Here are eight picture books that I absolutely love - they include very simple books, slightly more text-heavy titles, fiction and non-fiction, silly, and sweet.
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis. Oh, this book is great - Ella loved this one and the companion book, Not a Box, where a little animal keeps saying "this is not a stick!" and then showing the reader what it is. From a sword to a paintbrush to a fire hose, it's just so fun to see what imaginative uses for a basic object the author comes up with.
Out of Sight by Francesco Pittau and Bernadette Gervais. This is probably Ella's favorite book of 2012 and it has taken all my willpower to not share it before now. Each page has a large number of flaps and shows some bit of each animal underneath (on one page feet, on another noses, on another the hides of the animals). Ella loved guessing which animal she'd see when we opened each flap and I loved the bit of trivia about the animal printed on the backside of each flap. Also, this book is very large, which makes it even more fun.
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young. This book is just fun. You see a ninja quietly entering a house in the middle of the night, sneaking through hallways, picking locks, etc., until suddenly he's stopped by his mother who tells him there will be NO snacking in the middle of the night and his new mission is to get himself back to bed. The abrupt about face in this book, where you suddenly realize the highly-skilled ninja is actually a little boy in pjs, makes me happy every time.
Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. I am in love with this book (which is getting a lot of Caldecott buzz). Each page showcases something green, with cut-outs letting you see bits of the pages before or after. And the cutouts are so masterfully done, you don't even notice the words being spelled out or animal shapes being made until the cuts on the next page frame them for you. Just beautifully and endlessly interesting.
More Bears by Kenn Nesbitt and Troy Cummings. Ralphie showed me this book early in the summer, and we read it over and over again. The poor author is trying to write a story (which has no bears) and an offstage voice keeps demanding bears. At last he relents and puts in a single bear, but that just encourages the voices which continue to call for more and more bears.
A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. I love all the Frances books, but this one is my absolute favorite. Thelma, the tricky friend, fools Frances in to buying an inferior tea set, but Frances uses her own scheme to get back at Thelma. When I read this one aloud in my elementary schools, I almost couldn't keep my laughter under control.
Wave by Suzy Lee. I love a wordless picture book, and this one doesn't disappoint. It's a gorgeous three-color story of a little girl going to the ocean. At first she's a little timid, but she gains confidence as she gets closer to the real waves. Brief and sweet.
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. One of my childhood favorites, I love this classic story told from the wolf's point of view. It's amazing how quickly you can be persuaded by someone who admits to eating two pigs.
Still looking for more ideas? Here's last year's picture book gift guide and all the picture books I've reviewed over the last couple of years.