The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack

I learned about the picture book  The Story About Ping via its famed review (over 10,000 helpful votes and counting), back when I didn’t have a child and parenting seemed an undesirable, incomprehensible, unimaginable task reserved for Other  People.  Ping is a little yellow duck who lives on a “wise-eyed boat” on the Yangtze river with his family and the  boatman.  Every morning, the ducks leave the boat to look for food, and when they return at dusk, the last duck gets spanked by the boatman. One day, Ping realizes that he’ll be the last one in, and runs away to avoid getting spanked.  He has all sorts of adventures, narrowly escapes becoming a duck dinner, and with much relief, returns home to his parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and forty-two cousins.

The book was written in 1933,  and has its fair share of issues–the illustrations, for instance, show a Chinese boy who’s the same color as Ping. And, the spanking.  “But why did the boatman spank the last duck?” asked my four-year-old, very disturbed, and I didn’t have a good answer, for even if every single duck was on time, one would always get spanked. I think one of the hardest things to explain to young children is that sometimes, shit happens. At this age, we parents are constantly trying to establish causality and consequences, as in: “If you keep banging that glass door, it’ll break, and if does, I’ll give you a time-out for bajillion years.” Getting my son to understand that things happen without a reason (and that people are sometimes nasty just for the heck of it) has been challenging, but necessary–he’s increasingly coming up against a real world that isn’t always nice, the cosmic spank that can’t be dodged.

But children are freakishly changeable. My son maintains a reading log for school, and he’s supposed to pick his favorite out of every 10 books read and draw a picture. Of course he picked Ping. Why? “Because I like the duck getting spanked,” he said, and laughed madly.

And what about the review (1999) that started it all?  Ping is apparently a Unix networking utility (whatever that is), and the reviewer very cleverly analyzes the book in terms of the latter. As in “The book describes networking in terms even a child could understand, choosing to anthropomorphize the underlying packet structure. The ping packet is described as a duck, who, with other packets (more ducks), spends a certain period of time on the host machine (the wise-eyed boat). At the same time each day (I suspect this is scheduled under cron), the little packets (ducks) exit the host (boat) by way of a bridge (a bridge). From the bridge, the packets travel onto the internet (here embodied by the Yangtze River).”


Who Should Buy This Book

If you need a good, high-level overview of the ping utility, this is the book. I can’t recommend it for most managers, as the technical aspects may be too overwhelming and the basic concepts too daunting.

Read the rest of the review on the Ping program creator’s page at (you have to scroll down).  Sadly, Mike Muuss,  the man who created Ping, died in a car crash in 2000.  Really bad shit happens.