In Memoriam: Floyd Cooper
It wasn’t that Floyd was the first death we’d suffered this year. In 2021 alone we’ve seen the passing of people like Norton Juster, Patricia Reilly Giff, Kathleen Krull, Beverly Cleary, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, and more. So it’s difficult to say why Floyd’s recent passing struck us all as hard as it did. A lot of it was his age (64) and how unexpected the news was to those of us who admired his work and his kindness. And part of it may have been the fact that, as one librarian of my acquaintance said, he was doing some of his best work these last few years.
For me, the thing about Floyd’s art was that it really didn’t look like anyone else’s. Realistic illustration can have a tendency to all look the same after a while but Floyd’s style was shockingly unique. You could look at a book and instantly identify it as a Floyd Cooper creation. His preferred style was something called “oil erasure,” in which he used an eraser to form shapes on a canvas.
Back in 2017 I reviewed his book The Ring Bearer, one of the rare books that Floyd both wrote and illustrated. Early in the review I mention all the complimentary adjectives that reviewers would use to describe that book. I finished with this:
“I wonder how many books Mr. Cooper has penned himself. I wonder how long he’s been doing it too. Because while I’ve always admired his paintings, it takes more than pretty pictures to make a good book. Tackling his subject matter with aplomb, Mr. Cooper lifts his book above and beyond the usual wedding market cycle. His story is sweet, true. Saccharine, never. Go look at all those adjectives the professional reviewers used. They used up almost all the good ones but here’s one they neglected: Beautiful. Beautiful in art, in text, in heart, and in mind. A book for every family, every library, every place. Enjoy it.”
As recently as this past January I interviewed him alongside Carole Boston Weatherford about their book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. With that title in mind, I’d like to leave you with some of Floyd’s words. At the time I asked if he thought that there was a shift in how we cover history for children today.
“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. I personally link the pervasive assault on truth that we see in our politics and media directly to historical truths that exist and have existed and are now being brought to light. A good thing for America. And of course there will be many who are and were just fine with leaving truth under the rug where it is had been swept for far too long
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
We love and miss you Floyd.
Filed under: Obits
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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