We have a 19 month old son so we're in prime picture book buying mode at the moment! We find that for our son to fall in love with a book, it has to meet at least one (and preferably both) of these two criteria:
- A lot of action to look at; and
- Pictures of things that he's recently learned (whether it's a new word or a new activity).
I'll give two examples that illustrate why these criteria are the important ones for us when evaluating picture books.
First, our son is really in love with what in German is called Wimmelbilderbücher. It shows a typical German town (called "Wimmlingen" and I think the English equivalent is "Busytown") with a different book for each season. There are pictures of cats, dogs, birds, buses, bulldozers, people on bikes or walking or driving, etc and these are all words he's learning to say. He points to eg. a picture of a cat and says "cat" or we say "Where's the cat?" and then he finds it on the page. There are also many little "stories" embedded in the book making it fun for parents to look at as well. Here's a typical example from the Winter Wimmelbuch:
A second example is a book called "Zähneputzen ist kinderleicht!" which means "Brushing your teeth is as easy as ABC" or something like that. It follows a family eating dinner and then learning how to brush teeth before bed. It's quite cute and is part of a series that follows a family going through daily life as the toddler ages (other books in the series show bedtime routine, getting a new sibling, learning to use the toilet, starting Kindergarten which begins at 3 years in Germany, etc). It's nice because our son gets used to seeing the same family with a child about the same age as he is learning to do the same things as he's learning to do (it also might help that the family in the book looks very similar to our family...!).
tl;dr The most successful strategy we've employed for finding picture books that our son loves is to ensure consistency and familiarity in the content.