Montclair author Kristine Lombardi’s upcoming children’s book, MY WISH FOR THE WORLD, is a hopeful story for young readers that includes scenes families will both recognize and relate to. At bedtime, after looking at then stars, a child asks his mother what her wish is. The mom goes through a range of wishes including respect for nature, loving creatures, openness to new friends, patience with people different from us, and caring for those in need. Each wish is accompanied by an illustration of how the wish could come true.

With a diverse array of characters and scenes, readers will enjoy pointing out details and recurring images throughout the book. The illustration style is casual and child-friendly, with earthy colors and lots of animals and expressions. The book includes an end-page with doable “Tips to Make the World Better” that builds on the examples depicted in the book.

Kristine Lombardi sat down with us to discuss her process, and her own hopes for the book’s impact. MY WISH FOR THE WORLD will are released March 21, 2023, and it is available for pre-order now.

Baristanet: MY WISH FOR THE WORLD is your latest children’s book, and it focuses on a parent’s point of view. This is different from your previous books. Why did you decide to shift the gaze?

Yes! It is rather unusual to write the book through the mother’s point of view, but after trying to write this story several times from the child’s point of view, I felt quite limited by the scope of the story I wanted to tell. The truth is, there are things that children would not learn on their own, without the parent pointing out certain realities. For instance, the idea of deforestation. A child may witness the act of clear cutting to make room for development, but not understand its impact on wildlife.

Baristanet: The storyline expresses wishes for kindness to animals, the natural world, and each other. Each “wish” is general, but the illustrations pinpoint specific details that show examples of each. How did you choose each scene?

Each scene in the book is something I have personally witnessed at some point—either from teaching children after school or at camp or things I have seen while out on walks. I once saw some boys attempting to reach a bird nest in a tree, which was completely innocent, but they had no idea the consequences of disturbing that nest. As far as the scene of a playground, I wanted to point out how important it is not to leave someone out. It is extremely important to teach kids to be inclusive. I suppose I thought these scenes best illustrated the concepts.

Baristanet: Some illustrations are very timely, for example, in one illustration a child is cleaning up litter, and a surgical mask is one of the items picked up. There is also imagery of clear-cutting a forest. How did current events influence the development of this book?

I touched on deforestation already, but it is something that continues to upset me. The idea for the book started with a young fawn I saw many years ago, standing confused in the midst of a clear-cut section of forest. It broke my heart, and I never forgot it. The mask was something I wrote my editor about. The pandemic was still fresh, but there was a part of me that wanted to leave it out and keep the book timeless. But seeing those masks discarded everywhere began to bother me more and more. I decided to leave that detail in because I felt it was a relevant lesson.

Baristanet: Children and animals are on almost every page of this picture book. Your depictions of children include a wide diversity, including a child who uses a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, and a wide swath of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Why was this important to you in illustrating the book?

We are a melting pot of ethnicities and religions. I want to represent as many backgrounds as possible, so children feel included. It’s the same with the child in a wheelchair. I am always observing people and noting things in my sketchbooks. As far as the animals, I just adore them, so I enjoy drawing them and (always) pushing for adoption. I set my second book The Grumpy Pets in an animal shelter.  I think it’s extremely important to show children the importance of adopting vs. buying at pet stores. There are way too many animals in shelters.

Baristanet: Thinking about your books, which characters are your favorites? Why?

Oh gosh, well I suppose Lovey Bunny is special because she was my first book, but honestly, Mr. Biddles was very dear to me. He was a very dapper cat inventor who befriended a little lobster named Hobson—a seafood delivery gone awry. LOL! Rather than see him as food, he took him in and utilized his claws for helping him down in the lab. There was so much tenderness between them, and their friendship was eventually tested when Hobson became homesick for his family. The story had a lot of heart.

Baristanet: How is writing and illustrating more or less challenging than illustrating another author’s book? Is it all done digitally? What challenges came up with this book? 

I’ve only illustrated one book that I did not write myself. It was fun to focus on just the art and I was able to read the manuscript and think of how I wanted to make it come to life. The story was set in the woods, so there were lots of greens and browns. I chose to do it in watercolors, which made revisions rather arduous. I do everything by hand, but I do use Photoshop to edit my art. I create art on layers so I am able to move many things around, if needed. “Old school” is a good way to describe me. I have a love for all things analog!

Baristanet: How do you come up with ideas for your books? Is there an overarching theme you try to honor?

I maintain a very consistent use of sketchbooks and notebooks. I often jot little seedlings of ideas down and stow them away to mine at a later date. When I wrote The Grumpy Pets, I based it off a tortie cat of mine named “Miss Freckles”. She was probably the most crabby, quirky cat on earth, but I loved her like crazy. I was always wanting to hug her but she kind of wanted to be left alone. It made me admire grumpy animals. I’d be out walking and see a dog with a sour mood or prickly expression and began to think about how they are just like us. Not everyone is outwardly smiling all the time and that’s ok. In that book, I contrasted a grouchy boy with a grouchy dog. They find that they are a perfect match and are just crazy about each other. We all need to be understood. 

As far as theme, someone once said my books are all about acceptance. I never thought about that before, but I suppose it’s partially true. In my own mind, I would say the overarching theme is kindness. My Wish for the World is sort of a love letter to the world I wished we all lived in. I believe we could. Kindness is simple. So is empathy for others. I truly can’t understand how we have lost this so much in society. The younger we teach these concepts, the better chance we have of turning things around.

Baristanet: What do you hope children and their caregivers will take away from MY WISH FOR THE WORLD?

I hope kids will begin to see how one act of kindness can make an enormous difference. Every little thing adds up. 

Pre-order MY WISH FOR THE WORLD, for release on March 21, 2023 and support Montclair author Kristine Lombardi.