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6 Theories on the Ending of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

If you haven’t read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, you might not want to read this post yet.

But definitely read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole (out October 14). It’s a great book. It has some excellent broad humor, as well as one heck of a challenging ending that will make readers think. Really, one of the best open-ended picture book conclusions in recent memory. I will now present six theories on what exactly happens at the end of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, from least likely to most likely.

Theory #1: The Dog is Jesus Theory

In this theory, the dog that accompanies Sam and Dave is Jesus, trying to lead the boys in the right direction (notice that the dog is always pointing the way to reach the jewels), yet they don’t listen and end up missing the precious stones every time. Thus when the dog/Jesus digs down at the end of the book, the boys land in purgatory. Oh, and what’s that on the first page of the book? An apple tree? *cue crazy guy voice* GARDEN OF EDEN ANYONE?!

Theory #2: The Truman Show-esque Civilization Theory

The boys fall into an underground world built to resemble their own. The only problem? The details are off. Basically, if you’ve seen the movie The Truman Show, it’s exactly like that. The sky isn’t the sky – it’s a giant dome with lighting orchestrated by Ed Harris. The cat is an actor cat. Sam and Dave have entered a giant reality show. Proponents of the Mount Weather conspiracy (who believe there is a shadow government operating in a mountain in Virginia) will likely be drawn to this interpretation.

Theory #3: The Epic Journey Theory

In this scenario (credit to my wife for this one), the boys return to the exact same place they started, but their epic journey of digging (as epic journeys tend to do) forever changed how they see the world. Hence the “same, yet different” vibe of the house and yard at the end.

Theory #4: The Other Side of the World Theory

This might be one of the most difficult theories to make sense of, yet it seems fairly plausible. Sam and Dave dug through the earth, and the reason things look slightly different at the end is because they are different. It’s the other side of the world.

Theory #5: The ‘It Was All a Dream, Man’ Theory

What happens to the boys right before the craziest part of the book? They fall asleep in the hole. If TV, movies, and books have taught me anything, it’s that if a character falls asleep and crazy stuff starts happening, it might be a dream. Also supporting this theory is the fact that the boys go from filthy clothes to slightly less filthy clothes as they fall and land in the yard.

Theory #6: The Alternate Reality Theory

I’m guessing this is the one most kids and adults will arrive at. It’s the theory that seems the most likely to me. When Sam and Dave dig deep enough, they don’t end up on the other side of the world, but in an alternate reality. This parallel world concept makes sense when you see how the house and yard at the end are almost exactly the same. The could also be called The Another World Theory.

BONUS: Theory #7: The ‘They Both Die at the End’ Theory

This theory puts forth the notion that maybe we’re overthinking everything here. In this scenario, Sam and Dave die in the hole, and the falling scene begins the afterlife.

EXTRA BONUS: Theory #8: The Reader is the Dog

See Eric Carpenter’s comment below.

What do you say? Add your own theory, or defend/dispel one of mine in the comments.

There’s a great post about Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and a literacy milestone over at Jen’s Robinson’s Book Page

Watch the Sam & Dave Dig a Hole book Trailer:


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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Kiera Parrott says

    So here’s my problem with the “other side of the world” theory: they fall straight down. It would seem to me that if they dug a hole straight through the Earth they would come up head first. Right? Okay, okay, I get that we have to suspend disbelief and not nitpick the science too much. But doesn’t it seem odd that they fall down, down, down a la Alice? Which is why I’m mostly a fan of the “it was all a dream, man” theory. Except that still leaves a big question: are they dreaming now or did they just wake up? When does the dream begin? Ooooo. Lynchian.

    • Travis Jonker says

      I agree with your comments about The Other Side of the World Theory. The science doesn’t quite add up (that’s where I was going with the whole ‘difficult to make sense of” comment, so thanks for explaining that more clearly). And I think The ‘It Was All a Dream, Man’ Theory should have a sub theory called The End Was All a Dream, Man. That’s where everything leading up to when Sam and Dave fall asleep is real, everything after is a dream. Maybe that’s the best of the lot.

  2. Eric Carpenter says

    Travis I think the dog is the key here. Not sure if he’s jesus but looking back through the book after reading this post I notice that on the big diamond spread at the exact middle of the book (always a privileged spread), the dog seems to be looking at the reader (much like the animals in I Want My Hat Back are always addressing the “audience”) and not pointing the way to the massive jewel. This makes me believe that the dog is not merely excellent at sniffing out jewel locations but perhaps also aware of his existence within the story….

    • Travis Jonker says

      I like where your head’s at, Eric. I agree that the dog seems to be a key. This could play into The Truman Show-esque Civilization Theory, and the dog is the only one who knows that there is an audience watching. Or maybe it’s a theory of its own – The Knowing Dog Theory.

  3. This is today’s Best Thing.

  4. I shared this title as our #bookaday read aloud last week and it caused much controversy among my 7th & 8th graders. Debates ensued. Many interesting theories were presented. Argument papers were written. I’ll be sharing your list (with some of the same ideas) with them also.

  5. I am clearly nowhere near as creative as you are, Travis, because I was pretty much stuck at number 4, despite the issues with it. I like both 5 and 6. Will have to re-read now. What a great discussion for you to have with students (and for me to have with my daughter, if she can get over her disappointment about the jewels). Thanks for linking to my post :-)

  6. Travis, I’m with your wife. Epic Journey for me. I also think the dog is key. He gets a bone in the end, which debunks theories 5 & 6. Epic Journey, definitely. :->

  7. Read this to my 4th graders yesterday last period (on a Friday no less) and they went wild with theories — one favorite was the wormhole one. At the end I read them yours and they liked the dog as Jesus one, but scoffed at the Truman Show one. I had to shoo them out at the end — some of them would STILL be offering theories. Fantastic book!

  8. Jen Vincent says

    Hey Travis!

    I love that you posted this! I just reviewed this book after rereading it countless times. This is probably the closest I’ve read something in a long time. Here’s my theory: I believe the whole book is a metaphor for life or any experiences we might have in life. Life is an adventure and there are times when we think we’re working towards a goal or trying to get to something specific and often what we are striving for is right there without us realizing it. In the end, whether we get what we are looking for or not, we’re changed by the journey. The journey changes us and we see the world in a different way. The trick for me is that the boys don’t necessarily realize that they are changed…but sometimes life is like that, too. Sometimes a person or an experience changes us and we have no idea how world-altering it is. Sometimes we do feel the impact but other times, it’s hard to realize the true magnitude of how our lives change from what we experience or the people we encounter.

    When it comes to the dog, I think he can be interpreted different ways. First of all, he serves to help the reader realize how the story is a metaphor, he’s almost a silent narrator who urges us to think about the story in more than a literal way. Additionally, he reminds me of people in our lives who are with us along the way, mentors or other individuals who we go to and who listen almost as outsiders. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture of life when we’re living it, but there are often wise people who can see that bigger perspective – and sometimes they point this out to us while other times they let us realize it for ourselves. Overall, I like that the dog doesn’t really interfere, that they boys make the choices that they make and he’s there do to his thing as they go along. I believe he gets the bone as an example that there are some people who know what they want and that it doesn’t have to be something spectacular. And maybe that’s another message – or an extension of the boys’ message – that when you are always looking for something monumental in life, you might not appreciate the little things but if you stay focused on the small things and the most important things, you generally are happier with what you get.

    Oh my gosh, okay, now that I typed that whole thing, I think even more than what I’ve said above is that the book also shows us that there might be times in our life when we are more like the boys and really dreaming big but there might be times in our lives when we are more like the dog and zeroing in on what’s most crucial. Either way, I think the boys and the dog are pretty content in the end. So however you life your life, you can find happiness.

    I guess this most aligns with the Epic Journey theory above but I don’t think it has to be a truly epic journey, just that everything little journey we take in life can change us in an epic way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. Eric Carpenter says

    I was rereading Sam and Dave again today after seeing a great interview of Jon and Mac at http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2014/10/author-illustrator-chat-giveaway-mac.html
    In the interview they discuss the importance of the spread where Sam and Dave split up to dig separately.
    On the next page Klassen shows Dave and Sam having started their two separate tunnels. The dog is shown having followed Dave on the upper tunnel. On the page that follows, the dog is shown coming up the lower tunnel (Sam’s tunnel) to where the boys have reconnected.
    This got me thinking. Has the dog already met up with the boys at the intersection and headed down Sam’s tunnel already? Did he turn around somewhere between the two pages and decided to follow Sam instead of Dave?

    (wait for it)

    Maybe there is no dog.
    Maybe the dog doesn’t really exist at all!!!
    Neither Sam nor Dave ever talk to the dog. Barnett’s text never mentions a dog.
    The title is not Sam & Dave & a Dog Dig a Hole.
    Maybe the dog is a figment of the reader’s imagination, or maybe the reader is the dog (the all knowing entity outside of the story itself who knows where the jewels are because, as the reader, he/she can clearly see them in Klassen’s illustrations).
    One of the many things I love about this text is its intentionality. Every decision seems to have a purpose, while still allowing the text to remain open ended in its avenues for interpretation (as this post and the subsequent comments have shown).
    I’m not sure what any this means for the ending of the story but tomorrow I’m going to try to read this to some students who haven’t seen it yet and if they ask about the dog i’ll reply “what dog?”

    • Travis Jonker says

      I like how you’re thinking, man. Enough so that I added “The Dog is the Reader” theory above. Thanks!

  10. Benji Martin says

    I just noticed something about the pretty big diamond. Dave goes over it, and Sam goes underneath it, so that it (and the small amount of dirt surrounding it) are left suspended in the air. Why doesn’t it collapse? Is the diamond in the exact center of the world? Or is the whole thing a dream (but this is before they fall asleep, so they would have fallen asleep before the book started) or is there some kind of weird magic going on, (alternative universe theory). I think the diamond suspended in the air might mean something.

    • Eric Carpenter says

      You’re only thinking in 2 dimensions (left-right, & up down). The huge jewel is likely still encased by the dirt in front of the jewel and behind the jewel (on the Z axis), as well as by any dirt above and below that jewel that is adjacent to the tunnels which I assume are not very wide.
      The real question is how can they see anything after Sam and Dave turn that right angle to go sideways (before splitting up)? Light should not be able to reach them. I guess they could just be digging in the dark.

  11. Benji Martin says

    I thought about that a bit after I posted that comment, and you’re right. I’ve had some students a colleagues come up with some new interesting theories. At least, they were new for me. One is that when after they fell asleep, they actually died from lack of oxygen, underground gasses or whatever and everything you see in the last few pages is the afterlife. It’s basically a more morbid version of the dream theory.

    One of my students suggested that they are actually in a video game like Minecraft and died and respawned at the beginning, even through it is a slightly different beginning.

    One of my students suggested that the bone is a port key (yes, like in Harry Potter) and it took them to a new place, even though I tried to show her that the dog didn’t grab the bone until after they started falling.

    I personally hold with the dream theory, except that I have a question. Whose dream are we following at the end, Sam or Dave, or are they dreaming the same dream together? I thought about it being the dog’s dream, but he is the only one who never fell asleep.

  12. You guys are amazing, every single one of you. Well, okay… except for you, 2014 Spring Kvinner Masterpiece S. You are not amazing in the slightest.

    I went and heard Mac and Jon speak last weekend, and Jon told me that they made one pretty significant change to the art: as they’re falling through the sky in the F&Gs, they basically became 100% clean. So, apparently someone thought that meant they had died and been cleansed and ended up in heaven… so they decided to keep him dirty so it was even more oblique! What an amazing book, it gets better the more I read it/talk about it. If my school visit today isn’t a huge group (I can’t remember how many 2nd grade classes I’m seeing at once) I’m going to try it out for the first time as a group read-aloud.

  13. Eric Carpenter says

    This book works amazing as a second grade read aloud. I read it to a class Wednesday and they were not only incredibly engaged but immediately started shouting out crazy theories and demanded a reread. This book is as close to perfect as books get.
    One student thought maybe the friends start at Dave’s house (red hat, red cat collar, red flower) but finish at Sam’s house (blue hat, blue collar, blue flower). Not sure it makes sense but I liked how the student was placing significance in the details.
    Great info about the change from the F&G. I’ve only read the F&G so now I can’t wait to get the finished hardcover and compare those spreads.

    • Good call, Eric; just finished it with a second group of 2nd graders yesterday. Most of the theories were of the “they fell through the earth’s core and came out in China/Japan” variety. Even when I brought up the fact that most people in other countries don’t actually have people falling from the sky into their front yards… they still stuck to these theories. But I did have one kid who IMMEDIATELY said, “They slipped into another dimension!”

      And I’ve already had three kids show up at my library wanting a copy of their own, so yeah, no shortage of kid appeal here.

  14. It’s all about the dog. It always is. He gets the treasure, after all. Do child readers even recognize a diamond? Do they care? No (and why should we, either? So ridiculous–this whole diamond business). Nothing makes any real sense: where does the dirt go? What hole can have straight walls? This all makes it more hilarious. What’s it about? I have no idea. Something, though, about how all journeys change us; how we arrive back to where we began but nothing is as it was because we ourselves are changed. Glad the dog gets the bone.

  15. Lauren Claymon says

    I posted a similar comment over at Calling Caldecott, but I’m going to weigh in with a little “young reader response” to SAM AND DAVE. My almost-seven year old and almost-four year old are CONVINCED Sam and Dave end up in an alternate reality. They played a little “Sixth Sense” game with the opening spread and the final one immediately after we finished it for the first time and came to the conclusion that the characters fell all the way into another world–another world just like ours…almost. We’ve had a fun time trying to decipher the ending of this one!

  16. I’ve been reading this with my Afterschool kids this month and one of them suggested that at the end they end up in the back yard (assuming, I suppose, that they started out in the front yard). Maybe this fits in with theory #3. I also had some that insisted they ended up “in China” and some that believed the ending was a dream and/or the entire book was a dream. ;)

  17. Carolyn Ellis says

    They end up in a yard with no hole and a pear tree….Look on the back cover. The cat, that was sitting on the porch, is looking down in the hole which is next to the apple tree.

  18. T.S. Eliot, anyone?
    “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.”
    ? T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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