8 minute read

Elisha Cooper (1971-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1971, in New Haven, CT; Education: Yale College, B.A., 1993.

Agent—Darhansoff & Verrill Literary Agency, 179 Franklin St., 4th Fl., New York, NY.

New Yorker magazine, messenger, 1993-95; writer and artist, 1995—.


Country Fair, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

Ballpark, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Building, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Henry, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1999.

Dance!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Ice Cream, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.

Magic Thinks Big, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.

A Good Night Walk, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2005.


A Year in New York, City and Company (New York, NY), 1995.

Off the Road: An American Sketchbook, Villard (New York, NY), 1997.

A Day at Yale, Yale Bookstore (New Haven, CT), 1998.

California: A Sketchbook, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2000.

Paris Night and Day: From the Marais to the Café, Impressions from the City of Lights, Artisan (New York, NY), 2002.

Author and illustrator Elisha Cooper once told Something about the Author (SATA): "I grew up drawing cows. In the fields below our house there was a herd of Elisha Cooper Jerseys, and when I was three or four I sat on our porch with pencils and paper and tried to sketch them. The results were pretty lousy, or so I thought at the time, and I remember having tantrums and ripping up the drawings when they didn't look exactly right.

"When I got older, my best friend and I started a lawn-mowing business; we took the money we made and went on trips. I disliked cameras—more accurately, I disliked the loud, splashy tourists who used them—so I kept notebooks and wrote down things we saw, what we ate, smells. My mother gave me a tin of watercolors (the same one I use now) and I took that on my trips, too. At home I read a lot, especially Tintin and Asterix. I took books and newspapers on walks with my goats.

"When I was at Yale and playing football, I brought sketch books with me on road trips. I also wrote for the New Journal, a magazine, usually about things I had done, like bottling beer at a factory or playing in a game. I spent the summer before my senior year in Idaho working for the Forest Service—inspired by Norman Maclean's short stories—and wrote in a notebook and missed my friends. When I graduated and came to New York, I took a sketchbook along on the subway when I made deliveries as a messenger for the New Yorker magazine. That became my first book, A Year in New York. I think at this time I fell in love with books, and with New York. They both have a richness to them. Then I quit my job and drove around the country, sleeping in the front seat, showering in rivers, and seeing what I could find. That book was called Off the Road: An American Sketchbook.

"I think most kids' books are stories. I like reading stories, but can't write them. I write what I see. For my first two kids' books, I spent a fall hanging out at country fairs and ballparks. I like nosing around and looking for the weird, something that hits me, a goofy gesture."

Cooper's penchant for "nosing around" has paid off for readers of Country Fair, his illustrated look at one day in the life of the popular rural event, from corn-shucking to award-winning cows. Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke called the work "as removed from big, splashy preschool books as it can be. It is brimming with tiny, precisely described moments." Lolly Robinson wrote in Horn Book: "The small size of this book and the quiet honesty of text and art indicate a book that will be shared one-on-one and frequently revisited by children who enjoy an amiable ramble." A Kirkus Reviews critic called Cooper's work "a quirky, engaging look at the sights, sounds, and scents of a country fair."

Cooper next turned his gaze to baseball, for his book Ballpark. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted the author/illustrator's attention to detail and his ability to evoke the baseball experience and share it with everyone, writing that, "Sports fan or not, spectators or athletes, children will be engaged for the full nine innings."

Elizabeth Bush, reviewing the book for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted Cooper's "tidy phrasing . . . and restrained humor" in recommending Ballpark as "an elegant visual presentation."

Cooper acknowledges his penchant for reporting on a particular event—be it a fair or a ballgame—but only up to a point. "I think of myself as a lazy journalist," he once told SATA. "If I were more serious, I'd write long pieces with lots of facts. I read too much, the New York Times and Calvin and Hobbes.

"In some way, I've never evolved. I'm most happy when I'm about to set off on a trip with a sketchbook in my back pocket. There's a lot of cool stuff out there. For me, books are a way of looking. I still have tantrums when I can't draw cows."

In Building Cooper depicts a vacant lot's transformation into a building. He combines simple illustrations of construction workers and equipment with text that at times reads sideways or upside down. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Cooper's "signature pleasing balance between the factual and the whimsical," describing the book as a "cheerful tribute" to building construction. Horn Book contributor Lolly Robinson described the "measured pace and detail-oriented approach" as akin to that of the author/illustrator's previous works, but found the illustrations somewhat lacking, noting that, "Occasionally, Cooper's loose style makes it difficult to decipher objects." While Lauren Peterson of Booklist concluded that the book is well written and presents the information in easily understood language, she noted that because of the small text, the book's "overall design doesn't particularly lend itself to a young audience." Critics embraced Dance! for its expressive illustrations, simple text, and introduction to the process of rehearsal and training. The book focuses not on the performance and the costumes, but instead on the dancers as they learn new steps and practice new routines. K. C. Patrick, writing in Dance magazine, commented that the illustrations "almost move." In Horn Book, Robinson wrote, "With an economy of line and color, Cooper conjures up pain and grace, hard work and camaraderie, stillness and velocity." While applauding Cooper's delightful illustrations, Kelly Milner Halls observed in Booklist that this "sensitive" treatment of dance is more than the "usual dreams of pink tutus and toe shoes." Most critics enjoyed the creative text placement throughout the book, as Cooper's words wind and meander across the pages. Catherine Threadgill of School Library Journal however, found it distracting. Still, she concluded that overall, Dance! "successfully provides inquisitive children with a believable vicarious experience." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted Cooper's "spontaneous, lyrical narrative," adding that the portrayal of "the many steps leading up to the grand event are deserving of enthusiastic applause."

Ice Cream centers on another favorite subject of childhood. Here, Cooper explains how ice cream is made, from grazing cows to a truck loaded with packed gallons of ice cream. Reviews of the book were favorable, applauding the book's playful text and illustrations, along with Cooper's engaging use of language. In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that not only is the book informative as it relates "specifics that may surprise even the most ardent aficionados," but it is fun to read. The reviewer observed that "readers can hear the sounds in the barn at milking time" and that the "small-scale art precisely follows each step." Blair Christolon, writing in School Library Journal, praised both the appearance of the book and the content; he noted that the author's "sense of humor finds its way into the pages" and that it is "an excellent vocabulary enhancer." In Horn Book, Robinson wrote that "Cooper balances the relevant facts with his folksy, child-centered descriptions of minutiae." Booklist reviewer Diane Foote found that while the drawings are "appealing," they lack sufficient "detail for curious readers." nonetheless, she added, "Creative type placement in spirals, loops, and curves adds interest." Offering a completely different look and feel from Cooper's standard picture-book fare, Magic Thinks Big is about a large housecat whose imagination takes him on adventures he is too contented to pursue. Praising the book's fun story, Horn Book reviewer Susan Dove Lempke also commented, "In contrast to Elisha Cooper's previous picture books, with their tiny pictures and copious white space, the pictures here fill each page almost to the edges." In a review for School Library Journal, Julie Roach commented on the strength of the book's story and illustrations: "The simple text is full of dry humor and whimsy. The dreamy pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are a pleasing mixture of soft colors and thick lines." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer described the illustrations as "spare [and] wryly understated," while also praising "Cooper's clever use of the hypothetical and his story's fittingly languid tone." "Cooper has captured feline behavior and attitude to a T in both story and art," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who dubbed Magic Thinks Big "totally charming."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Country Fair, p. 240; June 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Building, p. 1832; September 15, 2001, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Dance! p. 217; May 15, 2002, Diane Foote, review of Ice Cream, p. 1598.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March 1998, Elizabeth Bush, review of Ballpark, p. 239.

Dance, December, 2001, K. C. Patrick, review of Dance! p. 77.

Horn Book, September-October, 1997, Lolly Robinson, review of Country Fair, p. 554; May 1999, Lolly Robinson, review of Building, p. 312; November-December, 2001, Lolly Robinson, review of Dance! pp. 733-734; May-June, 2002, Lolly Robinson, review of Ice Cream, p. 343; May-June, 2004, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Magic Thinks Big, p. 309.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1997, review of Country Fair, pp. 947-948; February 15, 1998, review of Ballpark, p. 265; April 1, 2004, review of Magic Thinks Big, p. 326.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of Building, p. 57; July 30, 2001, review of Dance! p. 84; February 18, 2002, review of Ice Cream, p. 96; April 12, 2004, review of Magic Thinks Big, p. 64.

School Library Journal, September, 2001, Catherine Threadgill, review of Dance! p. 212; May, 2002, Blair Christolon, review of Ice Cream, p. 136; April, 2004, Julie Roach, review of Magic Thinks Big, pp. 103-104.*

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