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Celebrating Picture Book Author-Illustrator Floyd Cooper

May 3, 2022

As previously mentioned in this blog, 2021 witnessed the deaths of several acclaimed picture book creators, including author and illustrator Floyd Cooper. Born in 1956, Cooper illustrated over 100 books for children over the course of his multi-decade career. His artwork is featured in the work of such authors as Nikki Grimes and Carole Boston Weatherford, and in the many books Cooper himself wrote. 

Cited specifically for his gifts as an artist and storyteller, and for his "charm and cool, brilliance and benevolence" toward readers and fellow authors, Children's Book Week has declared May 6, 2022 the first annual Floyd Cooper Day. In observance of this proclamation, we are highlighting some of Floyd Cooper's wonderful books available at Nashville Public Library. 

The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is at the heart of Max and the Tag-Along Moon. Max and his Granpa are saying their goodbyes outside the older man's house when both notice the "big fine moon" in the night sky. Granpa tells Max that the moon will always shine for him, "on and on." On the drive home, Max follows the sight of the moon; up and down hills, over a bridge, and even through a small town square, the moon remains in sight.

But dark clouds roll in and obscure the moon, leading Max to doubt his grandfather's words. Lying in bed, the little boy feels lonely without his Granpa and the tag-along moon. Max doesn't feel lonely for long, however. The moon slowly reappears from behind the dark clouds, filling Max's room with a "soft yellow glow." The moon once again shines for Max, on and on. 

This is a gently paced book, perfect for slowing down before bedtime. The bursts of text accompanying each illustration are short, yet full of descriptive language. The wonder on Max's face as he gazes at the moon is lovely to behold, and Cooper's use of shadow lend a dreamlike quality to the illustrations.

In Juneteenth for Mazie, a young girl chafes under the restrictions placed upon her: it's after dark and she can't play outside, eat a cookie before going to sleep, or stay up past her bedtime. It's not fair! Mazie grumbles to her father that she "can't go where she wants, have what she wants, or do what she wants."  

Mazie's father commiserates with her, and tells her that the next day will be better, because there is a celebration afoot! Tomorrow the family will celebrate Juneteenth, the day Mazie's great-great-great grandpa Mose "crossed into liberty."

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, great-great-great grandpa Mose joined other enslaved persons to hear Union soldiers read General Order No. 3, proclaiming that slavery was no longer the law of the land. In the ensuing pages, Cooper combines fiction and nonfiction with his luminous artwork to tell two stories: that of Black Americans in the U.S., and that of Mazie and her father, who shares with her why it is her turn to celebrate—and remember.

This book is a wonderful introduction to the history and significance of Juneteenth. It is ideal for a family read-aloud, or for a storytime for elementary aged schoolchildren. In the classroom, it would pair well with primary sources about Juneteenth. The National Museum of African American History and Culture  has a wealth of resources, including a study guide for early childhood learners

Floyd Cooper drew from his own family history to illustrate one of his final completed books, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Cooper was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and grew up hearing stories from his Grandpa Williams, who grew up in the Greenwood district of that city. He was at home with his family on May 31, 1921, when a white mob attacked the community, looting businesses, setting fire to homes, and murdering at least 300 Black people. 

Author Carole Boston Weatherford lays out in forthright yet lyrical prose the background, context, and timeline of the Tulsa Race Massacre, from Greenwood's origins to its growth as an economic and social center of Black life in Oklahoma, to the events that precipitated the massacre. "Once upon a time," the text repeats, placing the reader into a place and time ripped apart by racist violence, and nearly forgotten until a full investigation shed light on the historical record. Cooper's evocative oil paintings further set the scene, showing the reader that Greenwood was a vibrant community; as Boston Weatherford's account progresses, the illustrations focus on the human beings at the center of the massacre, both perpetrator and victim. 

This is a standout nonfiction text. It has won numerous awards, including the 2022 Coretta Scott King Award for both author and illustrator (awarded posthumously to Cooper). It is a prime example of the power of picture books, of all that they are and can be. It can be used in the classroom at all levels, including middle and high school.

Although a horrifically violent event is the subject of Unspeakable, nothing in it is gratuitous or graphic. It is indeed appropriate to share with younger children, so that they may know the full contours of this country's history. According to Carole Boston Weatherford, Cooper believed that children deserved the truth, for they "'are at the front line in improving society.'" Change, of course, is most possible when we know and act on the truth. 

If you want to properly celebrate Floyd Cooper Day by reading and sharing his work, the catalog widget below features books available in our collection. His beautiful and invaluable books are appropriate, however, for any day. 

The Work of Author-Illustrator Floyd Cooper

Klem-Mari Cajigas


In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.