Not just good, they are very good. I picked up two new ones yesterday at the Arlington Library, and I am excited to spend time with both. The first is Doris Behrens-Abouseif Metalwork from the Arab World and the Mediterranean, and the second is Salma Samar Damluji The Architecture of Yemen and its Reconstruction, only $17.97 for that one! Here are some summary reasons why picture books are so underrated:
1. No one reads them. Or at least no paying customer reads them (see #2). So the writers do not have to seek to please the reader so much. Rather the text has to look “serious enough” to a library buyer, or to a “coffee table buyer. The writers, on their side, tend to be of high knowledge, intelligence, and conscientiousness. How is this for a stunning review of the Yemen book?: “In what can be described as a written expedition through Yemen, Salma Samar Damluji’s meticulous cataloguing of typologies and individual structures is a work of clarity and dedication…Damluji does due justice to their memory and ensures the intent and purpose behind their construction is not lost in translation.”
2. Picture books are de facto free. I get almost all of my picture books from the local public libraries, which buy quite a few of them.
2b. When sitting on a public library shelf, you can spot a picture book from the other side of the room. Thus picture books are not difficult to find.
3. The basic style is Wikipedia-like in the sense of aiming at relative objectivity. Yet the style is better than most on-line writing, Wikipedia included. Few picture books are highly partisan or pushing some wacko thesis.
4. They don’t go viral and they are not read by groups of people at the same time. That in turn feeds back into how they are written. Your friends are never reading the same picture book as you are. Thus your picture book is never The Current Thing. Bravo. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had someone ask me about a particular picture book. Ever. Could you name even three authors of picture books? One? Bravo all the more.
5. Pictures, photographs, and maps are excellent in their own right.
6. What makes for good pictures in a picture book? Historical sites, the arts and design, topography, animals, birds, and dinosaurs (almost the same thing). Most of those topics involve a minimum of b.s.