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Literacy Milestone: Reading A First Book

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole: Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Book: Sam & Dave Dig A Hole
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

Sam & Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is about two brothers who start digging in their yard, and decide to keep digging until they find something "spectacular". They dig and dig, and don't find anything (though alert readers will see things that they could have found with slightly different luck). But then, thanks in part to the efforts of their dog, something spectacular happens anyway. And they go inside for "chocolate milk and animal cookies", perfectly satisfied with their day. 

Mac Barnett uses understated, deadpan delivery to tell Sam and Dave's story. There is lots of dialog. Like this:

""I have a new idea," said Dave.
"Let's split up."
"Really?" said Sam.
"Just for a little while," said Dave.
"It will help our chances."

Even when the spectacular thing happens, there are no italics or exclamation points. Just a quiet sort of, "Hey, this interesting thing is happening now. Isn't that nice?" Like in Extra Yarn. This may be too subtle for the youngest of listeners, but the 5 to 8 crowd will, I think, find Sam & Dave Dig A Hole funny. Whether they will like the somewhat cryptic ending or not, I can't say for sure 

I do know that my four year old daughter strongly disliked the ending of this book. She was invested in the beginning and middle, and then was crushed by the fact that the boys did not end up finding one of the hidden items that they were close to. This validates my impression that this book may work better for older kids. I enjoyed it, but it did not work at all for my daughter. [For some in-depth thoughts on the ending of Sam & Dave Dig A Hole, check out this post by Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes.]

The digital and colored pencil illustrations in Sam & Dave Dig A Hole are vintage Klassen, with subdued colors, textured backgrounds, and a couple of expressive-eyed animals. (The bear from I Want My Hat Back does not, alas, make an appearance - or at least I couldn't find him). As in all of Klassen's books, rewards are offered for attentive readers. In this case, spectacular things are visible in profile near to where Sam and Dave are digging, missed because they dig in the wrong place. Their dog seems to sense bigger things, but they are oblivious, focused on their own digging. The ridiculously large hole (it becomes more a branching tunnel) also lends a delightful sense of the ridiculous to the book. 

Honestly, Sam & Dave Dig A Hole is by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. It is certain to get plenty of attention, and to be purchased by librarians, teachers, and parents around the country. But where I think it's going to shine is at home, for older kids, on re-read after re-read, where Barnett's dry delivery and Klassen's understated illustrations will get funnier on each subsequent read-through. 

Publisher: Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).