It was my intent to have students solely read literature written and illustrated by this author. My children, however, decided that they also wanted to read books that were illustrated but
by Floyd Cooper. Because assessing illustrations to make sense of the storyline is an integral part of evaluating author's craft AND because I welcome student input to direct instruction, I went along with their requests.
My boys and girls enjoyed reading the author's biographic works
. They observed that Floyd drew readers into each narrative using descriptive language and realistic illustrations. Looking intently at the pictorial images, my students also dove into Mr. Coopers' illustrated works
(excerpted from an anthology of children's poetry entitled
Pass It On
); these auxiliary resources, written by different authors, proved to be equally engaging for my young learners. Unlike the queries they came up with for Yangsook Choi, the children did not focus in on the events in each story to develop their questions. Rather, after being immersed in Cooper's stories and illustrations, the children brainstormed on key questions that embraced the overarching theme found in each work. In this regard, provided below is background information pertaining to each of the eight works embraced by my students, followed by their collective questions.
Jump!––From the Life of Michael Jordan/Storyline:
As a child growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Mike enjoyed playing basketball and baseball. Basketball, however, was his favorite sport, but for some reason, he could never beat his brother, Leroy, at the game. Michael got along well with seemingly everyone in his community and had many friends across cultures. That's why he was surprised when he went swimming with friends and suddenly all of the white children darted out of the pool. He never let that incident interfere with his multicultural friendships. Outside of that, he still could not compete with his older brother playing B–ball. Michael befriends a basketball coach and practices rigorously until young Mike is good at his game. Then, one day, while shooting hoops with his brother, SWISH! With a high–flying slam dunk, he wins the game!
From the Life of Langston Hughes/Storyline
Young Langston had no easy life. His parents separated during his formative years. He lived with his grandmother, Mary Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas. An often isolated youngster, he met with race prejudice in the public school he attended. He observed the debilitating impact of racial hatred on black people and experienced personal heartbreaks with pen and paper in hand. He too recognized the beauty in his people. Life trials and a persevering spirit propelled young Langston to become one of the most renowned poets and writers of his time.
Mandela––From the Life of a South African Statesman/Storyline:
Born on July 18, 1913 in Mvezo, South Africa, Nelson Mandela was the son of a paramount chief. An extremely intelligent youngster, he dreamed of one day making a contribution to the freedom struggle of his people against Apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the white–ruled, South African government. During his childhood through early adult years, the young man worked diligently to acquire a good education. In time, Mandela became committedly involved with the African National Congress, an organization that fought against the injustices perpetrated on black South Africans. Because of his involvement with the ANC, he was incarcerated for the majority of his life. Not until February 1990 was he released from prison. The following year, he was elected President of the African National Conference. On May 10, 1994, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian effort and fight against racial injustice. He went on to serve as President of South Africa from 1994 through 1999.
(solely illustrated by the author)
James William, a white child who lives in Mississippi during the Depression, is unaware of segregation practices that transpire around him. "That's just the way things" is his conviction. Not until he candidly talks with his best white friend, Red, and best buddy, Leroy, a black sharecropper's son, does Leroy begin to learn that discriminatory practices against blacks go on his community. Red alleges that Leroy's father plays a major part in implementing those practices; Leroy claims that people who perpetrate those heinous acts against blacks are members of the Ku Klux Klan. Curious, Leroy approaches his father to ask if he knows of such activities; his dad quickly skirts the line of questioning. One morning, while out and about doing his chores, James William notices an ominous figure––a man donned in a full length, white, pointed hood––running down the road towards his home. Frightened, Leroy hides, hoping to get to his house to warn his family. Suddenly, the hooded figure stumbles, and his headdress falls off only to reveal that the man is James William's father. James William is flabbergasted by what he has observed; his and his father's lives are never quite the same.
(solely illustrated by the author):
Societal ills and injustice plague our world. Many people cry out, unite, and persevere despite it all. Translated from the Gullah language, key words and repetitive phrases have been transformed into a song that heralds hope and possibility for people across cultures: "Come by here!"
(solely illustrated by the author):
This lyrical work portrays how the feisty abolitionist known as the Moses of her people helped over 300 slaves escape from bondage.
(solely illustrated by the author):
Rhymed verses tell of a young black child riding on a bus in Baltimore, Maryland, who notices a white child sitting on the bus staring at him. The black youngster smiles; the white child responds, sticking out his tongue followed by using a derogatory epithet.
(solely illustrated by the author).
For decades, Grandpa has used his hands to do everything from sweeping floors in a bread manufacturing plant to nurturing his grandson. But Grandpa was never allowed to knead or bake the bread in the Wonder Bread Factory. Grandpa shares his story with his grandson who soon learns how Grandpa's fight and the collective effort of others against discriminatory practices of the 50s paved the way for possibility in the little boy's life today.
All the characters in each of these stories and poems had to overcome racism; did you ever meet a challenge like any of the characters in these books? If so, how did you overcome your challenge(s)?
Did your life challenge(s) inspire you to become an award–winning author/illustrator?
What inspires you to draw your pictures so realistically? Did you ever want to see your artwork in a museum?
How old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be an artist, and how did you know that's what you wanted to be? Do you want to do this type of work for the rest of your life?
We notice that in your illustrations you show all different types of people coming together, like we are all part of the global community; does this viewpoint affect how you create your illustrations?
You are one of the few authors who draws illustrations that show African–American people? What inspires you to do that?
Mr. Cooper responded to the children's initial questions on–line, and they were ecstatic to receive his feedback. Again, the children collectively brainstormed on how they would craft their biography. What follows are the results of that collaboration:
Exciting and Fabulous Floyd!
Visit the Zimmerli Art Collection at Rutgers University, the Mazza Art Collection in Ohio, the California Afro–American Museum, the Afro–American Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Chicago Art Institute in Illinois, or the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts, and you will be in for a surprise. You will learn that Floyd Cooper's artwork has been featured there. But don't worry. If you don't get to see his work at these museums, you can see his masterpieces inside over 60 children's books!
Floyd Cooper knows how to take oil paint, a kneaded eraser, and imagination to make magic on canvas. He is an extraordinary children's book writer and illustrator. Born on January 8, 1959, he lived during a time when black people and other concerned Americans were fighting against racial injustice. Many of his books are about the black experience. We guessed that he created his books because he experienced some of the horrible things that happened to black people during the civil rights era. We guessed wrong.
"I am fortunate for the work of the great civil rights leaders, community leader, and common folk who stood their ground in those days," he shared. "They made my path easier to pursue my dreams because of their tireless work before my journey began. In earnest, I faced little in the way of overt racism that impacted my career achievements. It is ironic that the very heroes I write about and illustrate are the ones to whom I owe my ability to do so! They are the ones from whom I get my inspiration."
We are glad he was inspired because we had a chance to read LOADS of Floyd Cooper's books. His story,
, tells a little about Michael Jordan's life. When you read the book and reach the middle section, suddenly, Mike jumps right off page! It's amazing! We had to ask Mr. Cooper, "How did you do that?!" The author shared how.
"Everyone has their own way of walking, talking, singing, dancing, or writing and illustrating," he said. "Each person's style is unique. My art looks the way it does because of my personal approach to making the pictures."
Sometimes, kids think about what they want to be when they grow up. We wondered if Mr. Cooper knew what he wanted to be––like many of us do. We thought about this because we learned that over the years, the author–illustrator spent much time developing his talent. Can you believe that he started drawing pictures at the age of three! "I loved drawing pictures before knowing that I even had to grow up to be anything," he noted. "It's always been that way for me. I just enjoyed doing this art thing, and I'm lucky that it has been the way I can make my living."
When you turn the pages in the book
, beautiful pictures of people from many cultures "shout" off the page. The pictures are like music. Maybe that's because the words in this book are the words to a spiritual often sung in churches. Mr. Cooper's illustrations make us feel like people are crying out for the world to be a better place because a lot of hurt and pain and love and hope in the pictures. We wanted to know if his view of the world inspired him to create pictures like the ones we saw in this book.
"To be honest," Mr. Cooper shared, "I usually follow the text of the author for cues about what and who to draw. But I am sure that my personal views of the way I view the world find their way into my art!"
Although Floyd Cooper draws pictures that show beautiful images of people across cultures, he also creates many positive illustrations about black people—images that we hardly ever see in books or on TV. We wondered if things that happened in his personal life had anything to do with that. "When I was a kid, the great soul singer James Brown released his hit song, 'Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud!' At the time, no one had ever said that––let alone have it be like a national anthem for Black people everywhere!" the author noted. "So this is part of what impacted me as a child and is still with me today. Black is beautiful, baby!"
We think Floyd is beautiful, baby! He is definitely way cool because his work shows how people across cultures can live and work together. Floyd Cooper: an inspiration to us all
Through his writing and illustrations, my blossoming biographers gained insight into author's craft and into the life of the author. My students noted that Floyd Cooper seemed to be drawn to realistic fiction narratives and poetry with a historic content; their line of questioning embraced that realization. They agreed that, like Yangook Choi, Mr. Cooper's life experiences and viewpoints influence his work—at times unintentionally. They too deduced that the author is not a follower because he has his own creative style. The children deem the author to be a creative, diligent, caring, global, and outgoing writer and artist who is willing to share his talent and know–how with others. They also agree that he creates story and art that resonant a powerful message: to learn about, boldly share, and celebrate the stories and life experiences of diverse cultures.
My children are excited about Floyd's upcoming visit. They intend to revisit the author's books—particularly his biographic works on Langston Hughes and Nelson Mandela––and are currently devising additional questions to grill Mr. Cooper with when he arrives. I can't wait to see the biographic outcome of their live interview session!