Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen is full of near misses but ends up being one big hit. Forget the treasure that may or may not be buried under your feet, pick this book up and you’ll have a real gem in your hands.
It starts like this:
Apropos of seemingly nothing, Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole.
They’re only going to stop when they find “something spectacular”.
They don’t have much luck, but… in a brilliantly crafted piece of drama they come oh so painfully, excruciatingly close.
Many picture book creators have talked about how they see their books as mini pieces of theatre, and this book delivers a very special theatrical experience; like in a pantomime when you might call out “He’s behind you!”, only for the innocent character on stage to turn and see nothing, the reader/listener has special knowledge that poor Sam and Dave do not. With beautifully textured, muted illustrations revealing something quite different to what is known from the text, children treated to this story get a special thrill from “being in the know”, from seeing the truly spectacular buried treasure that the poor protagonists keep missing.
This empowering experience is doubled up through association with Sam and Dave’s little dog. Despite being small and just a side kick (like many children sometimes feel), the dog seems to have all the brains. He is the one who keeps sensing just how close the diamonds are. He is the one who makes the breakthrough, resulting in Sam and Dave appearing to have dug all the way through to …
…well, to what? To where? Although this book was authored by Barnett, the ending feels like classic Klassen: It’s full of ambiguity and multiple possible readings. Have Sam and Dave dug all the way through from one side of the earth to the other? Have they managed through some Möbius-strip-like convolution to dig all the way through to end up back where they started? Or have they discovered something genuinely spectacular – some new dimension where slightly different rules are at play?
Finely honed, pared-back text and seemingly quiet illustrations which actually pack a very funny punch combine to make this a winner. Do look out for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole!
Inspired by Sam and Dave’s digging we decided to do a little bit of digging ourselves. Using these guidelines from Suffolk County Council, we dug what is known by archaeologists as a “test pit” in the middle of the lawn in our back garden.
We marked out a square and I took off the top layer of turf before the girls started digging down, retrieving any “treasure” they found on the way.
They used a large garden sieve to go through the soil they removed, and a toothbrush to wash what they found.
As you can see we found quite a lot of “treasure” including something metal but unidentifiable (top left of the photo below), a section of Victorian clay pipe stem, several pieces of pottery and a surprising number of large bones! (oh, and a hippo…..)
At some point when my back was turned the game developed into something a little different – M made a “time capsule” in an old icecream tub and insisted that it got buried when the time came to fill in our hole.
So I guess this means we’ll be digging another hole at some point in the future. Given how much fun we had with this one, I won’t be complaining.
We weren’t listening to music whilst we dug our hole, but were we to choose some music to match Sam & Dave Dig a Hole we might include these in our playlist:
Other activities you could enjoy along side reading this hilarious book include:
What’s your favourite hole? A hole you made? A hole you visited? A hole which allows you to sneak through into some secret space?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book from the publisher but was under no obligation to review it and received no payment for doing so.