Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have previously spent some time on some of my favorite books from childhood. There was the chapter book, brilliantly illustrated, The Cricket in Times Square (one of my most popular posts over time) and another Garth Williams delight, Push Kitty, which is a book for younger children. Push Kitty was a bit harder for me to remember because I did not own a copy and had only taken it out of the library as a child. However, out of all of them, The Story About Ping, was a book that I owned and a constant favorite demanded for bedtime reading.
To digress a moment, I have always adored being read to – it did not leave off as I grew up and could read on my own. I demanded that boyfriends read to me in high school, listened to books read on radio programs when I could find them, and eventually graduated to audio books, first on tape and now on an iPod which I listen to at the gym for a couple of hours most days which makes even the elliptical a joy. I am a voracious reader, but I am simply delighted to listen.
Anyway, The Story About Ping, which in my mind is always just Ping the Duck remained in my mind as an all-time favorite. Ping was written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack and illustrated by Kurt Wiese, so even when I discovered it in about 1968 or ’69 it was an old book. Ping’s story goes roughly like this: a flock of ducks are released by their houseboat owner daily to feed on the river. At the end of the day the last little duck to get on gets swatted for being last. One day in an attempt to not get spanked, Ping swims off. He gets lost, has adventures, almost becomes someone’s dinner, and finally finds his way back. He is, alas, the last one on, but accepts the spanking, glad to be home at last.
Author Marjorie Flack did not have an especially illustrious career despite the extraordinary and long-standing popularity of Ping. She evidently eventually wrote a series of books about her dog that had some popularity, but I am not familiar with them. Ping won numerous awards and was evidently featured on everything from Soupy Sales to Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis even did a sock puppet version! I don’t remember any of this, although I watched all those shows – I think I would remember seeing it because of my affection for the book. Kurt Wiese on the other hand, enjoyed more popularity as a children’s book illustrator and illustrated the first edition of Bambi in 1929. Born in Germany he fought in WWI and ended up as a prisoner of war in Australia. After circling back to Germany he ultimately settled on a farm in my home state of New Jersey.
I know part of the reason I loved this book was the illustrations. Drawn as if inked and then filled in with the most exquisite crayon, I remember being fascinated as a kid. I think the exoticness of the story – taking place in China on house boats and junks on the Yangtze River also appealed wildly. There is a segment where Ping watches these black ducks (Cormorants) being used for fishing which also blew my mind – and still seems strange and cruel now that I look back on it. In fact, in retrospect, I am not entirely sure I endorse the message of the book – after all, some duckling would always be last so why swat him or her? I think I even remember thinking that as a child.
Still, my memory of this book is such that I persist in buying it for my friend’s children. Sadly, you cannot buy a hardcover version new these days, I have only been able to find it in soft cover. I deeply suspect that some people find this version of China and Chinese culture outdated to say the least as well – perhaps all the way to racist by today’s standards. Nonetheless, The Story About Ping remains one of my favorite childhood stories and I figure I couldn’t have been all wrong as a kid.