Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Published by Candlewick Press in 2014
I bought this picture book because I LOVE Jon Klassen. He’s a Canadian illustrator living in the states. He has a unique style that is humorous, gorgeous, and yet gritty. Sometimes he acts as illustrator (like with Sam and Dave) and other times writes and illustrates (This is Not My Hat and my favourite I Want My Hat Back). This is my first experience with Mac Barnett, but I am now a fan (not to mention he took classes with David Foster Wallace which is really, really cool. As a English major I am currently turning green with envy).
Sam and Dave is not what we in the Children’s lit biz call a twice told story, meaning the text and images do not tell exactly the same story. The text tells readers of friends Dave and Sam who “dug a hole” and decide they won’t stop digging “until we find something spectacular” (npg). The images illustrate that text, and add to it, in that the boys continually decide to change the direction of their digging right when they’re about to stumble across a big diamond (which their dog companion appears to be able to smell. I wish Wallace had this super power. I would be living a much different life if Wallace could sniff out buried diamonds). This is an example of how the illustrations add to the narrative, for there is no mention of the diamonds which grow bigger and bigger the deeper they dig, in Barnett’s text.
As well, the boys dig themselves into a parallel universe (?) that is not mentioned in the text. The boys start digging in front of a house with a cat sitting on a porch and a growing apple tree in the yard. Sam and Dave dig right through the earth and they fall to what on first glance looks like the same house from the beginning. However, on closer inspection you see the cat is wearing a different coloured collar, the tree is now a pear tree, along with other changes. This is not mentioned in the text. Actually, Sam and Dave don’t seem to notice any difference. Once again, it is only the observant dog that notices they are not where they started (Wallace and I really like this dog).
These type of “yes, and” (term stolen from improv) picture books are awesome for readers as young as they can come. Even if they don’t know how to read the text, they can keep uncovering a more complex story through the illustrations when the text is read to them, or when looking at the book alone. This provides the opportunity for new interpretations to be discovered upon several readings.
This book is deceivingly simple (Sam and Dave dig a hole), but the interaction between Barnett’s text and Klassen’s illustrations makes for a changing reading experience, making this picture book one that can be read over, and over, and over again before discovering all the secrets.