I hope that before this auto-posts, I'll have time to have written up what I love in picture books. If it turns out that I haven't had time, I'll wish I had talked about:
picture books as amuse-bouche, perfect bites
first experiences with language (spare, lush, bouncy, lyrical)
tales that stretch young minds (but that's not a requirement)
meaningful moments in lives of kids
After that, two recent favorite picture book reads are below. Buglette, the Messy Sleeper by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (Random House - Tricycle Press, which is shuttered, but the book isn't) highlights some of my criteria for "great picture book." Buglette is a very neat bug by day, but her nighttime wriggles--despite being amaaaaaazing--are not just messy: they attract the very scary bug-eating crow. Buglette has to save the day!
Now, that might sound too scary for bedtime, but it really isn't. It's about a small being figuring out how to take care of a problem. Transfer that to something like "I'm four and I'm really scared of spiders, and here's one in my shoe; what do I do about it?" Transfer that to "I've spilled this glass of water; what do I do about it? Can I do it on my own?" Problem-solving skills: good for kid development! All that aside, I love this short, compact story with its playfulness and whimsy, and I LOVE the art. Check out her blog, which links out to her site as well.
Another recent PB read for the younger crowd was Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (HarperCollins - Greenwillow). I saw this in f&G (folded and gathered--the loose pages without a binding) a long time ago (I think) and was really, really, wriggly-like pleased to receive a copy at BEA's children's authors breakfast, and even more intrigued to hear what the author had to say about it, particularly about the pictures. This book might mislead you: you might think it's going to be quiet and sedate, the sort of book that aunt you don't like wants to read to you because it will make you yawn and yawn and somehow magically play quietly. (I don't have an aunt like that.) Instead, the little white rabbit has a wild, wonderful imagination that encompasses multiple dimensions, and wonders what it might be like to be green, or tall, or a rock... This is perfect for those kids who go to bed in puppy mode one night and wake up barking you good morning. You probably know at least one. (Oddly enough, these puppies are quite interested in pizza and other non-dog foods.) Check out the author here.