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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Floyd Cooper

“Giving kids a positive alternative to counteract the negative impact

of what is conveyed in today’s media is a huge opportunity.”

~ Floyd Cooper

I hope you are ready for an amazing treat!

The multi-award-winning Floyd Cooper is in the house.

Floyd is the illustrator of about 96 children’s books and the author/illustrator of 8 books. After he graduated from the University of Oklahoma, he worked in advertising and making greeting cards for Hallmark. In 1984, he got an agent and illustrated his first book, Grandpa’s Face.

Since then, he has earned numerous awards, including 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, 10 ALA Notables, 2 NAACP Image Award nominations, the Jane Addams Peace Award Honor, and the 2020 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, as well as many, many others. He lives in Easton, PA with his family.

His newest book, A Ride To Remember: A Civil Rights Story, releases tomorrow.

Welcome Floyd,

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you illustrate? How long have you been illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to illustrate?)

FLOYD: I work in a studio in my home, amongst my family - wife and youngest son. My oldest son, his wife, and two boys live nearby.

I have been illustrating since the age of three. My first book published in 1988. I like to illustrate the untold story. Stories of the voiceless and forgotten.

I think you've definitely succeeded in doing that. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I am a cookie monster.

*Smile* If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Never hide your intelligence in order to fit in with the cool kids.

Dream large.

Master language.

What about the manuscript A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story appealed to you and made you want to illustrate it?

Arguably the most enjoyable times of my childhood were "going for rides" at the park and later at the State Fair, etc. It struck me hard to realize that this activity would have been denied a child at a point in our history.

I have to say that struck me too and I am sure it will strike many kids and parents. Would you say there is a common thread in your picture books? (Note - These are just a few of Floyd's 'most recent' books. The top row are the ones he author/illustrated.)

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

As possible outliers, what about the manuscripts of Laura Charlotte (’90) and Be Good to Eddie Lee (‘97) appealed to you?

I was excited to illustrate and share a story from a cultural neighborhood different from my own. I came away with an enhanced perspective of humanity. I believe that readers will get that same reward from reading story/narrative brought to them through the heart of an outside perspective.

But as you said, they are at the core still about HUMANITY - "the voiceless and forgotten." What is the medium you used in A Ride to Remember? It’s very textured and at times almost looks like chalk. Did you use your method of “erasing” and then oil paint for the colors?

Text © Sharon Langley & Amy Nathan, 2020 . Image © Floyd Cooper, 2020.

Yes, the oil erasure of Floyd Cooper. A Ride to Remember is the first book for me where I used digital layers for the final art. [You have to check out this method -]

I have to admit, I watched the video a few times; it is such an interesting method. What kind of research did you do for A Ride to Remember?

The authors, Sharon Langley & Amy Nathan provided all of the research I needed. They were terrific in this regard!

Where the illustrations based largely on Sharon Langley’s photographs or did you do additional research? Did you visit the carousel on the National Mall?

I did not get a chance to visit the National Mall carousel. I did rely heavily on Sharon's photographs and Amy's research.

Maybe we'll both get to see in person, someday. Do you prefer being the illustrator or the author/illustrator? Why?

I can easily do both. I have no particular preference. It's the "story" that counts.

When you author a book, which comes first, the text or the images?

The text comes first, concretely. Early on, when the story is still in my head - it's images.

Was there any difference in illustrating A Ride to Remember (especially as one of the authors was the little girl of the story) from your books Jump! From the Life of Michael Jordan or Mandela: From the Life of the South African Statesman?

Absolutely! Way more pressure. I'm just glad I met Sharon and Amy AFTER the art was done!

I can only imagine. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Books, for the most part were not part of my childhood. We were . . . I lived an itinerant life, in the projects, homeless for a spell. My mom told us stories orally.

We are all so grateful to your mom for giving you the magic of stories. Do you have a favorite book? (We promise NOT to tell the others) Perhaps one that was the most gratifying to write or illustrate? One that means the most you or your family?

Max & the Tag Along Moon is pretty strong. But A Ride to Remember is irresistible; it has to take the prize currently.

I have to agree with you there; the cover just grabs your attention. Is there something you want your readers to know about A Ride to Remember?

Yes. Readers you must hear this story of a little Civil Rights hero that few know about, until now.

I also hope lots of people discover this book. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I just wrapped up the biography of James Banning, the first AA pilot to fly across the continent. I'm working on a companion book to Where's Rodney? And I'm starting on a book about my hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma and a historical piece on the beginnings of Memorial Day.

You're definitely not slowing down. I can't wait to see your next books. What is your favorite animal? Why?

I grew up around horses. My uncle was a rodeo star and had a ranch. I love horses.

Text © Sharon Langley & Amy Nathan, 2020 . Image © Floyd Cooper, 2020.

That definitely shows in the faces and detail of the carousel horses! As well as the expression of the boy in the cowboy hat at the end.

Thank you so much Floyd for taking time to talk with me. It was a real pleasure.

Be sure to stop back by Wednesday for Sharon Langley & Amy Nathan's interview and Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story.

For more information on Floyd Cooper, or to contact him:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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