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Interview: Kimberly Andrews talks about Song of the River

Kimberly Andrews is a best selling author and illustrator who grew up in the Canadian Rockies, and has also lived and worked in New Zealand, Borneo and the UK.

In London, she worked for The House of Illustration, whose main ambassador is Quentin Blake. She also worked at the Natural History Museum, both in the live Butterfly House and also behind the scenes, assisting the curation of mammal specimens in the dry stores.

Kimberly currently lives in a tiny house in Wellington, where she illustrates and writes, and runs her business, Tumbleweed Tees, which features New Zealand birds and wildlife.

Her best selling picture book Puffin the Architect (2018) won the inaugural NZ Booklovers Best Children’s Book 2019 and was named a Storylines Notable Book 2019. It’s currently nominated in two categories at this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Kimberly has also just illustrated a beautiful reissue of Joy Cowley’s timeless story Song of the River, bringing this wonderful tale to life for a new generation of young readers.

Tell us a little about Song of the River.

Song of the River is a book about a mountain boy who goes on a journey to see where a stream leads. It is a wonderful tale by the legendary Joy Cowley.

What inspired you to illustrate this book?

My inspiration for this book was delving back into memories of my childhood in the Canadian Rockies. I was brought up in the small, picturesque mountain town of Banff Alberta, where Mountains dominated the view. I spent a lot of time swimming and canoeing on rivers in summer, and ice skating on them in winter when they were frozen. We only saw the ocean once or twice a year on vacations. So this book is an ode to those special memories of my childhood - I can almost smell the pine trees!

What research was involved?

As I was drawing largely from childhood memories, I didn't do too much research, although when it came time to illustrating paddle steamers, tugboats and big ships I did consult the internet - you want to get those details right!

What was your routine or process when illustrating this book?

My process when starting a book is to read through the manuscript a few times, and then plot out ideas for the pages as thumbnail sketches on an A4 piece of paper. These are very rough and small, but allow me to see how the story is flowing.

I then scan these thumbnails in to photoshop and enlarge each one, working over the top in black & white. These roughs are then approved by the publishers and I move on to final art.

I create a colour palette for each page. I then work systematically through the whole book - beginning with line drawings of main characters. Then it is time to paint in the background, which is usually has the lowest contrast. I then work my way through mid ground, foreground, characters, and then for the best part - shadows and light! I always leave this until last, and it is what really brings a page to life. I make sure to decide where the light source is coming from (i.e. the sun) and what time of day it is (as this affects how long and sharp the shadows are). I use adjustment layers in photoshop to first paint in the shadows moving from darkest (foreground) to lightest (background). I add another adjustment layer for the highlights - water and any shiny objects need to be particularly highlighted. I love to add shafts of light with a final adjustment layer on top. A typical page will have more than 100 layers!

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Albatross by Fleetwood Mac

Ocean by John Butler Trio

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Tricky question - I am not too familiar with many young actors - I think Cam is ~ 4 years old… I have always loved claymation like Wallace & Gromit, so maybe that would be a good solution?

What did you enjoy the most about illustrating this book?

I loved the world that I was able to inhabit while I was illustrating this book. It made me very sentimental about my childhood, and I thought back to those moments a lot. It was extra special because I received this commission while I was 4 months pregnant, so my daughter was cheering (& kicking!) me on from the womb the whole time! I finished the last few touches on this job 5 days before she came in to this world!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Had a baby!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Would you believe I had never read The Tiger who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr until this year (or at least that I can remember?) I read it to my 5 month old daughter - who loved it! I found common ground with being excited about a ‘visitor’ coming over when you are at home all day looking after a child. It was extra meaningful as sadly, Judith Kerr passed away this May.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

There are some manuscripts that I’ve written that are with my publisher - so hoping to get cracking on one of those this year!

The winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults will be revealed at a ceremony in Wellington on 7 August. Full details of all the nominated books are available here (


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