...Moving on from Hallmark and from Kansas City in 1984, Cooper landed in New York City to pursue illustration work. One of his first tasks upon arriving in New York was to seek out representation and Cooper said that he credited his children’s book
career to his first agent, artist representative Libby Ford, who got his portfolio seen at children’s book houses. He initially received some book jacket work, soon followed by his first picture book assignment, for Grandpa’s Face by Eloise
Greenfield (Philomel, 1988). That same year, he published The Story of Jackie Robinson, Bravest Man in Baseball by Margaret Davidson (Dell, 1988). From there Cooper’s publishing catalog bloomed, as he illustrated numerous children’s books including
Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, a poetry collection by Joyce Carol Thomas (HarperCollins, 1993), which earned him the first of three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor citations. The others were for Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes (Lothrop, 1994);
and I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas (HarperCollins/Cotler, 1998). He won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2009 for The Blacker the Berry, another book of poems by Thomas (HarperCollins/Cotler, 2008).
In 1994 Cooper both wrote and illustrated a picture text for the first time, Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes (Philomel). He illustrated many picture book biographies of figures in African American history, including Nelson Mandela, Louis
Armstrong, and Serena and Venus Williams, but he told the Brown Bookshelf that he was additionally “quite proud of the diverse cultures represented in my backlist.”