Don't judge a book by its cover - even if it appears to be a kids' book about penguins


"Don't judge a book by its cover." It's a lesson we're taught from an early age - and with good reason. But what happens when you accidentally do?

Well, friends, here's a tale of online book shopping, penguins - and exploding penises.

It begins, innocently enough, with my son's obsession with all things penguin. It's his birthday soon, and given I can't buy him an actual aquatic bird, I jump online to Booktopia to see if I can buy him some penguin books.

I'm time poor and I'm motivated. I pop a few standouts into the cart including Space Penguins: In Space No One Can Hear you Flap. Ripper.

As I'm scrolling through the 452 results for "penguin" thanks to the British Publisher of the same name, I come across a beautiful hardback graphic novel. It's simply titled Penguins.

"Oh wow," I think. "I've bloody nailed it."

"A collection of interconnected short comic strips by The Unicorns singer that, without words or Homo sapiens, showcases the human condition," the description reads. "The debut graphic novel by musician Nick Thorburn (Islands, the Unicorns, Mister Heavenly, Serial), Penguins is a series of interconnected short comic strips that, sans words or human characters, showcases the breadth of emotion we as humans experience. Black & white illustrations with some colour."

"I love the human condition!" I think. "How educational! How delightful! And it's a comic!"

I place my order and feel pretty pleased with myself - until it arrives, that is. It was not what I expected. And let me just say, it was mostly certainly graphic.


Instead of cute, comic, penguins, as I flicked through the increasingly odd (but cool!) drawings, there, between the pages, I found an exploding phallus.

An. Exploding. Phallus.

It was way too much excitment for a Wednesday afternoon. 

"Mate, it's for 16+" said my brother, who is married to a lawyer and has been trained to read the fine print.

"WTF," said my mother, an english teacher. "Have been doing don't judge a book by its cover with my Year 11s ... but that one's not for them either."

"Well, you can't spell penguin without penis," my friend quipped.

"So you bought a book of penises and you're trying to spin it," said another. " I see ..."

Others were grateful I'd make the mistake first ...


A post shared by Nick Thorburn (@nickfromislands) on

I shared the story with Nick Thorburn, the author, who I tracked down on Twitter. "Haha. Wow. Omg so sorry!" he wrote back. "Hopefully you get something out of the book."

And look I certainly did - it will make a cracking story to tell my son.

When he's a little older that is ...