Book Review: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

November 17, 2004

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The Whipping Boy
by Sid Fleischman

The 1987 winner of the Newbery Medal is this quickly-read little book, set in an unnamed kingdom in an unspecified age when highwaymen were the objects of song and legend, when dancing bears and dog-and-rat pits were major forms of entertainment, and when spoiled little princes had whipping-boys to take their licks for them.

And in this particular kingdom, in this particular age, the Prince is such a naughty boy that everyone calls him Prince Brat (behind his back, of course); and his current whipping-boy, Jemmy– the orphaned son of the rat-catcher–is fed up. Just when Jemmy has his mind made up to run away, the Prince steals a march and runs away with him. Together they fall into the hands of a highwayman named Hold-Your-Nose Billy and his henchman, Cutwater. In order to escape, they must first trade places, then learn to trust each other.

So an unlikely friendship is born, belated lessons are learned, and some pretty wild adventures are had in the woods and roads and sewers of Prince Brat’s kingdom. The trouble now arises that the King thinks Jemmy is the one who abducted the Prince, and has put a price on the whipping boy’s head. With the law closing in on one side, and lawbreakers on the other, and nothing but the Prince’s newfound sense of honor to protect him (besides his own wits), how will Jemmy get out of this corner?

It’s fast-paced, light-hearted fun, and the transformation of Prince Brat does the heart good.