Capturing Traditions with Joana Pastro

This time of year, I’m always thinking about family and traditions—like childhood holidays spent playing with my cousins, or my great-grandmother’s famous apple pie recipe, passed down through generations. This is just one of many reasons why I adore Joana Pastro’s latest book, Bisa’s Carnaval, out from Scholastic on December 7. The story features strong family relationships and the vibrant tradition of carnaval, so wonderfully captured through the combination of Joana’s lyrical language and Carolina Coroa’s colorful illustrations.

I’m thrilled to have Joana on the blog today as a second-time guest! (You can read Joana’s previous interview about girl-empowering stories here.) Today, Joana will talk traditions, family, and of course, some practical writing advice.

Cover of Bisa's Caraval, featuring the main character, Clara, and her bisa.

LL: Welcome, Joana! Tell us more about Bisa’s Carnaval—what inspired you to write this story?

JP: I had been wanting to write a book about carnaval for a long time, but it was only after reading FESTIVAL OF COLORS, by Surishta Sehgal and Kabar Sehgal and illustrated by Vashti Harrison, that I decided to pursue it. I wanted to write a book that had that kind of energy, vibrancy, and joy. Once I had that book as a mentor text, I went through my research on carnaval and the story basically poured out of me.

LL: Oh, I love it when a story just pours out. My best manuscripts usually come out fast like that.

So, a big focus of the story is Clara’s relationship with her bisa. Did you draw from any personal experiences when creating these characters?

Interior spread from Bisa's Carnaval, in which Clara shops for fabric with her bisa.

JP: I’m lucky to remember two of my great-grandparents, but I can’t say I had a close relationship with them. I was too young, and we didn’t live close. The bisa in this book is a mix of my mom and my grandma. My grandma was a seamstress when she was young, and like my mom, a hard worker and someone who’s always looking to make life better for everyone around her. I grew up with my mom showing us the importance of being mindful of our resources. She taught us to recycle way before that became a thing, to fix clothes and objects rather than rushing to replace them, and to love making things. And she’s still at it!

LL: That strong sense of family definitely comes through. How about capturing carnaval? How did you work to show the sights and sounds of Brazil in this story, and ensure readers felt as if they were right there with Clara? Thinking in terms of your writing process, what did that look like for you?

JP: I researched. Once I decided I’d set the story in Olinda, I made sure I knew every detail of that very unique carnaval, and the city itself. For instance, what is the weather and geography like? What are the every day foods, and which the fruits are in season? I need to know about  anything that would help build Clara and Bisa’s world. I also watched a lot of carnaval footage and listened to the music. It was important to me to bring as much sensory detail as possible to this story so that the readers could feel like they’re really taking part in the celebration.

Interior spread from Bisa's Carnaval, depicting the start of the parade.

LL: You also use a lot of lyrical language in this book. What are your top tips for writers looking to draft a lyrical picture book?

JP: When I started writing this book, I didn’t realize it’d be a lyrical book. In retrospect, I think drafting a lyrical picture book is all about making sure the reader’s emotionally and even physically invested. I needed the reader to feel like he’s part of this family. Onomatopoeias, sensory language: tastes, smells and sounds play a big part in immersing the reader and placing them right in the middle of the action.

LL: Let’s end with a fun question—what’s your favorite family tradition?

JP: At my house we’re big at baking and making art together whenever life allows it. That’s also something that’s part of the holidays for us. For instance, the day before trimming the tree, we put on some holiday music, bake something delicious, and have a Christmas craft making session. It’s a fun way to spend quality time with my family, and get in the Christmas spirit. This year I’m taking (author) Katie Frawley’s lead and the plan is to paint wood Nutcrackers.

LL: That sounds lovely! Thanks so much for being on the blog, Joana. How can readers purchase Bisa’s Carnaval?

JP: It was my pleasure! Thank you so much for having me, Laura.

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Author Joana Pastro.

Joana Pastro is an architect who became a children’s book author. Her debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illustrated by Jhon Ortiz, was published by Boyds Mills Press (now Astra Kids), in 2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa, will be published by Scholastic on December 7th, 2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children, and two rambunctious dogs. You can find her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram on @joanapastro, on her website at

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