Floyd Cooper's Caldecott

As promised yesterday, we are back today to talk a bit more about the late, great Floyd Cooper’s Caldecott Honor recognition for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, written by Carole Boston Weatherford. We speculated yesterday that he may have been the first in Caldecott history to have been awarded recognition posthumously, and after consulting the experts and doing some digging ourselves, it seems that it is indeed true. Charles Boardman Hawes was awarded the Newbery posthumously in 1924 (s/o to KT Horning for that information), and James Marshall and Walter Dean Myers were named Legacy winners after their deaths. But: no previous posthumous recognition for the Caldecott.

So we felt the need to put that in writing here, to note the milestone — although of course we are sad and sorry that Floyd Cooper’s untimely death this summer occasioned it. We wish he were still with us to celebrate Unspeakable’s remarkable reception — so many awards, even before yesterday.

For the record, let’s just note them. Unspeakable was on the longlist for the National Book Award, won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, was a NYT Best Illustrated title, and was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. It was also named to many review publications’ best book lists, including the Horn Book, SLJ, and Booklist, and included on many state awards, such as the Texas Bluebonnet and Missouri’s Dogwood. Yesterday, as we heard at ALA’s Youth Media Awards announcement, Unspeakable won FOUR major awards: the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, the CSK Author Award, a Sibert Honor, and of course that Caldecott Honor.

So, before we close the book on the year 2021 and its awards, we wanted to speak about Unspeakable. We wanted to sit with it a bit, look once again at that magnificent cover (as I’ve said before, that alone is worthy of Caldecott recognition!), and remember and celebrate a great artist.

Yesterday Jules emailed Carole Boston Weatherford to congratulate her on Unspeakable’s Caldecott Honor. Here’s what Carole said in response: “I never count on recognition. But I really wanted this for Floyd and his family. So grateful!” And: “When Floyd shared the cover image with me, I immediately texted back: Caldecott calling. I just knew this book was it for Floyd. Love being right!”

How we wish Floyd Cooper were here to know that Caldecott did indeed call, to know that this book “was it.” We hope, like Carole, that all the awards and accolades are a balm for his family. We offer congratulations to his family, to Carole, and to everyone involved in the creation of this magnificent book.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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