Off topic: On the subtle mystery of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

I instinctively feel that a good children’s book should be two things. Take something like Home, by Carson Ellis. On one level, this is an imaginative exploration of the different ways various people might live. People who could find a home in a shoe, for example, or perched on top of a mountain. But a good children’s book should be two things at once, and the deepest and most satisfying aspect of Home is tracking a number of elements that appear on the scan of the book’s individual pages – a cup of tea, a flag – and then seeing them arranged in the last house we see, which happens to be Carson Ellis’ house where she creates her art.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole is two things in one. And it’s hardly surprising, really, because it’s the result of one of the most ideal partnerships in any children’s book – words by Mac Barnett and images by Jon Klassen.

Real talk: I’d like to be friends with these two people. Barnett is a writer of astonishing scope and precision, a mischievous rogue in one book, while reaching more soulful depths in the next. He’s a dandy, but a dandy who can play any tune, match any rhythm. Klassen, on the other hand – and my apologies to Oli Welsh, who made that link first – is Samuel Beckett. The writer, not the time traveler – but who knows? It’s Samuel Beckett with a few more jokes. And many others. His watercolors – I think they are watercolors – have a wonderful way of bringing out the thickness and density of the paper they are spread on: they capture that feeling when good paper becomes damp and takes on a hushed quality. Klassen is also very adept at capturing the harshness and surprise in his characters’ faces. He’s the perfect illustrator for stories that involve the brutal limits of language – the places where it stops dead and lets everyone down.

Jessica C. Bell