A Floyd Cooper Moment. Just ‘Cause.

h1 April 19th, 2011 by jules

“Look at these hands, Joseph. Did you know these hands used to make ivories sing like a sparrow in springtime? Well, I can still show a young fellow how to play
‘Heart and Soul’ — yes, I can.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

Will you join me this evening in quickly taking a look at some Floyd Cooper illustrations, just because I love his work so? His latest illustrated title, Margaret H. Mason’s These Hands (Houghton Mifflin, March 2011), tells the story of a grandfather with his young grandson. Mason, in her closing Author’s Note, tells how during the 1950s and early ’60s, African American workers at the Wonder Bread, Awrey, and Tastee bakery factories were not allowed to handle the bread in any way, meaning they were forbidden to operate as bread dough mixers or bread dough handlers. Having learned that story from an old friend and how he and his friends joined together to fight this discrimination, Mason nestled it within this warm picture book tale of a grandfather talking with his grandchild: “Look at these hands, Joseph,” he says to him, pointing out all the many things his hands could do—tie a triple bowline knot in three seconds flat, pluck the ace of spades right out of thin air, and more. But, “{d}id you know these hands were not allowed to mix the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory?” he asks him and proceeds to tell his tale.

“For all the many titles that appear on segregation and protest for younger readers,” wrote the Kirkus review, “this one stands tall not just for delving into a piece of labor history not previously covered, but for its ability to relate history with heart and resonance,” while Publishers Weekly called it “a moving study of multigenerational relationships and triumph over discrimination.” Cooper rendered these sepia-toned, soft-focus illustrations in oil wash, using kneaded erasers, and they nearly leap off the page.

Here are two more spreads. Enjoy.

“Look at these hands, Joseph. Did you know these hands used to throw a curve ball faster than a dive-bombing honeybee? Well, I can still help a young fellow learn to
hit a line drive — yes, I can.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

“Look at these hands, Joseph. Did you know these hands were not allowed to mix the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory? Did you know these hands were not allowed to touch the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory? These hands were only allowed to sweep the floors and work the line and load the trucks. Because the bosses said white people would not want to eat bread touched by these hands.”
(Click to enlarge spread)

* * * * * * *

THESE HANDS. Text copyright © 2011 by Margaret H. Mason. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Floyd Cooper. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

13 comments to “A Floyd Cooper Moment. Just ‘Cause.”

  1. I could go on and on about how much I love Floyd Cooper’s art. Texture and emotion on every single page.

  2. Kristy: YES.

  3. p.s. The light in the illustration opening the post? Wow, just wow.

  4. Floyd Coopers art gives me goosebumps. I’d love to have a piece or two of his hanging in my home.

  5. Oh, wow. Lovely stuff. I am thinking now of the huge Wonder Bread factory there was in Oakland, California, which had been there since after WWII… and I wonder how they worked that you-can’t-touch thing out, what with the largely immigrant and African American population… wonder what Wonder Bread says now. Are they even still in business?? I’m always intrigued when we dig up old shame how the “modern” world reacts…

  6. Jean: Me, too.

    Tanita: Good question. The closing Author’s Note (even that is well-written and rather moving) doesn’t comment upon Wonder Bread now. And, yes, I think they still sell bread? At least in Regina Spektor’s world.

    Seriously, that would be interesting to look up.

  7. Gosh, I adore that cover. I feel like I’m observing two people in a park, it’s that real.

  8. The cover itself looks like some kind of beautiful poster. As someone whose writing is based in history, I’m always amazed at how little my college students know about American history. If we don’t teach it, they don’t know it. It’s best to start young. And I didn’t even know the Wonder Bread story–shocking.

  9. I loved this book so much I couldn’t even review it! I couldn’t think of anything to say besides “awww”! Maybe also “wow”. Doesn’t make for a very good review.

  10. Oh my heavens, that is the most beautiful picture book. Ever.

  11. It’s funny…just yesterday I was watching a video of Floyd Cooper to see his process yet again. I have been totally captivated by his artwork since seeing him work his magic years ago at a conference in Columbus, Ohio. I posted about his book with Karen Williams called A Beach Tail. He makes his characters so real that you think you are looking at a photograph. It’s a perfect book to share with summer’s approach and beach visits on the horizon! Thanks for your post about These Hands.

  12. […] A Highlights writing session(including an Eric Rohmann sighting — he’s also seated with Suzanne Bloom, Lindsay Barrett George, Melanie Hall, and Floyd Cooper) […]

  13. […] and make some new ones, and the picture book panel discussion (with Matthew Cordell, Jessica Young, Floyd Cooper, and David Soman) went […]

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