Two of our favourite picturebooks are about what lies beneath our feet - specifically, what we might find down a hole in the ground. Where did the hole come from? Where does it lead? What might be living down there? What treasures might we find?
The Something (by Rebecca Cobb, published by MacMillan Children's Books) wondrous celebration of a child's imagination. This is a tale that starts when a ball doesn't bounce back - disappearing into a small hole besides a tree adorned by the green buds of Spring, in a boy's back garden. As the boy and his dog look down, we look up at them from the hole.
At first, the boy just waits and wonders. As the tree blooms into colour, the boy begins to ask others what they think might be down there. In the top half of the pages that follow, we see the boy, his family and his friends each taking a turn at guessing what might be below - and in the lower half of each page we see his imagination come to life - a mouse's house, a troll, a snoozing fox, even a dragon. In each scene, the boy's lost ball can be found.
As the pages turn, so do the leaves on the tree as autumn arrives, and finally the tree is bare. The boy is not upset that he doesn't have the answer - rather, he is "pleased that something has chosen our garden to live in".
Rebecca Cobb's beautiful and distinctive illustrations bring her first person narrative to life. There are charming and touching details to be discovered. When the boy's grandparents suggest that if something does live down there it is most likely a mole or a badger, the boy imagines the creatures knitting and doing the crossword - just like his Granny and Grandad are above ground. The diversity of the boy's friends is worth a particular mention.
We adore Rebecca Cobb's books and highly recommend others she's written and illustrated (including The Paper Dolls; Lunchtime; Aunt Amelia and There's an Owl in My Towel - all reviewed on our site).
In Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books) we meet two determined diggers on a mission, who vow that they "won't stop digging until we find something spectacular".
Setting out with their spades into a barren field next to a farmhouse and a single apple tree, Sam and Dave begin to dig. Here we see clear looks of determination from the pair, and their dog. Their cat looks sceptical and watches from the porch step. Jon Klassen's use of 'side-eye' in his characters' faces is second to none for illustrating a huge range of emotions.
They begin to dig down, and then across, at each turn narrowly missing increasingly huge diamonds buried in the earth. They stop for a rest and animal biscuits. When they fall asleep, their dog digs a little further, and opens up a hole in the bottom of the page. They all fall, landing with a bump on the earth below. "That was pretty spectacular" they say. But are they home?
Mac Barnett's sparse narrative is perfectly matched to Klassen's deadpan illustrations. The minimalist style enables readers to focus in on details, and notice new aspects of the story on each reading - it wasn't until recently we realised that the dog is always trying in vain to indicate where the gems are buried.