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Can Ya Dig It?

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Whether you were glittered-up and wore pink and purple from head to toe, parading as a princess-loving tyke or were more of a rock- and stick-obsessed, bug-hunting, mud-loving youngster, chances are good that you dug a hole (or 30 of them) during your childhood.

You might have sought a buried treasure of sparkling gems and gold coins or something more macabre like a skeleton or secret passageway to a sinister other world. But you dug, nonetheless, with a spoon, a spade, a stick or a sandbox shovel.

Award-winning author Mac Barnett and author-illustrator Jon Klassen are counting on that universal fascination with backyard excavations as they promote their newest collaboration, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, just released this month.

Illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett previously collaborated on the Caldecott Honor-winning Extra Yarn. - SONYA SONES
  • Sonya Sones
  • Illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett previously collaborated on the Caldecott Honor-winning Extra Yarn.

Former childhood diggers themselves, they hope the appeal of this topic engages their target audience of 4- to 8-year-olds. To promote it, they're on a national book tour and will make the Indianapolis Central Library one of their stops this Sunday at 2 p.m., brought to town with support from Kids Ink Children's Bookstore.

With a PowerPoint presentation about their creative process, a reading from Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and a signing to follow, the men are sure to entertain kids and parents alike. They are known for their cunning wit and (for the adults in the audience) sarcasm.

Californian native, Barnett grew up in a farming community and now resides in Berkeley, and Klassen, a Canadian native, grew up in Niagara Falls and Toronto, Ontario. He now resides in Los Angeles. The two have become close friends and co-creators on this and other projects as well.

A New York Times bestselling author of children's books, Barnett won a 2013 Caldecott Honor, 2013 E.B. White Read Aloud Award and the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Award for Excellence in Picture Books for Extra Yarn.

"It is such a great feeling to know that people care about the book that you care about. It's [Sam and Dave Dig a Hole] is a book I'm really proud of," Barnett says.

In Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett's just-released children's book Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, readers have the chance to chuckle as the titular pair stop just short of a major tunneling score again and again. - COURTESY OF CANDLEWICK
  • Courtesy of Candlewick
  • In Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett's just-released children's book Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, readers have the chance to chuckle as the titular pair stop just short of a major tunneling score again and again.

Klassen won a 2013 American Caldecott Medal and 2014 British Kate Greenaway Medal for This Is Not My Hat and a 2010 Governor General's Award for English-language children's illustration. He's the first person since 1947 to receive a Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honor in the same year and only the second person ever to accomplish that literary feat.

"It's crazy when there's a setup that allows people to say we like it too, and they give you an award for it," Klassen adds. "It is validating and gives you confidence to keep making other things."

Barnett and Klassen came up with an idea for this newest children's picture book while having breakfast together in a Los Angeles diner. By the time they left the eatery, they'd pretty much nailed down the outline of the book, which Klassen sketched out on a napkin.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a comedy of errors for the milk and cookies set. - COURTESY OF CANDLEWICK
  • Courtesy of Candlewick
  • Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a comedy of errors for the milk and cookies set.

The end product being, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, about two boys and their canine companion that dig endlessly (page after page) without finding the giant diamonds in the ground underfoot. Through Klassen's illustrations, readers can see the treasures the boys cannot. With every turn of the page, anticipation builds and the clever dialogue between the boys propels readers' anticipation beyond each missed opportunity.

Cleverly, the moral of the story is left open to interpretation that lies within the illustrations. Everything Klassen and Barnett want told (and left untold) is revealed in the pictures. They leave it up to the readers to make of it what they will. They just want kids to have a good time in the process.

Barnett says, "We aren't really setting out to write a book with a moral or lesson. We just want to give kids a story they enjoy, and hopefully remember for a little while after they close the book."

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