Do you ever worry about the future? Haven’t we all done that these last few years? Today’s picture book is perfect for every one of us.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington has visited my blog before. Her debut picture book BRAINSTORM! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022) hit bookstores this past summer. She has seven more rhyming picture books being published in the next two years, including WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, 2023), AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, 2024), and I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2024). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in the suburban jungles of New Jersey with her husband and two boisterous boys. You can find out more about Rebecca at her website or follow her on Twitter. Y0u can also check out Rebecca’s monthly newsletter where she offers tips and tricks from her writing journey and answers questions about all the publishing things! Sign up on her website or use this link: http://eepurl.com/h2sK8X
WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW is a stunning poetic journey through the what ifs of anxiety. It doesn’t dismiss that anxiety, but addresses it head on while providing hope that no matter what the future holds, readers can handle it. It has such a message of strength and resilience that this book just sings with optimism and love. While they are as quiet and subtle as a the flutter of butterfly wings, they move forward through every page and every illustration, just like the promise of new life in every chrysalis. This is a book you will want to read over and over (just like I have already). It’s so beautifully well done.
Welcome back Rebecca!
Me: Worry can be such an abstract concept and telling someone not to worry is usually not helpful. But here you’ve managed to create such a lovely poetic book that deals with concrete fears about the future in a way that kids can understand. What gave you the idea?
Rebecca: Thank you so much for you kind words about the book! The idea for this book definitely didn’t come to me all at once. It first began as a short poem in response to the prompt word “surprise.” It was originally just a list of unexpected surprises we experience in life. But as I tinkered, I began thinking more about how much I’ve always disliked any surprises (even the good ones), and when I considered why, I realized that it is very much connected to my struggles with anxiety and fears of the unknown.
Once I started revising with that idea in mind, I thought about all the different scenarios in my own life as a child when I’d worried about future “what ifs” (from the first day at a new school, to giving a speech in front of the class, to saying goodbye to a friend moving away, etc.). Rather than mention specific events in the text, I focused on the feelings I experienced in those moments. For instance, the line: “Tomorrow may bring questions that you have no answers for, or answers that may lead you to more questions than before” was all about how I was feeling the day I learned at age eight that my parents were divorcing.
Me: Oof! Yeah, I feel that emotional punch in those words. Your lyrical text is deceptively simple. It discusses negative and positives situations all while talking to “you” directly. And yet you don’t come off preachy or didactic even once. How did you do that? How many revisions did this magnificent manuscript take?
Rebecca: I’m so glad you don’t feel my text is preachy or didactic, thank you. Perhaps the reason is because the “you” I’m speaking to is really myself. Every word in this book comes from a true and authentic feeling I experienced as a child. It is basically me writing a letter to the girl I used to be, telling her all the things I so desperately needed to hear back then (and let’s be honest, still need to hear today, as I read my book to myself quite often!).
Over the decades (with the help of many therapists and self-help books), I’ve compiled an arsenal of tools to help me manage my anxiety. I’ve tried my best to weave in many of those tools within the text of WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW. For instance, whenever I am faced with something difficult or scary, I remind myself: “you’ve confronted fear before and reached the other side.” And when I am worried about something that is beyond my control, I tell myself: “the only thing in your control is YOU.”
I think it is important to not only be vulnerable with my readers, but also realistic and honest. Worried feelings will not just disappear because we want them to. BUT, there are things we can do to help ourselves move past those thoughts and feelings.
Oh, and to answer your question, there were about 20 revisions of this manuscript, not including changes made after acquisition. And, interestingly, the word “surprise” never made it into the final version!
Me: The illustrations by Mariona Cabassa are simply stunning. I loved the textures and all the beautiful butterflies. Was the butterfly motif your idea or her’s? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Rebecca: OMG, STUNNING, right?! And I’m so happy that you asked about the butterflies. Telling this story actually gives me chills because it’s a perfect example of the magic that collaboration can bring.
One of Mariona’s very first sketches was of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly to go along with the stanza: “Tomorrow may bring changes that confuse or make you mad/Tomorrow may bring confidence you never knew you had.” Both text and image on that spread was changed for various reasons (see below in my answer to your question about the illustrations), but the idea of butterflies stuck in all of our minds.
Months later, I received Mariona’s sketch of the final spread with the children all riding on the backs of butterflies and I had an “AHA!” moment. I’m not sure if it was intentional (you’d have to ask Mariona!) but to me, all I could see was this gorgeous metaphor of butterflies AS worries (all those “butterflies” we feel in our belly when we are nervous). To me, the kids riding on the backs of their butterflies represents how they have finally learned a way to “tame” their worried feelings.
I loved this idea so much that I asked my editor, Lisa Rosinsky, if we could lean into this metaphor even more. She, in turn, asked Mariona to incorporate at least one butterfly into every spread throughout the book. In the end, the butterflies (and the little caterpillar!) even made it onto the cover (which, by the way, is NOT the original cover. It was changed at the very last minute!).
Me: Your text is open to interpretation in many places within this book. Did you have any art notes specifying any particular scenes? Or did you leave all the illustrative creativity up to Mariona?
Rebecca: I didn’t submit the manuscript with any art notes because I wanted to allow room for Mariona to bring in her own interpretations. And she certainly didn’t disappoint!
From the beginning, Mariona’s sketches were absolutely gorgeous – for instance, the one I mentioned earlier, about the butterfly turning into a caterpillar – but Lisa and I both worried that some of her initial images were too symbolic and their subtle meanings could be lost on younger children. So, Lisa asked Mariona to develop more concrete scenes. At that point, Lisa asked me for my input and I sent her a list of possible scenarios for each spread. Mariona chose some of my ideas and used her own ideas for others, and as she sent back more sketches, Lisa and talked about them and sent back comments.
There was a LOT of back and forth between the three of us, and to be honest, there were some disagreements. But ultimately, with incredible respect and understanding for each others’ point of view, we all bent for each other. I changed some text, Mariona changed some art, and the book is SO much stronger as a result. It truly was one of the best collaborative experiences ever.
Me: I love that! Once again, this book has back matter. There are some great exercises there to help young readers deal with worry. Was that your idea or the editor’s? Did that require any research?
Rebecca: I am a HUGE fan of back matter. In this case, the only back matter I included with my submission was my Author’s Note, which details my own struggles with anxiety and some of the tools I use to manage it.
Once the manuscript was acquired, Lisa asked me if I wanted to develop some exercises and tips for kids. I loved the idea but because I’m not a trained expert, I didn’t feel comfortable giving specific advice in that way. Thankfully, the Barefoot Books team includes the wonderful child development specialist Stefanie Paige Wieder, M.S. Ed., who came up with the fabulous exercises you find in the back matter of the book. She also created a wonderful Activity Guide that anyone can download for FREE from my website.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
I am surprised that the word “surprise” managed to lead me to such a deeply vulnerable place. I truly hope this book will help any kids (and adults) who need comfort, reassurance and encouragement to overcome their own worried feelings. It always amazes me what can happen when we write from our hearts.
Me: Do you have any future projects you can tell us about?
Rebecca: YES, thanks for asking! In addition to WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW and my debut, BRAINSTORM! which released last year, I’m excited to share that I have SIX more rhyming picture books coming out in the next few years!
The only two I can talk about right now are AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-And-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, Spring 2024) which is a rhyming romp about a sneaky piece of matzah on the run. I describe it as “Where’s Waldo?” meets “The Gingerbread Man.” And I WILL ALWAYS BE…(HarperCollins, Winter 2025) which is an inspirational concept book that encourages kids to always celebrate their passions, whether or not they ever make it to Broadway or the big leagues. The other four books are still unannounced, but hopefully they will be very soon!
Wonderful Rebecca! I look forward to reading those. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today.
Dear readers, trust me when I say that this is a book you will not want to miss. WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW is an exquisite love letter to any reader who has ever faced an uncertain future or circumstances. It is full of hope and promise and what better message is there to be reading than that these last few years?
2 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Rebecca G. Levington: WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW”
This sounds like just what we need! Beautiful! Congrats, Rebecca and Mariona!
Fabulous interview and fantastic pb!