A TEN-YEAR-OLD up before Huddersfield magistrates might never have been enthralled with a good book.
But the man behind a radical new drive thinks reading could be a key to a new life out of trouble.
Christopher Marsden, a former librarian, felt children and teenagers brought to court for first offences could benefit from books - be it Aesop's Fables or a gritty modern-day novel addressing drugs or crime.
And he's drawn up a list of 80 suitable titles for Kirklees Youth Offending Team.
Thanks to a £1,900 lottery grant, newly-stocked bookshelves are now in place in Huddersfield and Dewsbury.
And staff who work with the young people, aged 10 to 17, have a 45-page handbook laying out the necessary guidance.
A referral order panellist, Christopher ploughed through several hundred books in search of the most appropriate ones.
He adds: "I'm still reading more all the time."
Magistrates have been giving out referral orders to young people pleading guilty to first offences for the past two years.
The aim is to halt a possible slippery slope into crime - with help regarding family issues, drug problems, training and employment.
Offenders may also get to meet their victims, see the result of their behaviour, and apologise.
Now, as part of their programme, some young people are being asked to read a suitable book - and report back on it.
Christopher says: "I've collected books from reading age five upwards. They can read unaided, or with help.
"Most address topics such as racism, bullying and arson and are about a young person who's having a hard time, and how they learn to cope.
"Then it's up to them to put together a response - a written review, an audio recording, even prose or poetry."
Alastair Whitelaw, referral order co-ordinator at Kirklees Youth Offending Team, says: "Many of the young people won't have ever read a book, they might have a very young reading age, they may well have been excluded from school.
"Getting stuck into a book can give them new confidence. They might surprise themselves about what they can achieve."
Neighbouring youth offending teams in other towns are now interested in setting up similar schemes and an item in Youth Justice Board News prompted inquiries from all over the country.
Christopher says: "As far as I know, there's no-one else in the UK doing anything like this.
"The early signs are that the project won't just make young people think about what they've done, but will also set them on the path to reading books for pleasure."