I have had an F&G (an early, unbound copy) of Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, since summer of this year, I believe. Since then, I’ve read it at many story times* and watched slow smiles form on the faces of children as they begin to realize they’re hearing a wicked funny book. (Also, I saw lots of jaws drop.)
[*It’s probably breaking all KINDS of rules for me to read an F&G at a story time, so please pretend you never read that. I don’t make a habit of it. La, la, la, let’s carry on….]
So, I feel like this book has been out a long time, and it wasn’t till the other day I realized it is finally coming to shelves next week, if my information is correct.
And the book’s gotten a lot of buzz and attention, since it is really, really good.
For all these reasons, I’ve put off writing about it. What more can I possibly add to the conversation? is what goes through my head. Lots of good things have already been said about the book, including Travis Jonkers’ very funny theories on what happens at the book’s end, and it’s even gotten a starred review here at Kirkus.
But I can’t not write about the book. Because it’s one of the best I’ve seen this year.
How about this? Since my own blog is called Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, I’ll list Seven Impossibly Good Things about This Book. (Gimmicky, you say? Guilty as charged, but let’s do it anyway.)
- The very premise. I mean, what kid, since the beginning of time, doesn’t like to dig holes? They might grow out of it, but young children know there’s something fundamentally gratifying about it. In this story, two boys set out to dig a hole with the intention of finding “something spectacular.”
- The deadpan humor, which grows increasingly surreal. You see, as Sam and Dave dig, they get very close to some spectacular things, indeed—sparkling gems. Yet, just before their shovels hit each one of them, they give up and start digging in another direction.
- The most ginormous gem of all. Klassen gives nearly all of one spread to this mother of all gems. The boys are incredibly close to this one, yet they start digging in the other direction yet again. Oof.
- The dog as comic foil. The small dog, who accompanies the boys, actually sniffs the spectacular somethings in the ground. The pup brings lots of laughs.
- The way the book puts the child reader in-the-know. Children really dig (bad pun intended) being one-up on the protagonist, and in this book they can yell and cringe and shake their heads at Sam and Dave’s mistakes.
- The mind-blowing ending. Sam and Dave (and the dog) dig all the way through and land in what appears to be the same front yard as the one in the book’s beginning. But observant readers will see that things are different: The apple tree at the book’s opening is now a pear tree. The cat’s collar is a different color. The flower on the front porch is a different color. The weather vane is different. Did they fall into an alternate reality?
- The space that this smart open ending gives child readers for pondering and wondering. But that’s no surprise. Barnett and Klassen both have tremendous respect for children.
Are those seven reasons enough to convince you to get a copy of this book? It’s the funniest I’ve seen all year, and it is utterly refreshing to see a picture book like this in a market of many books that look remarkably the same.
That reminds me: I chatted with Mac here at Kirkus back in 2012. It was there that he said something I haven’t since forgotten: “I like strange stories, shaggy stories, stories with knobby bits and gristle and surprises.” I like that so much I still want it to be, say, a banner at my blog.
Well, here you go, readers. Another delightfully bizarre and entertaining story with knobby bits from Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. They’re national treasures, those two.
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.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.