WHEN Elizabeth Stone opened an art gallery almost four years ago on Gallery Row in Birmingham, Mich., her shop was considered somewhat unconventional. That was because Ms. Stone sold original lithographs and illustrations from children's books.
"One of the stumbling blocks was having the galleries in my area accept illustration as an art form," Ms. Stone says. "I've worked hard to overcome the stereotype that illustration isn't as good as fine art. Now all the galleries have accepted me as a fine art gallery."
The 100 works on display in her gallery include pictures from artists such as Peter Parnall ("Way to Start a Day"), Jon Agee ("The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau"), and Gennady Spirin, whom Stone describes as one of the hottest new children's book illustrators, and who recently earned a gold medal award from the Society of Illustrators for "Boots and the Glass Mountain."
Pictures in Stone's gallery fetch between $100 and $6,000 and are being snatched up by a clientele that ranges from parents to professionals to libraries. Sales are "really good," she says. "I've even had business when the other galleries on my block didn't."
The children's book industry is booming. Publishers churn out more than 5,000 new titles a year, according to Publishers Weekly. While many parents buy the books for their kids, a growing number of adults are purchasing books for the artwork alone. And artists are finding a thriving market for their original illustrations, which are being recognized as fine art and are appearing in galleries, museums, and bookstores.
"In the past, there was a feeling that children's book art was highly decorative, kind of cute, and not to be taken seriously," says Wendell Minor, an illustrator for such nature-oriented children's books as "Sierra," "Mojave," and "Heartland." "But in the last 10 years it has been an art form that has really grown tremendously ... and it's drawing in more and more serious artists."
The baby boomers and their kids are creating the demand for quality children's books and artwork, those in the industry say.
"When boomers go out to buy books for their kids they're looking for books that are unique," Mr. Minor says. "Traditionally children's books have been selling through libraries ... and it's been a fairly staid market. That has changed." Now, publishers sell mainly through bookstores to a broader customer base, he says.
Advances in technology have also had an effect on the proliferation of children's books, making them less costly …