Blown Away (And The Value of Paying Attention)

I love books with visual humor—especially when the jokes sneak up on me over multiple readings. Take, for example, Rob Biddulph’s debut picture book Blown Away (HarperCollins, 2015).

Blown Away

The first time I read it, I was taken with the charming art and simple rhymes that propel the story forward. And I mean propel. Our protagonist, Penguin Blue, inadvertently takes off on the kite ride of a lifetime. His friends—a couple of penguins, a seal, and a polar bear in a fishing boat—try to rescue him, but wind up taking flight too. Eventually they land on an island—a lovely one, but much too hot for our travelers. Luckily they’re a resourceful bunch, and with the assistance of a helpful elephant, they sail back home.

Great adventure story, I thought. But . . . um, what’s the deal with this dude on the last page? (Click to enlarge images.)

Blown Away final page

And now it’s time to fess up. When reading for PBB-worthiness, I admit I sometimes . . . (ahem) . . . skim through picture books.  And, in this case, by skimming, I missed many of the thoughtful little details that turn a good, solid picture book into a genuine gem, one sure to offer up delights over multiple readings.

So I read it again, this time more attentively. And I discovered all sorts of treasures. Like, for instance, when Wilbur the seal grabs a penguin and is carried aloft, his clothesline—bearing a pirate shirt, polka dot undies and a pair of socks—comes too.  (Don’t you love the kite and penguins silhouetted in the background?)

Blown Away Wilbur

Then, in the subsequent spread, the clothesline catches Clive the bear’s fishing line and he, too, flies off. Although one of the socks falls into the ocean, the rest of the items wind up scattered in the jungle—which is where our last-page gorilla finds them. Mystery solved.

Blown Away Jungle spread

Looking at this jungle scene, you might also notice something—or, rather, someone—hidden in the lower right hand corner. This little monkey becomes a stowaway on the journey home, playing a pivotal, if silent, role in a very funny subplot.

Blown Away stowaway 2

Then there are the ocean directional signs (see above), the penguin school bus (a very large whale), a clever cloud-counting opportunity, and, well, other stuff you’ll just have to discover on your own.

So check it out. And don’t rush. You don’t want to miss anything.

P.S. As a few critics have noted, polar bears are not found in the Antarctic, so this friendship is rather implausible. And, well, seals don’t typically wear polka dot underwear either.


Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 45 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers. Her books have been included on the ‘best of the year’ lists of The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Council, and The New York Public Library, among others, and have been translated into many languages.


  1. Patricia Nozell

    This looks like lovely retro artwork, too. Think you’ve snagged a winner!

  2. Ha! I love subplots in the illustration! I’m super excited to find this book and pore over it!

  3. Angie Quantrell

    LOL! I’ve read this one and noticed several of the subplots. But I did have to really pay attention! And to the critics…It’s a picture book! Anything can happen in between the pages of a picture book!

  4. I love cleaver subplots! Can’t wait to read this one! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. This looks so good. The polar bear in the jungle is adorable! I absolutely love the irony in picture book critiques. I have had long, serious discussions about whether a sweater ordered online could arrive looking nothing like the online picture. The fact that the dog ordered it was not questioned.

  6. What marvelous illustrations. And a story within a story –that’s like a rich, piece of chocolate hidden in the center of an ice cream cone. YUM!

  7. This looks adorable, Linda–love the artwork. Looking forward to reading it with all the details you mentioned 🙂

  8. Now I want to read this book . . . and buy polka-dotted panties!

  9. Thank you, Linda, for your close reading (I mean “looking”) that caught those wonderful details. It looks like a winner!

  10. I put a hold on this one at the local public library. I’m anxious to see this one. Thanks for the great post.

  11. Yes, I remember there is much going on in this book. I had to do a review on it when I first read it. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Oh brother… “implausible”! Don’t get me started on that one…
    This looks absolutely wonderful. I love the use of color, too and can’t wait to see it in person. Thanks, Linda!

  13. This book looks fantastic, Linda — thanks so much for sharing about it! I loved hearing that it caused you to go back for closer discovery. I can do that same ‘flipping through’ thing with picture books sometimes, so this is a great reminder to slow down and savor the details.

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