Skip to content

Floyd Cooper: An Appreciation

Illustration from Max and the Tag-along Moon by Floyd Cooper

My books tend to explore humanity - emotional, historical, and biographical.

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Floyd Cooper by Maria Marshall
Photo by Velma Cooper

With the passing of illustrator and author Floyd Cooper this month, the children's books field has lost one of its giants. Reading many of the tributes to him, including "Celebrating Floyd Cooper" at The Brown Bookshelf, the same qualities are referred to again and again: Warmth. Talent. Generosity.

I first heard Floyd Cooper speak — and demonstrate his art — at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference when I had just a few books published. He was then, and has remained, an inspiration, to me and so many, for the beauty of his work, the originality of his technique, and the integrity of his content, illuminating and honoring Black life and people in a way that contradicted negative images in the dominant culture. He offered children a mirror in which their beauty, brilliance, and full humanity were reflected.

Most of all, I loved his faces, rendered with such realistic detail and particularity, with a softness and tenderness that revealed his love for them. He brought this affection to all the people he portrayed, from his many African American subjects to a white boy with Down Syndrome (Be Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming) to a 12th century Japanese girl (The Girl Who Loved Caterpillars by Jean Merrill).

That softness was achieved through a unique illustration technique he developed himself, a "subtractive process" in an "oil erasure" medium, described in this blogpost, "A Little Erasing: A Guest Post by Illustrator Floyd Cooper." You can watch a demonstration of the technique in this New York Times video from 2017.

Illustration by Floyd Cooper from These Hands by Margaret H. Mason

I got to meet Cooper briefly, on the exhibition floor of the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Baltimore in November 2019. I was in awe - "OMG, you're Floyd Cooper!" He was friendly and gracious, warm and funny, treating me like a colleague and peer, though we'd never met before. We talked about illustration.

Another aspect of Cooper's talent is evident in the range of experiences his illustrations explored, from children enjoying everyday moments of joy to the lives of sports stars, civil rights heroes, and often-unrecognized historical figures whose work contributed to the building of our nation.

Most recently, he illustrated Unspeakable, Carole Boston Weatherford's account of the Tulsa Race Massacre. There's a fierceness and archetypal power in the cover image of a family fleeing the violence. Cooper, a native of Tulsa of African and Muskogee Creek ancestry, brought his family's lived experience to his work through the stories his grandfather had told of witnessing the massacre.

I believe if we step back and examine where we are now compared to where we once were, we would see the growth of America. On many levels we can bear witness to the fact that our nation is not static, is not locked into a single perspective when it comes to anything really—and that includes our understanding of history and the passing on of that history...

Eventually, truth will always out. That is different from what it once was. With such a change comes resistance to that change, an unwillingness to accept the change, to accept the truth. That can lead to uncomfortable times. But there is a better day on the other side of change. After the wounds have healed, a much better day awaits! Our young will live in better times together in acceptance of the way things really are if we give them the truth. But we must teach them truth in ways they can comprehend. There is no greater gift than truth.

Floyd Cooper, "An Unspeakable Interview: Talking with Carole Boston Weatherford & Floyd Cooper About the Tulsa Race Massacre", School Library Journal

Twenty-three of his more-than-one-hundred titles are in our collection, including five he authored as well as illustrated -- and three published in 2021! That's some prolific output. Here are his most recent books and a selection from earlier work:

A Day for Rememberin’


by Leah Henderson and Floyd Cooper

"A moving tribute to the little-known history behind the first Memorial Day, illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper Today is a special day. Eli knows it’s important if he’s allowed to miss one second of school, his “hard-earned right.” Inspired by true events and told through the eyes of a young boy, this is the deeply moving story about what is regarded as the first Memorial Day on May 1, 1865. Eli dresses up in his best clothes, Mama gathers the mayflowers, Papa straightens his hat, and together they join the crowds filling the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, with bouquets, crosses, and wreaths. Abolitionists, missionaries, teachers, military officers, and a sea of faces Black, Brown, and White, they march as one and sing for all those who gave their lives fighting for freedom during the Civil War. With poignant prose and celebratory, powerful illustrations, A Day for Rememberin’ shines light on the little-known history of this important holiday and reminds us never to forget the people who put their lives on the line for their country. The book is illustrated by award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper and includes archival photos in the back matter, as well as an author’s note, bibliography, timeline, and index." -- publisher

Beautiful Life Informational

Sprouting Wings


by Shari Becker, Louisa Jaggar and Floyd Cooper

"The inspirational and true story of James Herman Banning, the first African American pilot to fly across the country, comes to life in this picture book biography perfect for fans of Hidden Figures and Little Leaders. Includes art from a Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator. James Herman Banning always dreamed of touching the sky. But how could a farm boy from Oklahoma find a plane? And how would he learn to fly it? None of the other pilots looked like him. In a journey that would span 3,300 miles, take twenty-one days, and inspire a nation, James Herman Banning proved that you can’t put barriers on dreams. Louisa Jaggar incorporates over seven years of research, including Banning’s own writings and an interview with the aviator’s great-nephew. She teams up with cowriter Shari Becker and award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper to capture Banning’s historic flight across the United States." -- publisher

Biography Cross Group



by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper

"A remarkable look at a significant moment in our nation's past, shedding light on racial violence and offering hope for a better future. Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation's history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa's Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community. News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future." -- publisher

Informational Oppression & Resilience

Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams

by Howard Bryant and Floyd Cooper

"A 2019 ILA Teacher's Choices Reading List Selection! An inspiring picture book sports biography about two of the greatest female tennis players of all-time! Venus and Serena Williams: Best friends. Sisters. Champions. Everyone knows the names Venus & Serena Williams. They've become synonymous with championships, hard work, and with shaking up the tennis world. This inspirational true story, written by award-winning sports journalist, Howard Bryant, and brought to beautiful life by Coretta Scott Kind Award and Honor winner, Floyd Cooper, details the sisters' journey from a barely-there tennis court in Compton, CA, to Olympic gold medals and becoming the #1 ranked women in the sport of tennis. Here is a worthy ode to Venus and Serena Williams, the incredible sister duo who will go down in history as two of the greatest" -- publisher




by Floyd Cooper

Michael Jordan was once just an ordinary little boy growing up in a North Carolina suburb, trying to keep up with his older brother Larry. Michael was always good at sports, but it seemed like Larry was always going to be bigger, quicker, and luckier. But Michael never gave up, and his practicing began to pay off. Then one summer day during a backyard game of one-on-one, Larry Jordan's "little" brother took him--and the whole family--by surprise! Based on actual events, this story of a friendly sibling rivalry is enhanced by Floyd Cooper's stunning two -tone art. Jump! even features a gate-fold depicting Michael Jordan's trademark leap that will send young readers soaring


Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
Using Tiny Framework Log in