Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

by Mac Barnett (Author) Jon Klassen (Illustrator)

Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

A 2015 Caldecott Honor Book

With perfect pacing, the multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen dig down for a deadpan tale full of visual humor.

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary -- and finding it in a manner you'd never expect.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
When Sam and Dave dig a hole, readers get "something spectacular." The boys, on the other hand, do not. Their quest to find the spectacular brings them painfully and humorously close to buried jewels as they spade their way into the ground, accompanied by an intrepid canine companion. ... Poor Sam and Dave. Lucky readers.


Klassen's pebbly, earth-toned, colored-pencil and digital illustrations of Sam and Dave's dig are exaggerated to comic effect, especially when coupled with Barnett's dry, simple text. Subtle visual clues (the final absence of dirt on Sam's and Dave's clothes; a closing house that's just slightly different from the opening one) suggest there's more to the story than meets the eye, and canny little ones will likely be delighted by the beguiling ending.

Horn Book Magazine

Starred Review
Mind-blowing in the best possible way.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Barnett's comic voice is at its driest as he recounts that quintessential American childhood activity--the digging of the giant hole. His deadpan prose mimics the declarative sentences of early readers: "On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole. 'When should we stop digging?' asked Sam. 'We are on a mission, ' said Dave." Klassen's boys, with identical poker faces and glassy expressions, hold their shovels American Gothic-style, considering their next move. Cross-sections of earth show them further and further down, and comic tension erupts as readers see gigantic diamonds buried at intervals underground while Sam and Dave tunnel on, missing every one: "So Dave went one way, and Sam went another. But they didn't find anything spectacular." Meanwhile, their dog's pursuit of a small bone leads further downward, possibly through the Earth and out the "other side." They land in their own backyard again--or do they? Barnett and Klassen (Extra Yarn) dangle the prospect of fantastic subterranean treasure before readers, but leave them with an even greater reward: a tantalizingly creepy and open-ended conclusion. Ages 4-8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)

Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

The winning picture book team that created Extra Yarn (HarperCollins, 2012) is back together in this understated, humorous, and charmingly perplexing tale. Sam and Dave, who are either identical twin boys or friends who look astonishingly alike and share a sartorial sensibility, set out to dig a hole in the hopes of finding "something spectacular." With shovels in hand, the boys (with an eager terrier looking on) begin to tunnel into the soil, but they just can't seem to find anything of interest. What works spectacularly is the clever play between words and pictures. As in Klassen's This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012), readers are in on a joke to which the characters are oblivious. Namely, that each time the boys change direction, they narrowly miss discovering increasingly enormous jewels hidden in the earth. The book progresses with each verso showing the boys' progress, while the recto features simple text, mostly dialogue between the practical but unlucky explorers. About halfway through, a spread reveals a diamond so large it can barely be contained on the page; it dwarfs the two boys and their trusty canine companion—but all for naught, since they decide to dig in a different direction. Exhausted and covered from head to toe in dirt, Sam and Dave decide to take a rest. Klassen's use of muted earth tones and uncomplicated compositions is paired well with Barnett's deadpan humor. As they nap in their hole, the dog continues to dig...until suddenly the trio is falling; they soon land in a place that looks an awful lot like home. Small details reveal that this house and its inhabitants are ever so slightly changed. Are they dreaming? On the other side of the world? In a different dimension? Readers will have to puzzle that one out for themselves.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"A clever second collaboration between Barnett and Klassen... The prose is deadpan; the joke's all in Klassen's winsomely smudgy illustrations." —New York Times Book Review 

"The deliberately poker-faced, almost banal flatness of the text isn't the joke here but the straight man to the ironic humor of the art (the boys' elaborate subterranean efforts carefully lead them just past several increasingly huge diamonds). ... Engaging as well as stylish. Kids will enjoy playing "spot the differences" once they figure out the joke... Young excavators will appreciate this surreal modernization of the old notion of digging all the way to China." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 

"A visually appealing underground adventure... Kids will love to read, reread and just look at this book." —PBS Parents

"Is any childhood truly complete without at least one shovel-wielding foray into shoulder-deep dirt? ... A carefully choreographed interplay between Mac Barnett's straight-faced text ("So they kept digging") and Caldecott-winner Jon Klassen's stylized illustrations." —The Washington Post 

Mac Barnett
Mac Barnett is the author of many beloved picture books for children, including Just Because, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; A Polar Bear in the Snow, illustrated by Shawn Harris; John's Turn, illustrated by Kate Berube; and President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. He is also the author of several books illustrated by Jon Klassen, including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, a Caldecott Honor Book and E. B. White Read-Aloud Award winner; the Shapes trilogy; and The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse, an E. B. White Read-Aloud Award winner. Mac Barnett lives in California.

Christian Robinson is the best-selling illustrator of several books for children, including Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, which was named a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book; Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett; Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book; The Bench by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex; and Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. Christian Robinson lives in California.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Candlewick Press (MA)
Publication date
October 20, 2014
BISAC categories
JUV019000 - Juvenile Fiction | Humorous Stories
JUV051000 - Juvenile Fiction | Imagination & Play
Library of Congress categories
Caldecott Medal
Honor Book 2015 - 2015
Georgia Children's Book Award
Finalist 2016 - 2016
Kentucky Bluegrass Award
Recommended 2016 - 2016
E.B. White Read Aloud Award
Winner 2015 - 2015
Colorado Children's Book Award
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens
Recommended 2015 - 2015
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Parents Choice Awards (Fall) (2008-Up)
Silver Medal Winner 2015 - 2015
Irma S. & James H. Black Award
Winner 2015 - 2015
California Young Reader Medal
Nominee 2017 - 2017

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