I have an amazing critique group and an amazing agent but my favorite readers are my 3 amazing children (ages 8, 11 and 12.5). Not only are they blunt to the point of smacking me upside the head with a copy of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE PERILOUS PLOT OF PROFESSOR POOPYPANTS, but they learn so much about writing from critiquing my work.
Over the years I have urged them to not just say, "I like it" or "This is boring", but to tell me specifically what they like and what doesn't work. I ask them to brainstorm on how they would rewrite it and/or what they would love to read. Now don't think helping mom perfect her stories is their favorite pastime. They would much rather be out throwing a football, whupping a baseball, dancing like Baryshnikov or hanging with their friends. However, by learning how to question, to think, to revise, my three favorite readers have each become wonderful writers with a critical eye to their own work.
Today's good news is that my 8 year old just read my newest version of CROC & ALLY and declared, "It should already be published." I'm feeling great because this manuscript had merited a POOPYPANTS smacking in the past.