The Story About PING: A Week of WTF Kids’ Books


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.

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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”.

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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?

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24 thoughts on “The Story About PING: A Week of WTF Kids’ Books

  1. Omg that is ridiculous. I cannot remember any right now since we have left picture books behind for years now but I know there have been some and also some kids to shows (foreign?) that I catch the kids watching and I cannot fathom how it got made and released.

  2. My daughter had a home reader a couple of years ago that was all about a little girl who desperately wanted to be a flower girl at a wedding but couldn’t because all of her aunts were single and couldn’t get boyfriends!

  3. Oh, all the time. I hate when people die or kill each other halfway through. Makes it very awkward trying to avoid questions about death or nightmares from my 3 year old. Cue skipping a couple of pages or sentences and just hoping he doesn’t notice!

  4. Oh my god, I think I remember being read this book when I was little!!! I swear I remember that duck… and, now I’m vegetarian. Coincidence? I think not.

    • I know, right? They are so dark and violent and sinister. And here’s the thing: I LOVED them as a kid. Part of me thinks we sanitise this stuff too much. The other part of me wants to keep them as innocent as possible.

  5. Some of the That’s Not My books have WTF illustrations. There’s one where the teddy is clearly splayed dead on the floor, and another with a possessed and angry penguin centrefold… Or maybe it’s
    just me.

  6. I have yet to retell the wonders of Ping to the tornadoes but Handy Hubby says he remembers that book fondly (must have forgotten the WTF bits). I can think of a couple of WTF kids books. We have a 1970s Sesame Street book called “Cookie Monster’s Good Time to Eat”. Apparently all the time is a good time to eat. It finishes up with Cookie having a sleepover at Ernie and Bert’s and while they are asleep he is awake stuffing his face full of cookies. Hard to explain to the tornadoes why they can’t do that when Cookie is telling them it’s ok. The other is Richard Scarry’s “Lowly Worm’s Horrid Pests”. The Grabby Pest takes Little Sister’s icecream and Grandma HITS him with her umbrella. In the updated version Grandma is only “going to catch him with her umbrella”. I think the authorities must have had a word with Grandma.

    • LOLOLOL! Sesame Street and Scarry are some of my favourites, along with good old Enid Blyton! I’m sure that the authorities have had a grand old time cleaning up some of the hot mess of literary weirdness we were exposed to as children.

  7. I’m fairly certain I’ve read that book and didn’t give it a second thought but now you mention it… WTF? You are a true writer Hugzy, who manages to find an interesting, hilarious angle on everything. I saw your video re: mean comments and I cannot believe that ‘sweeter than honey’ softly spoken, articulate girl is the loudmouth, wise crackin’ voice behind your blog! WTF?

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