Student Success Stories: Joana Pastro

I'm so glad that Joana Pastro was able to answer these interview questions this month.  Joana and her agent, Natascha Morris, were both kind enough to participate in the “How to Query Agents” mini-class that I'm putting together for Storyteller Academy.

I'm giving away a copy of Joana's debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, at the end of this post, so let's dive get started!

Myrna: What is your background? 

Joana: I was born in Brazil and moved to the US shortly after graduating in Architecture and Urban Design. I worked as an Assistant Architect for about five years and stopped when my second child was born. By the time he started day care, I realized I wanted to do something else with my life and dropped the idea of going back to architecture.

Myrna: What made you want to start writing picture books?

Joana: I began wondering about it when I started reading all those wonderful books to my first child. At first, it was more of a profound admiration for picture book authors and illustrators, and I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t understand how it was done, or how the collaboration worked. I really had no idea where to start. A lot of people think it’s easy writing picture books, but I never had that misconception. I wrote down story ideas for about seven years before I finally started writing. At first, I wrote only in Portuguese, then one day, out of nowhere, I began writing a middle grade novel in English. It took me another five years to start writing picture books. 

Myrna:  Wow. Writing that middle grade novel in another language couldn’t have been easy. And now you have two picture books under contract, right? Could you tell us about them? 

Joana: Yes, of course. My debut book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS (BMK 09/2020), is about a girl who attends a school for damsels and loves everything about it, until she finds out that damsels are supposed to be in danger and, even worse, wait for rescue. So, when the time comes, she proves that a damsel is capable of saving herself by using her awesome damsel-y skills.

My second book is BISA’S CARNAVAL (Scholastic Fall/2021). It’s about a girl and her Bisa (great-grandmother) getting ready to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, with all its sounds, scents and scenery, and their immense love for each other!

Myrna: Did the BMK merger affect your first book?

Joana: LILLYBELLE was acquired by Kane Press, about eight months before the merger. By then my edits had been finalized, so I wasn’t communicating as frequently with my editor. I learned about the merger from a friend who had a book coming out with Boyds Mill. I honestly, can’t say it how it affected my book, but I hope it was in a positive way!

Myrna: How and when did you sign with your literary agent? Did she sell both of your picture books?

Joana: I signed with Natascha Morris (BookEnds Literary Agency) in September 2017, after one of my pitches caught her eye on #PBPitch. She sold both of my picture books and has done a fantastic job advocating for me and my work.

Myrna: When did you start taking Storyteller Academy classes?

Joana: I took my first class in 2017. That’s when I really dove into learning all I could about picture books and focusing on writing them. 

Myrna: Did Arree’s class change the way you approached writing picture books?

Joana: Of course! My approach became a lot more visual. I’ve always considered myself a visual person, but when I wrote it was all about the words. After taking his class, I began using storyboards, learned how to use page turns, and all that good stuff. Post-it and index cards became a must at my house!

Myrna: I noticed that you joined a debut group. How has joining the Soaring 20s helped you so far? Do you recommend it?

Joana: First of all, I’ve made wonderful friends and become part of an amazing support group. I’m learning about all sorts of marketing strategies from all of them, but especially the creators who are publishing before me. They share their experiences, what works and what doesn’t, and we all cheer each other along the way! Also, I’m working on the group’s Instagram page. That forced me to dive into Instagram and learn how to use it. Truth be told, I’m still learning. I highly recommend joining a debut group, because I can’t imagine being on this journey without it.

Myrna: I'm so glad it's been a good experience. Do you have any advice for our readers?

Joana: Patience. Publishing takes time. There’s a lot to learn, so keep learning as much as you can. Read craft books and all the picture books you can. Read the classics because, well, they’re classics, but study the recent ones to understand what makes them stand out in today’s market. Pay attention to the world around you. Be well informed! Write as much as you can, write often. And, as an extra challenge, try to come up with one idea per day. Doing all of this keeps us going and helps with all the waiting!

Myrna: Seconded! That's great advice. What's next for you?

Joana: Assuming the pandemic won’t affect my debut, I have to start planning for the book launch on September 8. I have several picture books in the works, and I just started venturing into the chapter book world. We’ll see where that takes me.

Myrna: I really hope the pandemic is over by September, and I wish you (and Lillybelle) the best. Where can we find you on the Internet?

Joana: At www.joanapastro.com you can find everything about me and my books, latest news, my critique services, and (once my debut is released) school visits.

Social Media:

Myrna: Where can we buy your book? 

Joana: At your favorite bookstores! You can find some links on my website: http://www.joanapastro.com/lillybelle-a-damsel-not-in-distress.html

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away a copy of Joana's picture book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Joana in the comments by midnight on April 18. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student to enter. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment. 

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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23 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Joana Pastro”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Joana. It is astounding that you write down ideas for seven years. I had only been doing storystorm for January, but I think challenging myself to think of ideas more often sounds like a great practice.

  2. I love Joana…and this interview…and Myrna and Arree…and Storyteller Academy! (I’m in a loving mood…LOL!) I never knew that Joana first wrote in Portuguese when she started to write kid lit, so that was a fun thing to learn about her.

  3. I loved this interview! So helpful in many ways, but I’ll just share one thing I learned. I hadn’t heard about debut groups before, but they sound like a great way to learn how to market yourself, make connections, and try new things. Hopefully I’ll be able to join one some day 🙂

  4. Jennifer Tschaepe

    I found it so interesting that you started writing in Portuguese then in English. I can’t wait for Bill’s Carnival to come out. I love everything about carnival and I am so exited for there to be a picture book! Thank you for sharing your story! I am inspired! Wow seven years before you started writing books! What an awesome accomplishment to become a published author! Congrats on your success and I can’t wait to read your books!

  5. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    What a great interview with one of my favorite people! 🙂 I am so excited for you and your book, Joana!

  6. Cynthia Harmony

    Great interview Joana! I didn’t know you started writing an MG five years before PBs. Congrats on your debut coming out soon, can’t wait to read!!!

  7. Congrats on your debut PB! I live the suggestion of trying to come up with an idea every day. We can’t always write every single day but we can certainly “think” about new ideas every day!

  8. Katie Schwartz

    Love to read about debut picture book authors! And that she got her agent from a #PBPITCH, I have participated in this without much luck (yet), lets me know to not give up on this.

  9. Loved the interview for practical purposes and this was an interesting and helpful comment “Did Arree’s class change the way you approached writing picture books?
    Joana: Of course! My approach became a lot more visual. I’ve always considered myself a visual person, but when I wrote it was all about the words. After taking his class, I began using storyboards, learned how to use page turns, and all that good stuff. ”
    I also think words first and this is a new approach I will try.

  10. Thank you for posting this interview. So interesting that Joana Pastro is from Brazil and studied architecture and started writing picture books after her 2nd child. I also especially appreciate how her agent discovered her through #PBPitch and she is a part of Soaring 20’s support group. Can’t wait to check out the Instagram!

  11. Debut groups seem to be the best new thing. Being a part of support communities is the best strategy for success, and Joana has reminded me of this in numerous ways. When I started out with this goal, none of these things existed. I felt isolated, confused, alone in a highly competitive world. We didn’t even have personal computers. But because of supportive communities with people like Joana – so open these days to share her experiences, who also did not succeed through a direct route – I am able to feel uplifted and positive now on having rejoined the path of my goal to write and illustrate picture books.

  12. Madeline Lasson

    A huge take away for me from her interview is the idea that we need to come humbly to the table as authors and work to KEEP LEARNING in any and every way that we can. I love how she never stopped trying to refine her skills. Great reminder!

  13. Patience. It so important to remember that! I also think it’s good advice to read the classics along with the new books. It really helps with perspective. Thanks for an informative post.

  14. It sounds like Joana has a lot of good information to share. I love the idea of post it notes and index cards!

  15. I love this! I’m so excited to read “Bisa’s Carnaval” when it comes out next year. I’m always so awed by how long people work at writing and wait for their debut. Thanks for encouraging us to be patient and persevere, Joana!

  16. Joana,
    I plan to try your idea of coming up with an idea a day. I do something toward writing watching a webinar, working on a story or drawing for one of my stories, but I just write when I see a picture, or some science or even something from my childhood, but I haven’t tried coming up with an idea a day. I plan to start a notebook and try your idea. Thanks for the tips.
    Rhonda K..

  17. Thank you and congratulations to Joana! I will have to check out debut groups and #PBPitch. Thanks again!

  18. I think the most resounding thing I got from this blog post is two complimentary ideas- 1. It can be done! It is accessible, if someone can write in their second language and get published surely it Is possible. But also a real understanding that it takes time. I always tell my dance students you’d better enjoy the journey, because it’s a long one. And so it is here. But what great FUN!

  19. I love the suggestion of coming up with an idea a day – I also love how she is in it for the long haul. She dived in and learned as much as she could, and put those lessons into action.

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