The Backstory: WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW
It's time for another return visitor! We had the pleasure of chatting with Rebecca Gardyn Levington back in September for her debut, BRAINSTORM! Well, she is back today with her latest, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, 23) with illustrations by Mariona Cabassa. This is a gorgeous story that you don't want to miss. Keep reading to learn all about how it came to be and for your chance to win a 30-minute AMA Zoom call with Rebecca.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story and where the inspiration for it came from.
For as long as I can remember, even as a very young child, I’ve always craved structure, order, and rules. I found safety and comfort in predictability, and any unexpected change to my routine made me uncomfortable. Of course, as a child, I didn’t understand these behaviors were symptoms of anxiety.
There are so many kids who struggle (like I did, and still do), kids who worry constantly about what might happen tomorrow and panic at any unexpected change to their normal routine, big or small – a new sibling, a friend moving away, a substitute teacher, a lockdown drill…a pandemic.
WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW is 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, 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.
Rebecca this story is so needed and your words combined with Mariona's illustrations perfectly and gently relay this message of hope and the ability to accept and face all that tomorrow has to bring.
Having a child with anxiety and working with second-graders for over 15 years, I can attest to the need for this book. I love how you layered in hope while also recognizing and accepting that challenging times do exist. Most importantly, I appreciate the subtle strategies incorporated in the text as well as the amazingly actionable backmatter you have provided. A classroom teacher or parent could easily build these into their classroom or home providing everyone there with some solid strategies for these difficult feelings. Young children especially can feel as though they are the only ones struggling with anxiety or worry and this book is a gift to them to help them know they are not alone.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
Like many of my picture books, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW began as a short poem. One week in late November 2020, the prompt word chosen by my Poem-A-Week Challenge group was: “surprise!” As I brainstormed what to write about, I started thinking of all the unexpected surprises in life and how we never know what tomorrow might bring.
Originally the poem was a simple list of musings about random surprises life throws at us. But pretty quickly (by drafts two and three) I found my thoughts going deeper. I thought about how I personally dislike ANY surprises (and did so even as a child). And when I considered why, I realized that it is very much connected to my fears of the unknown.
Over the next few months, I added, tinkered, and received input from many critique partners. Finally, by March 2021, I had a polished draft that I felt comfortable sending out into the world.
It is so cool to see the evolution of this story and how it grew both in size and depth of meaning and complexity. It is also a great reminder of the potential of even our smallest ideas. Daily writing challenges and contests all have the ability to help us get words on the page and any one of those ideas could become a published story.
Did WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
Yes, SO many! As I said, there were many changes just in the first few drafts. But then there was also a point (around drafts six or seven) when I questioned whether the story needed more of a structured narrative arc. I drafted one version about a child going through the divorce of her parents (something I personally dealt with as a child) and another about a child who had to move far away. But after more tinkering and feedback, I realized that I wanted this book to be more universal and allow room for the illustrator to bring in her own interpretation. (And I’m SO happy I did because Mariona’s art is brilliant!)
Even after WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW was acquired by Barefoot, however, I made more changes. I was asked by my wonderful editor, Lisa Rosinsky, to tweak some of the language so it would resonate with readers both in the US and UK, since the book is being released simultaneously in both markets. I also created a whole new stanza that I felt better matched Mariona’s illustration on one of the spreads. And I changed my Author’s Note to better reflect the butterfly metaphor that arose during the incredible creative collaboration I had with Mariona and Lisa. (FYI, for anyone interested in learning about how the butterfly metaphor came to be, I discuss it at length in this January guest post on the Writer’s Rumpus blog: https://writersrumpus.com/2023/01/27/how-authors-and-illustrators-inspire-each-other-without-ever-talking/)
By the way, the word “surprise” ended up getting cut in later drafts. In fact, the only stanza that has remained from the original is: “Tomorrow may bring questions that you have no answers for, or questions that may lead you to more questions than before.” Everything else has changed. In all, there were about twenty drafts of the story.
It can be mind-boggling the infinite directions a concept could go in and how we ever settle on the "right" one. The less structured path you took absolutely widens the market for how many children connect with and see themselves in the story.
Your revision journey for this book is a great reminder for authors to always keep an open mind about the final-ness of their words. At any stage there is the opportunity for revision and change and I think most of us would agree those changes often strengthen the manuscript.
Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW?
I happen to love poem-picture books, especially ones in rhyme (naturally) and ones that delve into deeper emotional concepts. Pat Zietlow Miller’s When You Are Brave (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler) and Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Prasadam-Halls (illustrated by David Litchfield) were great mentor texts for WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW. Other authors/poets that definitely influenced my work in general include anything by Dianne White (Blue on Blue, Green on Green), Linda Ashman (When the Storm Comes), Julie Fogliano (A House That Once Was), Liz Garton Scanlon (All The World), and Lisa Wheeler (Someone Builds The Dream).
As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?
I say this ALL the time (sorry, broken record here!) but Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab course was an absolute game-changer for me. This class completely altered my relationship with and understanding of meter, lyrical language and wordplay and gave me the much-needed technical tools I needed to take my writing to a completely new level.
I would also say being a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Writing Challenge (this is my 7th year) has also been hugely beneficial. I have never once written 12 manuscripts in a year (I probably cap at 4-5), but the constant encouragement and generosity of its members is unparalleled. It’s worth being a part of just for the FB group alone -- there is *always someone available to share their experiences, offer advice, cheer me on, or commiserate. And the webinars and Book Chats are FANTASTIC!
I also encourage everyone to participate in ALL the free writing contests! Having a writing prompt and then posting entries online in contests like Vivian Kirkfield’s #50PreciousWords (coming up in March!) and Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie, Valentiny, and Winter Holiday contests, really helped me come out of my shell and get over my fears of sharing my work. And several of those entries have gone on to become picture book drafts (In fact, I have one out on sub right now! Fingers crossed!)
Lastly, I’m a huge podcast lover. A few faves:
Children’s book specific: Picturebooking, You May Contribute a Verse, Picture Book Look, The Children’s Book Podcast, Literaticast
Creativity/Motivation: Creative Pep Talk, The Mel Robins Podcast, Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons
The Writing Life: The Stories Between Us, #AmWrting Podcast, Chalk & Ink
School Visits: The Author Visit Podcast
The Business of Books/Agenting: Print Run
What a great rundown of resources! New writers save this list and check out all of these amazing opportunities immediately. I also want second your writing contest feelings. The above-mentioned contests are an amazing place for new writers to be inspired, build community, and gain confidence.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
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, which I describe 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 are still unannounced, but hopefully they will be very soon!
SIX?! How amazing is that? Congratulation on all of your successes and I can't wait to hear more about these secret projects.
Where can people connect more with you?
I’d love to connect with everyone! Please visit my website (www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com) and SUBSCRIBE to my monthly newsletter, where I offer tips & tricks from my writing journey and answer questions about all the publishing things! You can also use this link: http://eepurl.com/h2sK8X
You can also follow me on Twitter/FB: @WriterRebeccaGL and Instagram: @RebeccaGardynLevington
To pre-order a signed & personalized copy of WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW, visit my local indie: https://store.wordsbookstore.com/signed-copy-whatever-comes-tomorrow
Or purchase wherever books are sold and I’ll happily send you a beautiful signed bookplate, designed by Mariona Cabassa!
Signed copies of BRAINSTORM! are also available: https://store.wordsbookstore.com/book/9781534111486
Be sure to follow Rebecca and sign up for her newsletter so you don't miss any of her latest publishing news. And while you are at it, check out, put in a library request, or pre-order WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, 23) with stunning illustrations from Mariona Cabassa.
Rebecca thank you so much for joining us again on The Backstory. We appreciate you taking the time to visit with us and I hope we will get the chance to chat in the future about your upcoming books!
Rebecca is generously offering one lucky winner a 30-minute AMA Zoom call!
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT REBECCA GARDYN LEVINGTON
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, 2022) and the soon-to-be-released 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 her husband and two boisterous boys. Find out more about Rebecca and sign up for her monthly newsletter at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.