Once upon a time (okay, maybe three years ago), in a not too distant land (okay, California), two talented (okay, multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling) picture book pros teamed up and created EXTRA YARN … Published in 2012 and awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2013. Now, once again, the winning and wickedly funny team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have joined forces, this time to bring us SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE. I’m delighted to say that with their latest (on sale October 14), these guys (Barnett & Klassen not Sam & Dave) have outdone themselves, and that’s going to mean lots of happily ever afters.
Pick up a copy of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-8) written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen and you’ll see what I mean in just a few short pages. Then, at the end, which you’ll arrive at in no time because you’ve been turning the pages so quickly to see how things for Sam & Dave turn out, you’ll find yourself, along with your kids, racing back to the beginning to check things out because you’ll love, love, love what you think has happened, but want to be sure. Or not be sure, it’s totally open to interpretation and that’s all I’ll say.
In a nutshell, or in this case a hole, Sam & Dave set out (parents and caregivers take note: the action begins even before the title page), shovels on shoulders, to dig a hole. They’re joined by an attentive dog whose presence is instrumental in the story. Sam wonders when they’ll stop, but the hole is only waist high. Dave says, “We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.” Who doesn’t recall having that same feeling of anticipation during a childhood adventure just like these boys do? So, they dig on. And readers, well readers are rooting for them, too!
Klassen wastes no time in complementing Barnett’s excellent yet economical prose with visual humor that will keep kids engaged and thoroughly entertained. In a hilarious Abbott and Costello-like manner, the two boys seem to play Abbott’s straight man. They carry on with their mission of finding a treasure that readers see is almost within reach, so when they find nothing and change directions, or eventually split up and dig separately, the humor and tension build in the best possible way. The adorable dog, with a keen nose or sixth sense, takes on the role of the comic relief in true Lou Costello-style, and knows exactly where all the treasures are. The “so close yet so far” theme Barnett has mapped out and Klassen has illustrated is both exciting and irresistible. The pacing of each page turn is so perfect that I can almost hear kids calling out as Sam & Dave is being read to them. “Wait, don’t change direction! It’s over there!” And that kind of interaction is a treasure in itself!
It isn’t until all dug up routes lead to nothing but exhaustion that this picture book takes a final comical turn (or fall …. ) courtesy of the boys’ trusty companion, the dog. Its pursuit of a buried bone leads to what I’m certain will be this season’s most clever and talked about ending, guaranteeing countless re-readings, imaginative conversations and a spate of shovel purchases.
Recently, two adult friends and I sat down for a discussion of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, another great thing about this already terrifically entertaining picture book. It got us talking about our childhood experiences and how those might be influencing our responses to the book. One friend pointed out how the layout of the text in each spread mimicked the depth, width or action of the simple, understated yet totally spot-on artwork. The other friend wondered if the boys were brothers or cousins, and I sat thrilled to hear how animatedly we were talking about the plot and how it had affected us. In other words, just imagine what your children will be thinking after reading this gem of a book, and how wonderful it will feel to have shared that experience with them.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Mac Barnett on Twitter: @macbarnett
Jon Klassen on Twitter: @burstofbeaden