Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Written by Mac Barnett and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

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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.

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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!

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SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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 

 


Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

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LEAP INTO ANOTHER MOLLY IDLE TALE
AS FLORA TAKES TO THE ICE

flora_thepenguin_cvr.jpgIllustrator, Molly Idle, is a 2014 Caldecott Honor recipient for her wordless picture book, Flora and the Flamingo. She’s brought Flora back by popular demand, but this time Flora has traded her pink bathing suit for a blue snow suit, and her pink flamingo dance partner has been replaced by a new blue penguin friend.

In Flora and the Penguin, an exquisitely illustrated lift the flap book, (Chronicle Books, October 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-5) Idle makes the saying, “A picture speaks a thousand words” very clear, as there is no text. Parents, don’t worry, although the book leaves room for conversation, there is plenty told through the beautiful illustrations done in shades of soft blues, yellows, and of course, white. The characters’​​​ body language and facial expressions are priceless, and at times comical.

Friendships can be tricky to navigate. Especially when they’re on ice! Flora and Penguin glide and twirl together gracefully, until the penguin takes a dive beneath the surface and comes up with a fishy gift for his friend. Misunderstandings ensue, and their friendship suffers a cool chill, when Flora throws the fish back into the icy pond. When Flora sees how unhappy this has made her friend, she comes up with a solution which involves team work, and creates a grand finale for the book.

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Interior artwork from Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle, Chronicle Books ©2014.

This is a must-have book on your toddlers shelf!

If you’re in the area, why not come meet Molly Idle who will be signing her books on October 2nd at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, CA.? The event begins at 7p.m.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

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“Celebrate the holidays with faith, family, friends … and food!”

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 4-8).

⭐︎Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Rabbi-Benjamins-Buttons-cvr.jpgWhat’s the best part about Jewish holidays? The time spent with family welcoming in the Jewish New Year (it’s 5775 now), the world’s birthday? Maybe it’s rejoicing during the harvest festival, Sukkot, that arrives five days after Yom Kippur. That’s when we spend time in the sukkot, or huts, that harken back to when the Israelites built temporary homes of palms and branches as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Whatever the holiday, another essential element is the food, the delicious, traditional food we eat whenever we celebrate.

A new picture book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, humorously exemplifies how much food is intertwined with every Jewish holiday, and I know how true this is because it’s when I pack on the pounds every year!

Beloved by his happy congregation, Rabbi Benjamin is bestowed with a handmade vest featuring four shiny buttons at the New Year’s service. “How the rabbi smiled when he put on that beautiful vest! It fit just right.” But alas, with a year’s worth of holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover and a year’s worth of dining on delicious meals, the rabbi’s belly expands. So what do you think happens next? Yes, all the buttons eventually pop off, often landing in a dish of fabulous food.

Reinhardt’s watercolor illustrations are as rich as the food Rabbi Benjamin is served at every holiday.  They’re cheerful, radiant, expressive and perfectly reflect the rabbi’s favorite saying, “A happy congregation is the sunshine of my heart.”

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Interior spread from Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty with illustrations by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2014.

To solve his dilemma, Rabbi Benjamin performs various good deeds, or mitzvot, within his community from planting a garden to climbing into a congregant’s attic to hide some Chanukah gifts. Over the course of the following year, the rabbi’s positive actions help his belly dwindle down in size. But without buttons, how can he fasten his vest and wear it for the approaching New Year’s service?

After reading this picture book, children will appreciate how one good deed begets another, often when least expected. Also, rather than pull out the elastic waist pants, perhaps more apples and less strudel couldn’t hurt!

Make sure you check out the end pages for a glossary of words used in the story. I love that a mouth watering selection of recipes for such traditional dishes as honey cake, latkes, matzoh ball soup and strudel are also included. There’s also an Educator’s Guide available for downloading by clicking here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel