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This is a book you will love or hate. It is terribly funny, but it could really upset some children, so I will be giving more detail on this book than usual. I will also disclose the ending, but this will clearly separated from the rest of the review at the very end, so feel to skip it if you wish. My reason for disclosing the ending is it will have a major effect on how most children react to this book.
10 Little Penguins is like no other counting book I have seen - and we have quite a few. For starters, this book begins with 10 and works down to zero, so children are learning to count backwards, as well as the first steps to subtraction. But how it does this is rather unique. This book is also a pop up, and each page begins with a number of penguins happily at play. Until you pull a tab and one penguin is taken out --- quite literally. The first penguin to go is bowled over with a bowling ball and knocked beneath the ice, but some will meet more gruesome fates. The most graphic one is a penguin exploding into a large splat of blood, but another is eaten by a whale, and one smashed with a whales tale. Still another is caught by polar bears to be cooked for dinner, and one melts through the ice.
I usually read books before giving them to my children, but this is pop up penguins, what could possibly be upsetting in this? So, as I was busy when the parcel arrived, I didn't interfere when my my sons sat down together and my 7 year old read this to his brother. I noticed both of their eyes were quite wide and my youngest looked rather pale so I sat down to listen to the rest of the story myself. I must admit I was a bit shocked, but I'm glad I allowed them to continue to the end.
Despite the initial reaction, this is now a favourite book and both children ask for this all the time. They have quite taken to slaughtering poor penguins, but you won't be able to understand this unless you read about the ending. The pop ups are really brilliant though, and the whole book is very cleverly set up. There is quite a lot of action for a pop up, and this is relatively sturdy and well made (All pop up books share some risk of damage with young children).
Ideally I would say this book is for children from age 2 -7, but I actually see this appealing to a lot of adults with a warped sense of humour. The book has a well written rhyming prose with lines such as "8 little penguins follow a boat. The cook cries what's afloat?" I'm sure you can guess what's on the menu. This book is also a brilliant way to teach children to count to 10 forwards and backwards, as well as subtraction with one. These activities are completely blended into the story so it will never feel like they are learning math. I can't really recommend this for classroom use though, as I don't feel the pop up last with a class full of children.
Despite the obvious fact that wholesale slaughter of penguins may upset many children, the only disadvantage to this book is that it must be held at a perfect 90 degree angle or the pop ups will not work properly and will very soon be destroyed. My 7 year old is able to understand this, and can use this on his own, but the 3 year old has trouble getting it just right and needs help. I would also mention that pulling the tabs harder will make the action more dramatic - and so could be very tempting, but will of course eventually spoil the book. This book is only for children who are old enough to understand how to use it, and very careful with books, or for use with adult supervision.
This book sells for £5.99 new and £5.50 used, including postage. Because of the delicate nature of pop ups, and the price difference being so small, I would certainly recommend buying this new. I would note that this author is best known for another penguin book 365 Penguins which I hope very much to buy soon.
If you do not wish to know how this book ends, please stop reading here.
**********SPOILER ALERT *******************
One penguin survives the massacre and sadly boards a bus all alone. My 3 year old was nearly in tears at this point. Then we move to an empty snow scene with 0 penguins left to play. But by lifting the flap all 10 pop up, alive and well. My 3 year old carefully matched each penguin to the "deaths" in the book and was relieved to see all alive and well. It turns out it was all joke - they weren't killed but hiding. My son was clearly relieved, but then unconvinced - after all one had exploded and one been swallowed whole. I had to convince him the whale spat the penguin back out, and the one that looked like it exploded was only hiding in an ink cloud from a nearby octopus. Once he got the idea of the penguins just hiding he has loved this book - but it could go either way. This is one book parents are going to have to think very seriously about before buying. If your child is young and appears to be getting upset, you can always fast forward to the end page.