I had the chance to see Rebecca Gardyn Levington’s second book, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books), illus by Mariona Cabassa, and was again blown away by her rhyming skills. This is a beautiful package: exacting rhyme that flows so smoothly it doesn’t feel like it took any work at all (HA!), a reassuring message for kiddos who tend to worry, and illustrations by Mariona Cabassa that bring the text’s abstract ideas into clear, easily understandable focus.
So I asked Rebecca to talk with us about how it all came together so beautifully.
JE: Welcome back, Rebecca! I always have to ask: What compelled you to write this book?
RGL: WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW is my whole heart splattered on the page. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with anxiety. Of course, as a child, I had no idea that’s what it was called, but I’d always craved structure and found safety and comfort in predictability. Any unexpected change to my schedule or any uncertainty of what the future might hold made me very uncomfortable.
I wrote this book because there are so many kids who struggle (like I did, and still do) with anticipatory anxiety, kids who worry constantly about what might happen tomorrow, kids who panic at any unexpected change or disruption to their normal routine, big or small – a new sibling, a friend moving away, a substitute teacher, a fire drill…a pandemic.
The book is essentially a poetic mantra, written to myself as a child and to all children (as well as adults like me, who still need to hear it!). It is a reminder that no matter what happens tomorrow – be it good, bad, or in-between – we will find a way to endure. We have all done or faced hard things in the past and we will continue to do and face hard things in the future. The trick is to remember that strength during the hard times and know that, for better or worse, this too shall pass.
JE: True! Were you at all concerned that kids, many of whom have trouble grasping the concept of “tomorrow” (other than the immediate one after a night’s sleep) wouldn’t understand what you were getting at here?
RGL: It never occurred to me that kids would have trouble grasping the concept of “tomorrow,” as I know that children start understanding words that describe the passage of time by around age five, and this book is targeted to that older end of the picture book market. But I understand what you mean in regards to my text, which could have been interpreted in so many different ways. Mariona’s amazing and concrete imagery is absolutely key to making the concepts in my text relatable to young readers.
While I had many scenes of anxious times from my own childhood floating around in my head as I wrote the text, I purposefully did not include any art notes with my initial submission. I really wanted to see what an illustrator would do with it. And from the start, Mariona’s sketches were absolutely stunning! Her color palette and her ability to capture emotion is simply breathtaking, as you can see.
That said, her initial sketches were very metaphorical. For instance, Mariona originally produced a gorgeous image of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly to go along with the text: “Tomorrow may bring changes that confuse or make you mad/Tomorrow may bring confidence you never knew you had.” It was BEAUTIFUL, but both my editor (Lisa Rosinsky) and I felt that the symbolism and subtle meaning might be lost on younger children.
So, Lisa asked Mariona to focus more on developing more concrete scenes to complement the text. 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 (including the couplet mentioned above), Mariona changed some art, and the book is SO much stronger as a result. It was truly an incredible collaboration!
JE: It’s a gorgeous final product, that’s for sure. You’re such a precise rhymer, Rebecca. Your books are impossible to “read wrong.” Which part of this book was hardest to get exactly right?
RGL: Thank you, Jill. I appreciate that compliment so much. I feel like writing in rhyme is such a puzzle and it’s ALL “hard”! That said, I would have to say that I struggled the most with the ending. The original ending of the book (as acquired) was:
Whatever comes tomorrow,
you can, and will, push through.
Whatever comes tomorrow,
you’ve got this.
Yes, you do.
However, because Barefoot Books publishes its books in both the US and the UK markets simultaneously, all the phrasing in the book needed to work for readers in both countries. And someone on the Barefoot Books team pointed out that the term “You’ve got this” isn’t commonly used in the UK. They also pointed out that the phrasing of the final line wasn’t grammatically correct in context (Technically, it should be “Yes, you have” rather than “Yes, you do.”)
My editor and I did an unscientific poll of all the Brits we knew. Some agreed it should be changed while others had no problem with the ending as it was. My editor, who is American, left it up to me whether to change it or not.
I decided that I wanted everyone – regardless of whether they live on this side or that side of the pond – to walk away from the book with a warm feeling in their heart (rather than nagging doubts about my grammatical prowess).
So, after many sleepless nights and hair-pulling (yes, all that over ONE 4-line stanza! Gotta love being a rhymer!), I came up with what is the current ending of the book (inspired, by the way, by one of Mariona’s glorious spreads, originally intended for a different part of the book but moved to the end to match this text):
Whatever comes tomorrow,
however steep the hill,
you’ll find your path,
you’ll journey on,
you’ll make it through.
I am SO much happier with this ending, by the way. So, I have a PSA for anyone who is worried about edits after acquisition: embrace them! Sometimes pushing yourself beyond what you think you can produce can result in magic you never knew was there!
JE: I know I’m not the only rhymer who feels heartened that, even when we believe a line perfect, it can be better! Was the (fabulous!) back matter something you submitted along with the manuscript, or did Barefoot ask you to do that?
RGL: I am a HUGE fan of back matter, as I mentioned the last time I was here with BRAINSTORM! 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, however, 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 in the field, 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 all the fabulous exercises you find in the back matter of the book. She also created a wonderful FREE Activity Guide available on my website.
Thank you for having me again on Picture Book Builders, Jill! It’s always such a pleasure chatting with you.
JE: Happy to have you back, Rebecca!
Rebecca’s bio: Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!(Sleeping Bear Press) and WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, March 7, 2023). She has six more rhyming picture books forthcoming, including AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, 2024) and I WILL ALWAYS BE…(HarperCollins, 2025). 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 family. Find out more about Rebecca and sign up for her monthly newsletter where she offers tips and tricks from her own writing journey at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.