The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Written by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0763662295

Grades K and up

Book Review

How do you know when you’ve found something spectacular? Perhaps, you might answer, when you open Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, the latest picturebook by the award-winning duo of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Armed with long-handled shovels and full of chocolate milk and cookies, Sam and Dave embark on a familiar childhood pastime: digging a giant hole. Indeed, Dave announces they “won’t stop digging until they find something spectacular.” Told with Barnett’s perfectly paced and straightforward prose, and through Klassen’s earth-toned and textured cross-section illustrations of the subterranean adventure, the story humorously follows the boys’ earnest, but misguided decisions about their digging. Only the readers and the boys’ accompanying dog sense what treasures actually surround them, and only the sharpest reader will sense what is truly remarkable about their experience in the end. This is picturebook storytelling at its finest, as text and illustration entwine to tell the whole story and make for “something spectacular” for your students to encounter.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

The Joy of Digging. What is it about digging that children find so fascinating? Set up a classroom digging station using a sensory table or bin. Fill it up with sand, hide some fun treasures to discover in it, and provide students with small shovels. Have students sort their discoveries into various categories, map the locations in the sand where they dug up their treasures, and then rebury the items for the next group of students to dig up.

Go Dig a Hole. What would your students find if they dug a hole? Pose this question to them, and then launch an inquiry into the geology, ecology, and even the pedology (study of soils in their natural environment) of your school’s geographical location. As a class, research what mineral and organic material they might expect to find, perhaps even what man-made materials might also lie in the ground beneath them. Use some of the website provided below in Further Explorations. Then have them write or illustrate what they hypothesize they’ll discover. Finally, dig a hole with your students, and see how their predictions match what they find.

Global Proportions and Directions. At the end of the book, Sam and Dave appear to have dug through the earth to the “other side.” What is directly on the other side of the world from where your students and school are? Study the globe with your students to determine geographical locations that would be directly opposite from theirs. Then, pick various locations for students to use as starting points and have them determine what lies on the other side of the world from those points (e.g., Is the South Pole really opposite from the North Pole?). Have them list these geographical opposites on a class chart. Some of the answers may be surprising.

Animal Senses and Perceptions. Although the boys miss the treasures around them, their dog senses each one. How are animal senses and perceptions different from those of humans? What do animals sense that humans don’t? Have your class research the sense abilities of various animals, especially those known to have some keener senses than humans: dogs, cats, elephants, alligators, bats, and seals, for example. Then, have students rewrite Sam and Dave Dig a Hole with a different animal accompanying them and using its unique sense abilities to try to guide the boys.

About that Ending. The ambiguous ending provides rich opportunities for students to go back into the book and engage in close reading of the text and illustrations. Guide your students in a discussion of the ending, charting their interpretations about what happens as well as the evidence they cite for support. Share some of the interviews that Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen gave about the book (see Further Explorations below). For older students, share the School Library Journal article that offers six theories about the book’s ending. Then, have students continue the story by writing what happens next to the boys.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary. Although the boys never find any of the jewels hidden in the dirt, they nonetheless believe they experienced “something spectacular.” Have students brainstorm times when something wonderful or surprising happened when they least expected it, such as spotting a hawk while out on a walk, having the vending machine drop two snacks instead of one, or finding an item they thought was lost while they were doing chores. Using Sam and Dave Dig a Hole as a mentor text, have students narrate their own stories about something extraordinary resulting from an ordinary activity. You might also share some of the books listed below in Further Explorations, such as Not a Box and The Dot, to show how amazing things can be made from ordinary objects as well.

Painting with Soil.  Another way to show how the ordinary can produce something extraordinary is to have students create artwork with soil. Show them images such as these ( that artists have painted with soil. Involve students in the preparation for painting by taking them on nature walks to gather soils of different colors, or have them bring in a container of soil from other places in the community.

Author/Illustrator Study. Both Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have written and illustrated several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of their books to conduct an author study and/or illustrator study. For the author study, ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the books. Examine Mac Barnett’s writing techniques, as well as the topics and perspectives he writes about in his books. For the illustrator study, survey Jon Klassen’s illustrations, and identify his artistic style, his artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about both of these men from their websites listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources.

Author-Illustrator Pairs. The author/illustrator relationship can be a powerful one. The author has to trust the illustrator to tell their story in pictures. Though often, the author and illustrator work separately, sometimes never communicating about the book in order to allow each other to represent the story in through their own vision. However, there are author/illustrator pairs like Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen who have worked together or have repeatedly been paired without actually meeting each other to create some of the most compelling contemporary picture books in the last few years. Conduct an author-illustrator study of the work of some of these pairs. You might look at the picturebooks by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, Eve Bunting and David Diaz, the father-son duo of Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, and the husband-wife team of Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney. Compare and contrast the books they have created together with books they have created with others. Students could work in pairs to become author/illustrator partners and create a shared story. How does their collaboration create something better than what they could have created alone?

Further Explorations
Online Resources

Mac Barnett’s website

Jon Klassen’s website

Soils 4 Kids

Soil Science Society of America

Soil Education – USDA Natural Resources Conservative Service

Geology for Kids

All About Soil – Easy Science for Kids

Amazing Animal Senses – Neuroscience for Kids

Super Senses: The Secret Power of Animals

Six Theories on the Ending of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole – School Library Journal article

Interviews with Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen


Portis, A. (2006). Not a box. New York: HarperCollins.

Portis, A. (2007). Not a stick. New York: HarperCollins

Reynolds, P. H. (2003). The dot. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Rosinsky, N. M. (2002). Dirt: The scoop on soil. Ill. by S. Boyd. Minneanapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Saltzberg, B. (2010). Beautiful oops! New York: Workman Publishing.

Tomecek, S. (2007). Jump into science: Dirt. Ill. by Nancy Woodman: National Geographic Chidlren’s Books.

Zuppardi, S. (2013). The nowhere box. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our entry at

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. I just read this book and loved it! It has so much to offer between the texts and the pictures. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas!

  2. Definitely! It certainly deserved a Caldecott Honor, if not the Medal itself. Thanks for visiting our blog and sharing your thoughts!