This is the first post in the Hugzilla blog series “A Week of WTF Kids’ Books”: a celebration of books that have sprung disturbing or inappropriate themes on unsuspecting parents as they read aloud to their children. We salute the authors and would like to thank them for testing our ability to make emergency edits on the spot, in order to avoid traumatising our children and sparing them the awful truth that the world can be a compassion-famished and cruel and violent place.
“The Story About Ping” was first published in 1935. When I purchased it I was labouring under the delirious misconception that it was going to be a feel-good story that my children would rather enjoy; this being a classic children’s book and all.
The back cover promises us the delightful story of a little yellow duck who gets lost on the Yangtze River; a plucky little fellow who experiences a little bit of “terrible trouble” before finding a “friend” who helps him get safely home to his family.
Turns out that “terrible trouble” is a euphemism for “sadistic violence” and “friend” is shorthand for “predator with ill-intent”. This is the Apocalypse Now of fluffy duck stories.
Little Ping the duck lives on a boat with his family. Every day they happily disembark to hunt for food until evening, when they all march in line back onto the boat.
Ping is always careful to hurry back, because the last duck on board gets sadistically whipped by the captain of the boat, for no apparent reason than the fact that he has possession of a whip and rather enjoys using it to whip things, if the satisfied smirk on his face is any indication.
One day, they all go out into the river as usual. Realising with dismay that he is lagging behind and going to be the last back to the boat, Ping decides that he would rather hide in the grass than cop another ass-flogging from the captain.
He spends 24 hours lost, wandering aimlessly around the Yangtze River until a small boy with a rope tied around him is thrown from a house boat into the water. Holding out a rice cake to the famished Ping, he manages to get hold of him and splashes his way back to the boat he came from.
Our giddy celebration of jubilation and relief at Ping’s rescue is brutally brought to a premature halt when it is revealed shortly after that the people in the boat have not in fact rescued him at all: they have ENSLAVED him with the intention of EATING him.
“I will cook him with rice at sunset tonight”.
Luckily for our hero, the little boy-predator who lured him onto the boat has a crisis of conscience and decides to quietly release him overnight, while his mother is asleep and dreaming of chilli-ginger glaze and juicy duck fat.
Our hopes spike again, as Ping spots his boat shortly after his reprieve from an unhappy fate as a side dish with rice, and we root for the little guy once more as he struggles to make it back to shore before the vessel disembarks.
Hurrah! We finally have our happy ending, as Ping is lovingly welcomed back to the fold with another completely unprovoked flogging from the whip-happy captain as he scrambles up the gangplank to rejoin his family.
What the actual @#$%.
Better the whip than the wok, I guess.
Have you ever read a childrens’ book that made you go WTF?