Review: Dream Big, Laugh Often

Dream Big, Laugh Often, and More Great Advice from the Bible

by Hanoch Piven and Shira Hecht-Koller, illustrated by Hanoch Piven

Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Ann Koffsky

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Dream Big, Laugh Often explains its mission on its first page, saying that, “even though the stories of the Bible are very old, there is still a lot that we can learn from each of these characters."

With that premise set up, the book describes fourteen biblical characters. Each one has an illustration and a brief text. The headers include the character’s name, followed by the lesson to be learned. (For example: Noah: Be Good. Abraham: Trust the Journey.)

The text references the traditional bible stories, but does not retell them. Instead, it uses them as jumping off points, highlighting the “advice’. So for example, In the profile of Jonah there is no mention of Nineveh. It instead focuses on Jonah needing a time out (inside the fish!).

Most times, this approach works. Talking about Sarah laughing, and Abraham as a traveler, gives the stories a unique kid-friendly lens. Other times, the text can be a bit confusing. For example, in Joseph's profile, Joseph is described as having dreams that were “a coat of many colors.” It does not explain that there was an actual coat of many colors given to him by his father.

The illustrations are in Hanoch Piven’s signature style, and are unique collages of objects that are arranged to create the character portraits. Kids will love these—they each contain visual jokes that connect to the ‘advice’ and story. ( Kids will really love that Balaam, who speaks not-nicely to his donkey, actually has a literal plastic “potty” for his potty mouth.)

This is a very Jewish, Bible-focused book, and has plenty of Jewish representation (Abraham, Sarah, Devorah, Miriam, and Moses to name a few!) but it should be noted that not all Biblical characters are Jewish (Eve, Noah). Because of its innovative, unique lens on each of the characters I’m not sure those that want to use it in their classroom to retell the authentic stories of the bible will find it useful, but it is quite kid friendly and would make for a fun supplementary text.

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Reviewer Ann D. Koffsky is the author and illustrator of more than forty books, including Under the Sea Seder, Sarah Builds a School, and the Kayla & Kugel series. Several of her books have been PJ Library selections, and her book Noah’s Swimathon received a Sydney Taylor notable designation from the Association of Jewish Libraries.