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by Abigail Van Buren

Gift of Literacy Can Begin With Holiday Books for Kids

DEAR ABBY: During the holidays, many communities sponsor programs in which people buy new toys or clothes for needy children. Many of these children come from homes where there are no books.

An ongoing cycle of illiteracy haunts children on the edges of poverty. When teachers ask their students to bring a favorite book to class to share, these children show up with an advertisement or a coupon book because they have no books at home.

Abby, please help these children learn to love books and reading. If your readers are buying toys or clothes for needy children, please ask them to consider tucking in one or two children's books. -- D.W. IN RENO, NEV.

DEAR D.W.: I'm sure many readers will agree it's a great idea. Books make excellent gifts.

DEAR ABBY: Whoever gave you the misinformation regarding dinner table protocol that you passed on to "Serious in Boston" needs retraining themselves.

I'm a former embassy butler, and please know that the signal conveyed to a trained server, as you described the positioning of cutlery and plate (knife and fork together diagonally across the upper right rim of the plate), would be that the diner would appreciate being offered another helping.

To indicate that you are finished and wish the plate removed, the cutlery should be placed straight upon the plate, perpendicular to the diner, as clock hands at half past six, with the knife upon the right with the blade edge toward the fork.

If you are being attended by properly trained staff, it can avoid embarrassment to know what signals you are sending to the server.

Most sincerely at your service ... RUGGLES OF RED GAP

DEAR RUGGLES: Thank you for speaking up. Concerned that I had misled my readers, I consulted several more etiquette books. "The New Emily Post's Etiquette," by Elizabeth L. Post, states: "When you have finished the main course, the knife and fork are placed beside each other on the dinner plate DIAGONALLY FROM UPPER LEFT TO LOWER RIGHT. (Emphasis mine.) The handles extend slightly over the edge of the plate."

"The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette Entirely Rewritten and Updated," by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan, says, "Put your fork and knife across the center of your plate ON A DIAGONAL SLANT when you have finished eating."

Letitia Baldrige, whom I telephoned, told me that the flatware should be placed on the right rim of the plate, straight up and down -- not diagonally.

I can only conclude that the best way to signal that you have finished eating is to speak up and tell the server that you would like your plate removed.

Read on for a thought-provoking letter from a reader who offers a different perspective:

DEAR ABBY: While I have never written to you before, the letter from "Serious in Boston" -- whose English-born and reared ladyfriend criticized him for pushing his plate to the center of the table when he had finished eating -- really got under my skin.

In view of what is going on in this world today, just how important is it to place the knife and fork in a certain way in order to signal the server to remove your plate? Give me a break! I say, "Tell the lady to go back to England and eat with the Queen!"

I get a lot more upset about how few people have food to put on their plates, plates to put on their tables and roofs over their heads. -- MARY A. SLOAN, SACRAMENTO, CALIF.

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