Floyd Cooper (1956–2021) had an unsettled childhood and attended eleven different elementary schools, but with each change, he sought and received support from his art teachers, who helped him find his path. After graduating from college, he worked for Hallmark Cards and Olmec Toys. But he always aspired to illustrate children’s books, and in 1988, he got his first opportunity, creating the distinctive art for Grandpa’s Face, by Eloise Greenfield (Philomel). It was declared an “outstanding debut” by Kirkus and set the stage for the nearly one hundred stellar books that followed.
Cooper’s signature technique was oil erasure, in which he’d wash a board in oil paint, then use a rubber eraser to knead the paint away, creating radiant images in soft, shimmering tones. He was drawn to projects involving Black history and culture and wrote as well as illustrated many titles, including Max and the Tag-Along Moon and The Ring Bearer (both Penguin Random House). He received two Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards. The first was for The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas (HarperCollins). The second was for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carol Boston Weatherford (Carolrhoda Books), which was also a Caldecott Honor Book, a Sibert Honor Book, a Kirkus Prize Finalist, and a Boston Globe – Horn Book Honor Book. He also received three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honors.
Mentorship and community were important to Cooper, and in honor and recognition of this, the Highlights Foundation established the Floyd Cooper Scholarship. The Children’s Book Council also designated May 6, 2022, as Floyd Cooper Day.