You haven't read a children's book if you haven't read it 25 times. Or more. Or so it seems to my weary eyes and enlarged memory. I can recite the whole of Maurice Sendak's ''In the Night Kitchen'' with ease , and I can do the same for Margaret Wise Brown's ''Goodnight, Moon,'' even though that book has been hidden in a pile for at least a month now. I'm pretty good now on ''Blueberries for Sal,'' Robert McCloskey's fine book, but ''Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel'' has too much text.
To be perfectly honest, though, my two-year-old son has memorized more parts of more of his books than I have, and if I make a mistake I'm only too likely to hear about it. That's what you call a critical audience.
Between us, my wife and I spend at least an hour a day reading to our son. This reading can be relaxing or exciting, but it always grows within itself: Reading breeds more reading breeds still more reading. ''Read again'' is what he virtually always says at book's end.
As most people who read often know, it is the best and easiest way for travel to wonderful and faraway places. It also has something to do with imagination, reading, if a recent journey through Alice and Martin Provensen's ''A Book of Seasons'' is any indicator.
Midway through the book, my son and I had paused, and he listed for me the inevitable animals on the page. ''Where is the kitty?'' I asked, and was shown. Ditto, the dog, bunny, and the two blue jays.
Then I asked if he saw the elephant. (There isn't one visible on the page.) ''Yes, '' was the answer, and when I asked where it was, he said: ''He's hiding. Behind the trees. Over there.'' I still don't know quite what to make of this leap, but I still marvel at it.
Maybe this is normal, but maybe it only happened because we've fallen into the night kitchen with Mickey at least 200 times, or because of the quiet old lady who is whispering ''hush'' every time we see her in ''Goodnight, Moon.'' I don't know.
What I do know is that my son never tires of reading, and even though we may falter some on our sixth trip through another favorite, ''Big Work Machines'' (we pass no cement mixer or front loader without a small person's comment), we read on. And on. And on.
''Read again,'' he asks. Of course.