Behind the scenes: A journey down the river with Elisha Cooper

Guest Blogger  //  Nov 13, 2019

Behind the scenes: A journey down the river with Elisha Cooper

A breathtaking adventure story about a young woman who canoes down the Hudson River, River by Caldecott Honor winner Elisha Cooper is filled with stunning views from the actual Hudson—flora and fauna growing on the shores, boats and bridges, and the Manhattan skyline as the traveler’s journey comes to a close.

Below, Elisha shares some of the research he did to get each of the illustrations just right, including photographs and early sketches. To learn more about River, visit—or embark on your own watery excursion!

New York Cityscape

I loved researching River, driving up and down the Hudson Valley or exploring New York harbor. This drawing was close to home. I biked to the river, took the ferry over to Hoboken, New Jersey, turned around, and sketched.

Lake with trees

The Hudson River starts in the wilds of the Adirondacks, becoming navigable in Henderson Lake. When I was at the lake it was drizzling, so I had to take off my sweatshirt and hold it over my sketchbook to keep it dry.

Lock Boat

The engineering of locks is fascinating; I spent hours drawing how it all worked. Also, this lock boat—I thought it was so cute! I like drawing boats when they’re racing through water. But this boat was just sitting there, looking cute.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

I drove to Sandy Hook Lighthouse, in New Jersey, in the winter. It was freezing, the beach wind-swept and deserted. Beautiful. It seemed like the perfect place for River to end, for our canoer hero to meet up with her waiting family. 


When I was a boy I was canoeing down a river in Maine and saw a moose. I remember staring at each other. That stillness. I didn’t see an Adirondacks moose, but knew I wanted one in the book. So I went to the American Museum of Natural History and drew a taxidermied diorama moose.