Saturday, February 14, 2015

Celebrate Ambiguous Endings

Since Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is a book that totally perplexed me, and given that it just won a Caldecott honor, I decided to read it to my 8th graders this week. This is a book that spurred much discussion and perplexity in my classroom. I was delighted at the thinking and questioning it sparked.

In addition to reading the story as a class, my students read about some of Travis Jonker's theories (they particularly liked the Jesus theory) and came up with some of their own, my favorite being that the book starts at Dave's house and ends at Sam's house. When I told Travis about this theory on Facebook, it led to quite a spirited discussion by teachers, librarians authors, and the like, particularly the idea of whether or not Sam and Dave were brothers or cousins (there's a line in the story that mentions their grandfather, meaning they shared a grandparent). If they were cousins, then beginning at one house and ending at another would be plausible, but not so much if they were brothers.

My students asked if I would tweet Jon and Mac to ask them what they think happens at the end of the story. I doubt very much that they would reveal that information, and even if they would, I don't know if I want the answer. The whole reason people love this book is because it spurs so much discussion. So as tempting as it is to tweet Jon and Mac and ask, "So what is your take on what happened at the end of your crazy book?" I think I will pass. Then again, they do give a little clue as to what they think happens at the end in this interview:

Still, I think I'm just going to embrace the uncertainty and let this story spontaneously insert itself into class discussions for the rest of the year. For instance, "Well, what about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole? That book doesn't have a denouement." (Denouement is their new favorite word to use in class discussions).

For those people who don't think picture books should be read to students past 3rd grade, I have just added another book to the pile that cements my argument as to why they are for ALL AGES, not just primary grades. This book is full of complexity and makes a case for the importance of visual literacy (Explain the reasoning behind wanting to show a full spread of the house, the pets, and the tree without Sam and Dave at the end of the book. What is this trying to tell us here?). I have to admit, I missed a lot of the visual cues I was supposed to notice my first (and second!) read-throughs. It was only until students began to point them out that I started to make those connections. So again, please, I beg of you, do not assume that because a book is only 32 pages and has pictures that it is overly simplistic. I can assure you, there are many picture books that can teach literary elements just as well, if not better, than novels.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Note: This was crossposted to my book blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust


  1. I love that you continue to read picture books to your students! You are so right in that they are ageless. Proof of that is that your students found some clues in the story that you had missed. Love that!


  2. I have lately been more & more intrigued by the use of visual literacy, Beth, & I also read lots of picture books to my students. We discussed Sam & Dave Thanksgiving week, (I remember because we had grandparent visitors too!), but I haven't returned to it. Maybe it's time. I just used "Once Upon A Memory" in a writing lesson this past week. There are many wonderful PBs to use with older students!

  3. I need to return and read it more carefully to consider the things your students have said. I must say I LOVE that moment when I'm reading picture books to my 6th graders...when they notice something I missed on my first few readings. Discussing picture books at older grades is so exciting to me!!! Thank you for sharing! Can't wait to revisit this amazing book!

  4. I can't wait to check this book out. Thanks for a great book talk and for inspiring me to find new book titles!! Reading pictures books to each grade level is so powerful. Every age group--let alone every person--has a different "take away." What an authentic way to truly spark and engage a love for reading.

  5. This book. Seriously, how I love it. My students read it to any adult who even pokes their head into our room. Kids love it. Adults love it. I love how much my students love it and how everyone is talking about it! Sounds like it was an incredible experience in your room too.

  6. This book is one for ALL ages for sure. There is so much to discuss and ponder. I love it. I totally agree that picture books aren't confined to an age group.

  7. I'm looking forward to reading this book...I am thinking that I will use it with some fourth graders soon. I agree that books should not have ages associated...they are so much more if people consider learning opportunities.