Author Spotlight: Joana Pastro


September 18, 2020

We are excited to feature author Joana Pastro and her debut picture book, 
LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS illustrated by Jhon Ortiz (Boyds Mills Press, October 20, 2020) 

Enter to win a copy!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Thank you so much for having me! 

I was born in Brazil and moved to the U.S. after graduating from Architecture and Urban Design School. I worked at an architectural office for about five years. Just like many other picture book authors, I started dreaming of writing for children once I had my first child, but it took me EIGHT years to actually start pursuing that dream. At first, I wrote in Portuguese, until one day I had an idea for a middle grade novel with dialogue lines in English, so I started writing it. Once I finished that manuscript, I joined SCBWI and then a critique group. I spent the next two years trying to fix the manuscript, until I finally set it aside and write something new. In 2015, I tried my hand at a short story that would become my debut picture book. I spent the following year learning and slowly transitioning to picture book writing. 

Congrats on your debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS. Tell us about the story and what inspired you.

Thank you! I was inspired by a call for submission for a short story from Cricket magazine. The prompt was Knights and Castles. I had just filed away my middle grade novel and was looking for something new to write. So, while researching and brainstorming I came upon the phrase “a damsel in distress.” I added the word “not” and LillyBelle was born! Now, the character of LillyBelle was inspired by my daughter and also myself as a kid. We’re both friendly and creative, although my daughter is a lot more outspoken than I am. I should learn from her and LillyBelle!

Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

It’s something in between if I consider the whole journey, but definitely short and sweet if we focus on writing picture books. It’ll have been almost exactly four years since I wrote the very first draft of LillyBelle (as a short story) until publication.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m revising some older picture book projects, brainstorming ideas for a board book series, and hoping I’ll be able to finally focus and write the chapter book that’s been nagging at me for a very long time.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?

I’d say, “Joana, don’t start writing the middle grade novel before joining SCBWI!” Writing the middle grade on my own, without any help, was a learning experience. I don’t see it as wasted time, but I’m convinced that if I had joined SCBWI earlier, the writing would have turned out much better. I’d have had access to so many great resources and joined a critique group much sooner. Besides it’s great to be part of a community of like-minded people! 

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

That I was once cast as Huniak in a community theater production of Chicago. The director took the liberty of making that character Brazilian instead of Hungarian, so I was Brazuca instead. I loved every minute of it. So much fun!

Where can people find you online?

I’m on Twitter @jopastro, on Instagram @joanapastro and on my website

Also, check out Joana Pastro's Pre-Order Giveaway (separate from the Kidlit411 giveaway):

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 Boyds Mills Press, an imprint of Boyds Mills & Kane, on October 20, 2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa will be published by Scholastic in Fall/2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children and a rambunctious Morkie. You can find her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram on @joanapastro, on her website at

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  1. Book looks great, my twins will love it!

  2. I love the title so much! Great advice about SCBWI as well. It's invaluable to me. Congrats on the book!

  3. I can’t wait to read this to my kids!

  4. Congratulations, Joana!

  5. What a great cast of characters! And the cover has such great colors!

  6. Congratulations! I can't wait to read this one.

  7. What a terrific theme and concept for a picture book.

  8. This is a fun idea for a picture book. I can't wait to read it and have marked it on my TBR on Goodreads.

    1. Thank you for adding it to your Goodreads, Danielle. It helps a lot!

  9. Looks like a cute book, I like the illustrations.

    1. Thank you, Julie! I agree, Jhon did a fantastic job!

  10. Can't wait to read this with my daughters!

  11. Looking forward to reading this one.

  12. I love these kinds of strong female picture books for kids.


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