author spotlight, black history, black lives, family, illustration

Author Spotlight: Floyd Cooper

Damn cancer. On Friday, July 16, 2021, it took children’s author-illustrator Floyd Cooper from us. What remains is a body of work that will be carried on into the future. He wrote stories about Black children living ordinary lives but found immense beauty in their perspectives & observations. Cooper was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965 and started making art at three. Using a piece of gypsum, he etched “little shapes onto the side of my Dad’s house.” His parents’ divorce turned his life into chaos, causing Cooper to attend 11 different elementary schools in Tulsa over his early years. He credits his teachers for keeping him focused, and he earned an art scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. Adult life began with work in the greeting card & advertising industries doing illustrations. In 1988, Cooper landed his first children’s picture book Grandpa’s Face. About his style, Cooper said, “I tend to focus on the humanity of my subjects, the details of expression that add a certain reality to the work. Real faces = real art. That’s the goal anyway.” Cooper’s grandfather survived the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and, over his life, shared these experiences with his grandson. Cooper would go on to illustrate a book about the event titled Unspeakable, ensuring we do not forget the evils of racism. The influence of his grandfather can be seen throughout his work, often a character popping up to guide a child.

Max and the Tag-Along Moon (Philomel Books)
Written & Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

For ages: 3-7
Cooper explores the delicate bond between grandparents & grandchildren in this beautifully told & illustrated story. Max has to say goodbye to grandpa after a visit, but he doesn’t want to leave. Grandpa tells Max that wherever he goes, he can look up and know they are looking at the same moon, an object that links them. Of course, as adults, we can extrapolate that this goes beyond the present, that even when Grandpa passes away, Max will be connected to him through that moon. As Max takes the long car ride home, he tests to see if he can still see that big moon, and sure enough, he can. There comes the point at home where Max can’t see it anymore and becomes despondent. On a glorious two-page spread, the moon’s glow casts over little Max’s face, and he knows Grandpa is looking up at the same light. 

The Ring Bearer (Philomel Books)
Written & Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

For ages: 3-7
Jackson has been asked to be the ring bearer for his mother’s upcoming wedding. He feels a lot of responsibility and, with that, a lot of nerves, worried about tripping & dropping the ring. Grandpop steps in to help Jackson and his stepsister-to-be Sophie (the flower girl) prepare so they don’t let their nerves get the best of them. Sophie gets a little overly excited the day of, and while skipping down the aisle, she almost trips. Jackson doesn’t hesitate to reach out and help his little sis. The friends & family attending the wedding applaud Jackson’s heroism, filling him with a sense of pride he didn’t anticipate. Cooper’s illustration is so soft & gentle that you feel almost cradled. The choice to make such slice-of-life stories was his gift to us, highlighting the beautiful moments we probably take for granted as adults. 

Juneteenth for Mazie (Picture Window Books)
Written & Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

For ages: 4-8
Mazie doesn’t want to go to bed, but her dad assures her tomorrow there’s a big celebration, so she has to get her rest. He tells her about Juneteenth and how this day affected her great great great great grandpa Mose on the day he learned chattel slavery had ended in the United States. Mose labored in the cotton fields of Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865, when the Emancipation Proclamation was read out in the middle of town. Mazie’s dad keeps the story going, telling how Black people had to keep fighting, detailing the civil rights movement and each victory that kept adding up. Cooper’s book is a perfect introduction to students who may not completely understand what Juneteenth is and the historical background crucial to understanding the event. It’s also a good reminder that freedom has to be fought for and that those in power don’t simply give it up because you ask nicely. Once again, Cooper’s oil paintings are just page after page of frameable art. We lost something special when he passed. 

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