Review: Big Dreams, Small Fish

Big Dreams, Small Fish

written and illustrated by Paula Cohen

Levine Querido, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Sarah Aronson

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In Paula Cohen’s Big Dreams, Small Fish, Shirley and her family have big dreams for their new family store. The problem is: all the adults think Shirley is too young to work. They think she should spend her time playing. But Shirley is full of big ideas, and when her family leaves her and Mrs. Gottlieb to mind the store, she includes a free sample of gefilte fish with every purchase. Her parents are upset until the next morning, when members of their ethnically inclusive neighborhood line up to buy more of the new neighborhood delicacy.

I loved this picture book.

Shirley is plucky and resourceful. She doesn’t accept that she is too young to work at the family store. When she seizes the moment and gets to work in the store, I turned pages to see how she would sell that fish! This girl doesn’t just have big dreams. She has great ideas! (As the daughter of an economist, I laughed at her impressive understanding of supply and demand.) I loved the use of Yiddish and the diverse cast of characters that helped make this story feel both modern and nostalgic at once. The illustrations are vivid and charming. Although Shirley and her family are clearly Jewish, the story is not about religion. It’s about Jewish life. And heart. And community. Big Dreams Small Fish offers positive and authentic Jewish cultural content. I hope that the Sydney Taylor Committee takes a long look at this book. I definitely reached for a pickle when I was done reading!

As all of us know, Paula passed away suddenly just before the book was released. In this book, you can feel her joy for story. You can feel her love of her family. And her enthusiasm for Judaism. See Miriam Udel's tribute to Paula on this blog, and follow #bigdreamssmallfishdtiys on Instagram to see illustrators’ tributes to Paula’s art and joyful life.

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Reviewer Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published books for kids and teens including Beyond Lucky, The Wish List and Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker. Forthcoming books include Brand New Bubbe (Charlesbridge) and a picture book biography of Bella Abzug, called Abzuglutely! (Astra Publishing, Calkins Creek). Find out more about her books and classes and the power of play at