Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Sam and Dave dig a hole next to an apple tree just outside a house. There is a cockerel weathervane on the roof and a red tulip in a pot balanced on the railing. A grey cat with a red collar watches. A dog joins Sam and Dave on their mission to dig until they find something spectacular. They dig and dig and each time they are on the brink of discovery they change direction and miss out. But something spectacular does happen and they land back where they started or do they? Sam and Dave seem unaware as they go inside for chocolate milk and animal biscuits that a few things are different.

Klassen’s illustrations use muted, earthy colours, they seem to be drawn with coloured pencils. Each page contains a lot of white space. Inviting the reader’s imagination to fill the void. The end papers at either side of the book are a different colour and mirror the colour of the fruit on the fruit trees. They indicate change. In most of the drawings the characters are mouthless.

The story builds anticipation and frustration with every near miss. The ending is very ambiguous and perhaps a little unnerving. It has a slightly numbing effect as we search for an explanation and none is given.

Sam and Dave seem annoyingly single-minded, they have tunnel vision. This adds to our sense of frustration and raises questions around how we know things. The text seems as oblivious to the real story as Sam and Dave but if we are using our senses and are tuned into colour and image and the body language of the non-human characters, we see that things are the same yet different. The author gives us no clue as to what has happened.

Are diamonds more valuable than food?

How do we know things?

How does the dog know there are diamonds and bones? Why don’t Sam and Dave?

Should we trust our senses?

Should we trust reason?

The dog finds a bone and seems to trigger a shift in reality and they all fall into a different world, the same but changed. As they fall we see multiple versions of each character.

How do we know which one is real?

How do we know we are real?

Do parallel universes exist?

Are they dreaming?

Is one home less real than the other?

Is it the authors duty to make sense, to answer the questions s/he raises?

Are we a different person at the end of the book than at the start?