Consider It a Defining Moment in Gift-Giving

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

I’m sure that by now the student in your life, whatever age, has dropped hints about the entertaining kind of gift he or she wants for the holidays.

I have nothing against fun, but part of me also has to ask you to consider adding to your favorite student’s gift list something educational.

It’s easy to do if your student is a young child. There are thousands of inexpensive toys, books, and games with an educational bent. But for teen-agers and older scholars, the educational gift options are more limited.

A solution: reference books. They’re all but essential for many forms of studying, especially for composition of papers.


I have five favorite kinds of reference books to suggest, all of which are frequently updated, easy to use, and available at most general bookstores.

If you can afford only one reference book for a student, make it a good dictionary. Correct spelling and word choice are needed in all subjects and assignments.

“Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary” offers almost 160,000 words with 200,000 definitions. It costs $17.50 in hardcover.

Another good dictionary is the “American Heritage Second College Edition Dictionary.” It contains about 100,000 words and their definitions, and hundreds of pictures. In hardcover the dictionary costs $17.50; a paperback version of 60,000 words costs just $4.95.


A thesaurus can help a writer avoid always having to say the same thing in the same way; just look up any word, and “Roget’s International Thesaurus” will give you some fresh and colorful alternatives. I must admit my own bias here: As an English teacher who reads thousands of essays each year, I cherish student writers with vivid and jolting vocabularies.

“Roget’s” has 256,000 words and phrases and their synonyms; it costs $15.95 in hardcover or $10.95 in paperback.

If your favorite scholar is in junior or senior high school, he or she is probably studying a foreign language. A dictionary for that language is essential.

The Cassell’s series of language dictionaries is a favorite of many teachers. Cassell’s dictionaries are published for students of Spanish, German, French and Japanese, just to name a few. They all include words most used in modern speech and literature, as well as idioms and newly accepted words. They also contain pronunciation guides and verb-conjugation charts.


Each sells for $21.95 in hardback; a smaller paperback volume that fits nicely in a backpack costs $10.95.

My favorite reference book, for amusement as well as information, is the annual “World Almanac and Book of Facts.” For just $6.95, your student gets a meaty paperback full of statistics and other information that can winningly support and flavor any speech or essay.

Finally, consider a resource book that I’m afraid too many students now need: Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” one of the best up-to-date guide to modern manners for teen-agers and adults. Post will help the student master the basic rules of social interaction, including table manners, making good introductions and conversation, telephone etiquette, writing good business letters and personal ones, and other common courtesies.

It is a valuable and timeless book, available in hardcover for $25.95.