What happens when an artist whose signature style is working with found objects meets a children's book editor whose passion is finding stories? The answer is the book. Dream Big, Laugh Often and More Great Advice from the Bible, which will be released by FSG Books for Young Readers on March 21 and mailed to Jewish families who subscribe to the PJ Library in May.

"Our meeting was beshert," says FSG editor Joy Peskin, referring to the Yiddish word for "destiny." Peskin encountered Israeli artist Hanoch Piven in 2019 when he gave a workshop at her New Jersey synagogue on creating collage portraits from items drawn from any junk drawer, toy chest, rag bag or tool box. That day, Peskin, grieving the sudden death of her father that fall, made a portrait of him from doodads Piven had provided. "It felt powerful. It felt cathartic, and I knew we should make a book together," Peskin tells PW, speaking from her home where that portrait still hangs.

They kicked around ideas, but nothing gelled until 2022 when the PJ Library proposed a partnership with FSG to publish a book by Piven and his collaborator—whom he also met by chance at a workshop in 2018. Shira Hecht-Koller is an author and Jewish educator who currently serves as director of education for M²: The Institute of Experiential Jewish Education. She had the idea for a book that would bring Piven's collage approach to retelling Biblical narratives and wisdom. "Shira laid the foundation for me as a secular Jew who felt afar from these texts to study and comment on these stories, and perhaps, through me, other people regardless of their religious belief will enjoy reading them as well," Piven explains.

Ultimately, the team that built the book became a havruta (Hebrew for learning with a partner) as the artist, the editor, and the educator were joined by freelance art director Neil Swaab in choosing and distilling upbeat advice from selected Bible characters, then designing art and text for Dream Big, Laugh Often. Swaab says he and Peskin, both recalling the drab, earnest Jewish books of their childhood years, wanted this to be "a joyful book that gives the kids an intro to Jewish roots in a fun and entertaining way."

The book offers two takes on 14 characters in the Hebrew Bible. They range from well-known personalities—including Moses, illustrated with a body made of matzoh, the crackers the Hebrews carried when hastily fleeing Egypt, and Eve, shown in Eden with a bird figurine and a jalapeno pepper, among other items cascading to form her hair—to Balaam's donkey, mentioned in the book of Numbers. It's seen halting mid-step because it sees a folded white fan angel that Balaam fails to recognize. "Collage is about paying attention to serendipity —to what life suddenly puts in front of you," says Piven. "This is something we can learn from the artistic activity and then apply it to all aspects of life."

The first half of their book, geared to eight-year-olds, features an illustrated scene from each character's life with a few paragraphs highlighting an upbeat message. Jonah, about to be swallowed by a fishnet shopping bag for shirking responsibility, prompts advice that one should "Take a Time-Out" to rethink one's actions. Sarah, shown with grinning dentures for eyes, will "Laugh Big" upon learning she's pregnant in her old age. By retelling the Torah using humble objects like oven mitts, wrenches, and rag-bag scraps, the team hopes that young readers, too, might build influential lives from their own surroundings.

The second half of the book, written by Hecht-Koller, is geared to older children and parents, whose religious education may be lax or long forgotten. It revisits the highlighted characters, presenting an an-depth description drawn from scriptures, and a zoomed-in version of Piven's portrait of that figure. These are intended to highlight what Hecht-Koller calls "the complexity and multidimensionality of these famous characters." Hect-Koller hopes that readers of any faith may "be inspired to learn and take advice from them as they build their own selves and lives of meaning."

Piven says, "All the Bible stories are journeys of growth and of distillments of human moments of truth. I believe that once I manage to connect them, as Torah scholars constantly do, to my own quest of searching, that will act as a bridge for others to connect to the stories as well."