 minutes this summer," she said, adding that after the program wraps up in August "they can turn in their minutes for prizes."

Outside, too: The exploring part of the program comes in the form of a letterboxing challenge hosted at 30 locations in York County's park system. Letterboxing is an orienteering and puzzle-solving activity where success is measured by obtaining a rubbing imprint in the Gardener's Journal. Those imprints can only be found at secret locations along public access trails in the parks.

"The letterbox activity allows them to follow clues in the Gardener's Journal," Sullivan says. "It will help them find each of the hidden 'garden plots' and do a rubbing at each spot."

At the finale of the program on Aug. 18, reading club and letterboxing participants can score multiple chances to win one of three grand prizes at the Oct. 12 wrap-up event.

More activities: Aside from the reading and exploring activities, both promoted by the journal, all of York County's libraries have a full slate of activities to draw kids in throughout the summer. Among the events are opportunities to learn about bugs and how to draw, as well as concerts and story times. All of those seminars are listed in a lengthy schedule at the back of the Gardener's Journal, which makes it a valuable tool for parents, too.

Sullivan said the entire reason for the reading club is to help kids do better in school and grow as literary consumers.

"We're trying to prevent what's called the summer slide, and we want them to do this in a fun way," she said.

SHORT STORY CONTEST

Inside every kid there is a story, and Junior Dispatch wants to help those stories to come out for the whole world to enjoy.

That's why Junior Dispatch, York County Libraries and The York Emporium are teaming up for another short-story contest.

Just like last year, JD is taking the theme from the reading club and twisting it around a little bit - asking for kids to "dig up" a story of buried treasure.

And while creative writing is fun in its own right, there's some extra incentive to put pen to paper - gift certificates for nine of the best stories.

The contest is split into three age categories - 7 and under, 8 to 11, and 12 to 18 - and each of those categories has three top winners earning $100, $40 and $20 for first, second and third places.

The stories can be up to 1,500 words long and simply need to be about the general topic of "buried treasure" - which can be anything from some pirate's loot to dinosaur bones or veggies plucked from your backyard garden.

For complete details on the "Tales of Buried Treasure" writing contest, visit JuniorDispatch.com or see the inserts included in the York County Libraries reading club packet.