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Of the books on our family’s shelves, a few in particular have been read to breaking point, but as Oscar Wilde said, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” In this spirit, kids make the best book critics. Their rating system is simple: love it or leave it.

It’s holiday season. It’s present time, baby. So if you’re looking for good books to give to the children enriching your life, here are a few beloved by the critics in this household.

GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

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Duct tape on its spine is a sure sign that a book is good. We’ve tried to replace this copy with a bigger, better version, but the kids will have none of it. This board book copy is like an ugly dog you love all the more because he’s so ugly. But there’s nothing ugly at all about the story itself, which most of you probably already know. Truly, an adventure at every reading.

MANNEKIN PIS: A SIMPLE STORY OF A BOY WHO PEED ON A WAR by Vladimir Radunsky

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Even though this book has a number of page corners missing and has made my son cry, he continues to ask for it. A boy loses his parents, is entirely alone in the middle of a war (this is where the tears brim), when suddenly his single most concern is that he really needs to pee. So he does and it sprays all over the people fighting, who then stop fighting and begin laughing instead. It’s very funny, made more so because this primitive act of nature stands in stark contrast to the boy’s scary circumstances. My son’s laughter is loaded with giddy relief, and I’ve come to realize that this story illustrates a valuable lesson, that laughter is never more important than when life seems its bleakest.

ALL GOD’S CRITTERS song by Bill Staines, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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There must be an entire roll of scotch tape keeping this one together. Sing-along books don’t get much better than this. The song itself is well known, fun and catchy, but holy moly, Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are best of the best. At the finale, when the animals take a bow and the audience goes wild, my own little reader-audience sponaneously clap and shout, “Hurray, God’s critters!” and happy mom that I am to see my kids so joyful about story and song, I think of this book as guaranteed five minutes of magic. Note, to be sung with gusto. Aim for losing your voice, and have orange juice on hand for when you do.

THE SMARTEST GIANT IN TOWN by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

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This book does not have any tape on it and has not yet lost a page, but it’s well on its way to bruisedom. I love this book as much as the kids do. “Smartest” is used in the English sense of the word, meaning well dressed. A giant wears shabby clothes but longs to be a smart dresser, so he buys a new set of digs. Then, as he walks along, he meets small friends in need. He doesn’t hesitate to give the shirt off his back for a goat who needs a new sail for his boat. Pretty soon he’s given away most of his new clothes and is frightfully cold. There is song, there is an abundance of giving, and in true Julia Donaldson form, there is also stunning rhythm and rhyme, perfect for chanting in unison during long family bike rides.

Do you have books at home that are shabby from having been read a thousand times? Do tell!

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