JOANA PASTRO: Will Write for Cookies Plus PB Critique Giveaway


Plate of Cookies





What a joy it is to be part of this incredible kidlit community! I love attending conferences and taking classes because I get to meet so many wonderful people. Another way I connect with authors and illustrators is by doing critiques – and the win-win of that scenario is that I get to read fabulous stories…like the one that today’s Will Write for Cookies author wrote and asked me for feedback. And how cool…that manuscript is now a real book!!!!!

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

ME: Welcome, Joana! What a thrill to have you here today! Thank you so much for stopping by and for offering such a generous giveaway…a nonrhyming pb manuscript critique! I know everyone is excited to hear a bit about who you are and how your path to publication progressed – it’s a fascinating story and I thank you for sharing it with us.

JOANA: I’m so happy to be here, Vivian. Thank you so much for having me! I’m ready whenever you are.

ME: Who were your favorite authors/illustrators when you were a child?

JOANA: As you know, I was born in Brazil and spent most of my childhood there, so my favorite Brazilian authors were (I guess still are!) Ziraldo, Ruth Rocha, and especially Mauricio de Souza. He’s the creator of the most popular comic book series in Brazil, A Turma da Mônica (Monica’s Gang). Me and my sisters had a subscription for it and a huge drawer full of them. It was our favorite bedtime reading. I also lived here in the US as a toddler, at that time my favorite books were the ones by Dr. Seuss. Those traveled back with us to Brazil. Later, when we lived in England, my absolute favorite was Beverly Cleary. I only found out she was American a few years ago!

Turma da Mônica Figurines I keep in my office.

ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

JOANA: When I decided to pursue writing circa 2011, I bought the book WRITING CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR DUMMIES. I devoured it and that’s when I first heard of SCBWI (Society of Children’Book Writers and Illustrators). The book highly recommended becoming a member. I wish I had followed that advice right away, but because I was an absolute beginner, I thought I wasn’t ready. Instead I used only the tools I had at hand. Progress is slow for those who go it alone. Three years later, I finished my middle grade novel, and finally joined SCBWI. I won’t underestimate the experience of writing on my own—it was valid and I did learn a lot. However, I was only able to feel that my writing was truly improving once I became part of a critique group and found the camaraderie of people who share the same passion and goals.

ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?

JOANA: The first thing I do when I have an idea is try to solidify the beginning and the end. I write a rough pitch—I’m awful at pitches—to help keep my goal, and the takeaway focused. Then I roughly plot the middle, which inevitably changes as I get to know my character. This part of the process is usually done on a clipboard that I carry everywhere around the house, in the car, wherever I go.

Once I’m ready to start writing the manuscript, I move to my laptop in my office. I have a balcony facing the lake behind my house and I love staring at it. I might spend too much time doing it while I try to solve plot problems, but all that daydreaming seems to help the process. Having my books at hands reach is another advantage of working in the office.

For the record, I still carry that clipboard with my work in progress everywhere, so no matter where I am, if an idea strikes, I’m able to jot it down really fast. Especially when my kids were younger and I needed to carve small periods of writing time. I’ve written while waiting for swim, karate and ballet lessons. But life is different in 2020, and these days my clipboard only moves around the house.

The view from my desk

My workspace: desk and clipboard!

ME When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?

JOANA: I feel a lot more creative and productive in the morning, but not too early! I usually get started around 8 am, after I’ve sent the kids to school and gone for a walk. If I’m in the zone, I’ll write any time. The clipboard really helps me stay on a writing mood all day.

5.ME: Why do you write for children?

JOANA: Because picture books make me happy! I love diving into that world. It’s fun! I love the lightness of writing for children, even when we tackle deep, difficult subjects.  

Picture books are targeted for children but, in reality, they’re for everyone. A picture book can help deal with emotions and problems, understand our place in the world, and reminds us of our worth. Seeing ourselves in a book, by relating to a main character or a situation lived, can be truly empowering. I think we all need that reminder and that feeling in our lives, don’t we?

ME: Also, if you have any thoughts or advice for aspiring writers, please share. As well as anything else you want to talk about that parents, educators, writers, librarians might want to hear.

JOANA: For aspiring authors, don’t underestimate the power of picture books and their complexity. A good picture book looks easy to write, but it isn’t. Learn the craft and seek feedback from other writers and professionals in your genre. Read extensively and as part of your learning process, read recently published picture books.

For all readers, don’t discard picture books once you’ve turned 8. Picture books are for everyone!

ME: THANK YOU SO MUCH! I know everyone is thrilled to read your insights, Joana…such valuable advice! And you’ve got something else that is very valuable – you are sharing a fabulous GLUTEN-FREE Brazilian cookie recipe…woo-hoo!

JOANA: Casadinho” Cookies – A traditional Brazilian cookie that’s a hit at my house! (And since one of my kids has celiac disease, I added the modifications I make  for a gluten free version.)

My cookies aren’t the prettiest, but they sure taste good!


  • 3/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour (I used 2 cups of multipurpose gluten-free flour and added an extra 1/3 tsp of xantham gum)
  • 1 cup guava jam for the filling (or any jam you have at hand, it’s great with dulce de leche too!)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Beat butter and sugar together until creamy.
  3. Add the egg and the flour (or gf flour + xantham gum) and mix by hand until well combined.
  4. Divide the dough in smaller pieces and make rolls (about ½” diameter) and place them on a cookie sheet.
  5. Cover with plastic and place in fridge for about one hour.
  6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Cut the rolls in 1/2″ pieces and place them on the new cookie sheet.
  8. Place in preheated oven until golden. About 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and allow it to cool on a cooling rack.
  10. Using a spoon spread the filling on one side of the cookie and top with another piece of cookie, like a sandwich.
  11. Let them dry for about one hour.
  12. Enjoy!

This looks amazing, Joana…I can’t wait to try them. Raspberry jam is my favorite, with apricot coming in as a close second – so, I think I will do some with raspberry and some with apricot!

I want to remind everyone to leave a comment to be entered in the fabulous giveaway of a nonrhyming picture book critique from the lovely Joana! For extra tickets in the giveaway hat, you can share of your social media platforms and follow Joana on Twitter @jopastro. And don’t forget that our favorite authors need our support, especially these days. Please buy their books, review their books, tell friends about their books, and ask your local library to purchase their books.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I’ll be moving next week, but I’ll be back bright and early on October 1st with a Book Birthday post for Vicky Fang’s new board book series, I CAN CODE and then a double header with Julie Abery’s newest nonfiction pb THE MAN AND THE PENGUIN for Perfect Picture Book Friday and a Q&A with Julie on Will Write for Cookies. Stay well, dear friends, and be safe.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS Plus Giveaway

Happy Perfect Picture Book Friday, dear friends. One of my favorite moments is when a book is published that I saw as a rough draft years before. It’s a great feeling to know that my feedback might have helped shape the story. If you are a writer, do you share your manuscripts with critique buddies? I hope the answer to that is a big YES…because IMO, critique groups are a crucial ingredient in paving a successful path to publication. And today’s featured book is by one of my long-time critique partners, author and editor Alayne Kay Christian.

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed

Written by Alayne Kay Christian

Illustrated by Polina Gortman

Published by Blue Whale Press

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Kindness, Christmas, community spirit

Synopsis: From Amazon:

The The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Tree is the story of a small gesture that turned into a phenomenon that was seen around the world. Partly truth and partly fiction, it is based on the inspiring true story of how a weed on a Toledo street corner helped spread the giving spirit far beyond its traffic island home. All Weed wants is to be seen, but people are in too much of a hurry to notice each other, let alone Weed. Weed watches, wishes, and waits until finally someone does see it. But Weed discovers that there is something far bigger and more important than a little weed being noticed.

Why I love this book:

  1. We need books like this that encourage kindness and compassion and caring about others.
  2. A new Christmas story – hooray – and this one is based on a true event.
  3. Wonderfully warm illustrations.

And here’s a bit about the author and illustrator and how you can connect with them:

Books like this one are so important, especially these days. We need to thank authors and illustrators for creating them…and the best way to do that is to:

Buy their books if you can, review their books, tell friends about their books, and ask local libraries to purchase their books. READY! SET! GO!


Photo courtesy:

Seeds can provide all sorts of fun-filled activities for kids…from planting them to doing arts and crafts activities. Check out this wonderful link for 35 great projects:

For more great picture book reviews and activities, head on over to Susanna Hill’s blog for her Perfect Picture Book Friday linky list.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS…and please share on social media for more tickets in the giveaway hat.

Holidays can be a challenge – and now with millions of people dealing with Covid restrictions, hours cut, jobs lost…the challenge is intensified. I know many of you are already doing what you can to help. I’ll be selling my car soon and plan to donate a chunk of the money I receive to the local food banks here in Southern New Hampshire. Any ideas on how else I could help?

Happy Book Birthday: THE STARING CONTEST Plus Critique and Bookmark Giveaway

Happy Book Birthday to you! Happy Book Birthday to you!

Happy Book Birthday to THE STARING CONTEST

Happy Birthday to you!


Written and illustrated by Nicolas Solis

Published by Peter Pauper Press (2020)

A bit about the book from Amazon:

Here is one of the most universally loved children’s games in a book — the staring contest!

  • These self-proclaimed ”staring-master eyes” dare readers to enter into a staring contest with them.
  • And you’d better watch out . . . because they can stare ALL DAY LONG.
  • Go ahead — try it!
  • This fun book will encourage kids to jump right into the pages of an irresistible challenge!

Don’t you love to find out the story behind the story? Author/illustrator Nick Solis stopped by to share some insights about how the book came to be.

ME: Hi Nick! Thanks for making the time to stop by on this busy launch day!

 NICK: Glad to be here, Vivian. I have always been a huge fan of The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak. The idea of interacting with a book in such a fun way was always so intriguing to me. I started trying to think of book ideas where the reader could engage with the book as if it was another person. Then the old school game we used to play as kids wormed its way into my brain. So during a writing session at The Writing Barn in Austin, TX, I wrote ‘v was the beginning of The Staring Contest. It was short and sloppy, but I thought it was fun! Little did I know it would be my debut book! And also, I would never have thought that I would be the illustrator! I drew up a dummy so editors would get a better idea of what I was thinking, but Mara Conlon at Peter Pauper Press liked my drawings and we were off! 

ME: That’s so awesome! I guess the take-away is that you never know where an idea for a story will come from…and follow your muse and believe in yourself! It’s a really sweet story…and I know you have something else sweet to share with us.

NICK: I created some special cookies to celebrate the launch of THE STARING CONTEST. You can find all the details of how to make them here:

Oh my gosh…how adorable! Thanks so much, Nick! And thank you for providing these awesome bookmarks for the kiddos.

And don’t forget, everyone, Nick is also generously offering a PICTURE BOOK CRITIQUE as a giveaway…so please make sure you leave a comment – maybe share your favorite childhood game. Also, share the post and Nick’s book on social media and you’ll earn extra chances to win…and follow Nick on Twitter @teachsolis and get TWO extra tickets in the giveaway hat just for doing that!

Remember that the best way we can let authors know that we love their books is to buy them if we can, review them, tell friends about them, and ask our local library to purchase copies for their collection.

More kidlit goodness coming this week…Perfect Picture Book Friday with THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS by Alayne Kay Christian…and a Will Write for Cookies Q&A with Joana Pastro, author of Lillybelle: A Damsel NOT in Distress.