Holiday Gift Guide 2012 (No. 1): Books Worth Their Weight

December 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

Kingfisher Science EncyclopediaWhen it comes to picking gifts this holiday season, it’s no surprise I vote books all the way (and I’ll have posts all month long with recommendations for everyone on your list). But I thought I’d kick off my Holiday Gift Guide with a more unusual approach.

What about making an impact through sheer weight? I’m talking about reference books: those meaty treasures filled with mind-blowing facts, stunning photography, and encyclopedia-rich knowledge. We normally associate these books with schools, while we focus on stocking our shelves at home with storybooks (why clutter up our houses with reference books when we have the Internet?). But there’s a reason that educational philosophies like Montessori and Waldorf advocate strongly for encouraging children to find answers the old-fashioned way (after all, you learn nothing about alphabetization when you look up a definition on

A good dictionary or atlas or encyclopedia can grow with your child for years and years. It will make your child a better student, and it will make you a better teacher (come on, we can’t let our children get smarter than us!).

I’m especially fired up about these particular kinds of books right now, because last night I hosted a book fundraiser for my children’s school, designed to stock the classrooms with exceptional books. Since my background is weighted more toward retail than academia, I have spent the past few months immersing myself in the world of non-fiction, in the quest to devise a well-rounded “wish list” for the school. This means I have now read every child’s atlas on the market to see which offers the clearest and most compelling presentation. I have discovered  species I never knew existed while combing through animal-specific encyclopedias. I think I may finally understand why I (not to mention my children) should care about the Periodic Table of Elements. I even spent an entire afternoon comparing entries across different children’s dictionaries.

The result is that I have found true gems in every category. I have fallen in love with many of these titles, and I think they belong as much in the home as they do in the classroom. So this holiday season, consider giving the gift of knowledge. Inspiration can strike our children at any time if they are surrounded with the right tools.

Favorite “Reference” Books That Make Great Gifts:
Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary, published by DK (Ages 5-12)
World Atlas for Young Explorers, published by National Geographic, 3rd edition (Ages 6-14)
United States Atlas for Young Explorers, published by National Geographic, 3rd edition (Ages 6-14)
Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia, published by DK (Ages 5-10)
First Science Encyclopedia, First Nature Encyclopedia, First Earth Encyclopedia, First Human Body Encyclopedia, How Thing Work Encyclopedia, all published by DK (Ages 6-12)
Visual Encyclopedia of Earth, published by National Geographic (Ages 9-15)
The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, published by Kingfisher, 3rd edition (Ages 9-15)
The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, published by Kingfisher, 3rd edition (Ages 9-15)
Children’s Book of Art, by DK Publishing (Ages 6-12)

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§ 3 Responses to Holiday Gift Guide 2012 (No. 1): Books Worth Their Weight

  • schultzfam says:

    I wouldn’t have thought of these as gift ideas, but I think they are a great idea, especially for boys who seem to always like “fact” books rather than story lines (huge over generalization, naturally). I am going to order several for my grade-school age nephews!

    Do you think a non-reader is too young for a reference book, like a dictionary, or still useful to have around and look things up with them?

    • A non-reader is definitely not too young for a reference book, assuming he falls near or in what I’ve listed as the recommended age ranges (which really speak to content more than anything else). In fact, I am getting JP that exact dictionary for Christmas. The entries are beautifully and clearly written, so he would definitely understand them. He would obviously need some help with reading them and with looking up the word, although he could find the “e” pages by himself and then probably also the “el” section and so forth and then just need some help at the end. The photos in the dictionary area also great. I like the idea of getting him used to the idea of looking up words he doesn’t understand (say, when we’re reading a chapter book); also because it reinforces what they are being encouraged to do at school. That “Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia” is also amazing and very age appropriate; would be something a non-reader could still look at independently for a long time (or read with you). And even those DK Encyclopedias (“First Science,” etc) have very digestible text for sharing aloud and fantastic photos; they are much “thinner” textbooks than the Kingfisher ones I’ve listed for older kids. Hope that helps!

      • schultzfam says:

        Just to circle back…I gave the Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary you suggested to my 3rd grade, nephew last night, and it was a hit! At first he just liked that he got the heaviest gift, but then he started looking through it and was stunned to see that “every word is in it!” Thanks for the great gift idea!

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