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Not every damsel needs saving! Introducing…LILLYBELLE!

This new picture book by Joana Pastro turns the troubled damsel theme on its head. It’s exactly what editors want, to take a common subject and twist it around so it becomes fresh and new. I invited Joana on the blog today to ask her about her debut book and how she got the idea for it…

Thanks for having me, Tara! I got the idea from a call for submissions from Cricket Magazine. The prompt was “Knights and Castles.” So, I began researching and expanding on that prompt, until I came upon the phrase “damsel in distress,” I immediately added the word “not” and BOOM! I had my idea and a title! Once I had that, the story of a girl who saves herself poured out of me pretty easily.

Beyond being a great message for young girls, what else do you hope kids will take away from the story?

I hope it’ll reinforce in boys that girls are equals. That stories with girl main characters can be just as interesting, compelling and important as the ones with boy characters.That girls’ stories matter too! I hope children learn to stand up for themselves, and see that problems can be solved by using their smarts and by being friendly. That life is much easier without crying, yelling and violence. And last, but not least, that they learn to accept and celebrate the differences between people, and that these differences make life more colorful and interesting.

LILLYYBELLE is your debut picture book–congratulations! What have you learned about the process that you want to pass along to other aspiring authors?

Thank you, Tara! First of all, be patient. There’s a lot of waiting in publishing! If you’re serious about being an author, invest your time in learning the craft and reading as many books as possible in the genre you want to write. Also, join SCBWI—it’s chockfull of resources—and a critique group. Listen to feedback, be humble and keep writing. It’ll be worth it!

What’s the most surprising thing that happened to this book along the way to publication?

Since I’m a debut author, everything along the way to publication was a bit of a surprise. The biggest surprise happened when I saw Jhon’s character studies and LillyBelle looked just like my daughter, with dark, curly hair and expressive eyes. I was thrilled! That was a happy surprise.

A not-so-happy surprise was learning about the book’s publication being changed less than a month before the original date, due to Covid-19 printing delays. It was a big bummer, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I was able to focus on my kids’s back to school experience and it also gave me a chance to recharge—I had been working non-stop—and really enjoy my book’s release.

Thanks for stopping by, Joana, and congrats again!

Blog readers, LILLYBELLE is out now!

And you could also win a copy here.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck!


Much like LillyBelle, Joana loves a good tea party…or any party, really! When not writing, you can find Joana baking (and eating) delicious desserts, singing as loud as she can, or twirling around the house. Also, like LillyBelle, Joana thinks good manners are of the utmost importance – just ask her kids! LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS is her first book. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL comes out in Fall/2021. Born and raised in Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three kids and one rambunctious Morkie. Visit her at joanapastro.com, on Twitter @jopastro and on Instagram @joanapastro.

by Joana Pastro

A few months ago, I was summoned for jury duty. When lawyers went around the room asking questions as part of the selection process, one of them surprised me by asking where I get ideas for my stories. About fifty pairs of eyes stared at me, so I gave my go-to one-word answer: everywhere. I wasn’t lying—I was under oath after all—but when I noticed that all eyes were still on me, I realized they expected more. So I expanded my response with a series of examples that I’m pretty sure sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

At the end of the day I wasn’t selected for the jury, but I left determined to have a better answer for next time.

So…where do I find ideas for my stories?

Everywhere. Allow me to expand.

All day long we are exposed to an enormous amount of information that can prompt ideas. Notice I’m using the word prompt.

To find ideas, you must follow a few steps.

  1. Be on active pursuit of prompts at all times. How, you ask? Turn on all of your senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Leave your brain, your very own personal database—emotions, memories and knowledge—open to make the necessary connections rather than just going on autopilot through your day.
  2. Once you’ve made the connections, ask a creative’s favorite question: What if?
  3. Grab those ideas! Register them: write them down, record them on your phone, do whatever needs to be done. Don’t let them escape. Ideas have a way of disappearing into thin air when they’re not properly captured!

For example:

Witnessing a flock of birds fly from one tree to another, in and of itself, is simply a beautiful scene. It’s not an idea…yet. But if you take that beautiful scene and filter it through your personal database, that scene might take you to an idea. Observing those birds might make you think of an air show, a ballet, or a crowd gathering to protest—birds can be pretty loud! Their beautiful chirping might remind you of an orchestra or your grandma’s front porch where you used to eat deliciously ripe and juicy mangoes. I bet you can almost taste those.

Oh boy, I’m about to go on a tangent.

The flock of birds might remind you of how your grandpa planted trees all over town, and by helping him, your relationship with him grew stronger.

So, perhaps that flock of birds leads to a story about a grandpa’s love for nature and his grandchild.

My upcoming debut book LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS began with a call for submissions from Cricket magazine. The prompt was knights and castles. It wasn’t an idea yet. It only became an idea when I sifted through my database and remembered the term “damsel in distress”. Then I thought of my daughter, who loved playing princesses and was also confident and strong. BOOM! An idea was born! What if I wrote about a damsel, who loves being a damsel, but refuses to wait for rescue?

Try taking a few moments to pursue a prompt that catches your senses and see what kind of connections your personal database will make. It can be outside your window, on a screen or a photo album. Anywhere! If this process works for you, make a habit out of it, and hopefully you will never suffer from a dreaded idea drought ever again!


Joana Pastro always wanted to be an artist of some sort. So, she became an architect. But once her first child was born, all the visits to the library, and the countless story times made Joana start dreaming of becoming a children’s book author. After a lot of reading, writing and revising, her dream is coming true. Her debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illustrated by Jhon Ortiz, will be published by BM&K in Fall/2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa will be published by Scholastic in Spring/2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children and a rambunctious Morkie. Visit her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram @joanapastro, or at joanapastro.com


Joana is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

by Darshana Khiani and the Soaring20s

It’s the middle of Storystorm, I hope your gears are turning and churning out ideas. If yours are a little rusty like mine, then I suggest starting small by following your curiosity and then letting your imagination take over. From TV shows, doodling, to puppy clothing, ideas are everywhere! Today members from the Soaring20s Picture Book Debut group are here to tell you where they got some of their ideas. Enjoy!


While struggling with a story about an otter, I doodled a secondary character—a sea lion who was roaring while flying a plane. Suddenly the idea to play with sounds that could be made by both animals AND vehicles took over. And before I knew it, I had a shiny new book dummy called ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which will be published by Viking in 2021!

Abi Cushman, author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, July 2020) 


I had an idea for a story while picking up my son at daycare one day. When I arrived, he was playing outside. He started running in my direction as soon as he saw me, but there was a group of kids in his way. Instead of going around, he roared and waved his “claws” at them, like a T-Rex. It worked, but I don’t know what was funniest, his strategy or the disapproving looks he got from the other three year olds.

Joana Pastro, author of LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illus. Jhon Ortiz (BM&K, September 2020), and BISA’S CARNAVAL, illus. Carolina Coroa (Scholastic, Spring 2020)


I once read that when Edward White completed America’s first spacewalk in 1965, he was reluctant to return to his ship and when he finally did, he said, “This is the saddest moment of my life.” Immediately, I thought, “Wow! Kids can really relate to that feeling.”  I knew White’s story needed to be shared with young readers so I wrote it.  The Stars Beckoned comes out from Philomel in early 2021.

Candy Wellins, author of SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA, illus. Charlie Eve Ryan (Page Street Kids, August 2020)


I’m currently working on a draft inspired by an episode of the non-kid-friendly show, “Drunk History” (Comedy Central). Each episode is a goldmine for highlighting overlooked histories of underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Try working THAT point of inspiration into a picture book author’s note.

Kirsten Larson, author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020) and FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of, illus. Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2021)


Ideas often come to me as I walk in nature. I think the quiet—wherever I am—opens up my mind and heart and allows me to be more receptive to sights and sounds and ideas! Just the other day I came across some scat—whose? With a lot of fur in it—whose? I am not sure what I will do with that but the discovery sure nurtures curiosity and questions. And who knows where that takes me.

Mary Wagley Copp, author of WHEREVER I GO, illus. Munir Mohammed (Atheneum, April 2020)


I’ve gotten a story idea from watching my kids have a huge fight.

Sam Wedelich, author-illustrator of CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE TALE (Scholastic Press, May 2020)


My dad sent me pictures from a local event called Prairie Plowing Days, a demonstration of steam tractors and gang plows to show how farming was done in the early 1900s. The event featured other antique farming equipment, such this tractor. Kansas to Washington, DC, in a tractor?! Research uncovered the American Agriculture Movement’s 1979 cross-country “tractorcades,” which led to the farmers occupying the National Mall for weeks, which led to more protests, which led to Farm Aid, which led to me writing FARMERS UNITE! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices.

Lindsay H. Metcalf, author of BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST, illus. by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman, September 2020), co-editor with Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, illus. by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 2020), and author of FARMERS UNITE! PLANTING A PROTEST FOR FAIR PRICES (Calkins Creek, November 2020).


When I was a teenager, a song I loved came on the radio. I squealed, “Turn it up! This is the best song ever.” My friend’s Dad scoffed and replied, “Really? This is the best song ever?” That exchange stuck with me and became the kernel that launched the interaction between young Mason and his Grandpa in How Long Is Forever? Mine those long ago memories and you may find your next idea!

Kelly Carey, author of HOW LONG IS FOREVER?, illus. Qing Zhuang (Charlesbridge, April 2020)


I was taking care of my cousin’s puppy who was wearing a onesie (who knew there were dog onesies??) to keep her from licking her stitches. I took the puppy outside to pee and forgot to undo the onesie snaps. You can guess what happened next. That incident spawned a title and a story which I’m working on now!

Melanie Ellsworth, author of CLARINET AND TRUMPET, illus. John Herzog (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2020)


When a book editor read my article for the New York Times about what Julia, an autistic Muppet, means to my family, she asked me if I could write a picture book about an autistic girl with sensory issues. My daughter and I both live with autism and sensory issues, so I thought about what bothers us the most. I settled on sticky hands and created scenes with pancakes and syrup for breakfast and slime day at school.

Jen Malia, author of TOO STICKY! SENSORY ISSUES WITH AUTISM, illus. by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, April 2020)


I’m not an illustrator, but sometimes ideas come to me in the form of images. I was at a writing conference with friends, and I suddenly pictured a sari where the border color was interspersed into the body of the sari, and the sari color was interspersed into the border. I sketched it, and realized it was a metaphor for a girl’s experience traveling to India to visit her grandmother, and the grandmother’s experience traveling to the U.S. to visit the girl. I’LL GO AND COME BACK will be illustrated by Sara Palacios and published by Candlewick Press in 2022.

Rajani LaRocca, author of SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS, illus. Archana Sreenivasan (Lee & Low, July 2020), BRACELETS FOR BROTHERS, illus. Chaaya Prabhat (Charlesbridge, 2021), WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, illus. Archana Sreenivasan (Abrams, 2022)


I usually get my best ideas from brainstorming. Like with my book THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky April 1, 2020), I started with the idea of a parody guidebook of some kind, then I brainstormed activities kids like that don’t really have guidebooks (and wouldn’t). Then I brainstormed angles for ways the guidebook could be ridiculous. Soon I had an idea that was much more interesting than the original small seed.

Kjersten Hayes, author of THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK, illus. by Gladys Jose (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 2020)


A lot of my stories come from the “What If?” game. What if a spunky, creative girl who dances to the beat of her own drum decides to start ballet classes? What if instead, it was an Indian classical dance? These questions led me to write a story about a Indian-American girl trying to find an Indian dance class that suits her. This story is on submission now!

Darshana Khiani, author of HOW TO WEAR A SARI, illus. Joanne-Lew Vriethoff (Versify, Spring 2021)


Soaring20s is a diverse group of authors and illustrators with picture book debuts soaring onto shelves in 2020 and beyond. Visit soaring20spb.com for behind-the-scenes posts, resources, and giveaways!

You can also follow them on Twitter @Soaring20sPB and Instagram @Soaring20sPB.


Soaring20s is giving away the choice of a picture book manuscript critique or a picture book dummy critique to two different winners.

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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