The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, 1986. 96 pages.
I originally read this book as part of my very extensive search for books to use in our literature based homeschool co-op curriculum this year. It didn’t make the cut since as it turns out, the grade level I landed isn’t quite able to fully appreciate it. However, I enjoyed it so much that starting next week we will be reading it in our own homeschool and doing some activities based on the themes and setting of the book.
Prince Horace is mischievous, impertinent, and always causing trouble. It is a crime to spank or lay a hand on him in any way, so a whipping boy is needed to take the lashes he earns when he is caught misbehaving. Whipping boys were not uncommon in English courts during the 16th and 17th centuries. The title character is Jemmy, a street orphan taken in to royal palace to serve as the whipping boy for the prince.
Jemmy is a tough kid, and years of fending for himself on the streets has produced in him a stoicism and determination that makes him the “perfect” whipping boy. He never cries when he is called take lashes for “Prince Brat”, and that fact eventually comes to infuriate the prince.
When the prince decides to run away Jemmy knows that he will be held accountable if anything bad happens as a result, and goes with him. He also knows the prince can’t possibly fend for himself on the streets, and it’s not long before they run into serious trouble, only escaping due to Jemmy’s quick thinking and street smarts.
This book is a good read for girls and boys alike, but I really liked the themes, interactions, and thorough celebration of boyhood in it. I initially chose it precisely because so many of the other books I encountered in my search for a class reader were books that lacked the kind of action, adventure, mayhem, and fun that young male readers can enjoy.
Scholastic categorizes the book as appropriate for grades 3-5, so I’ll let that suggestion stand. The themes of personal responsibility, courage, and friendship are those that can be appreciated at any age, as evidenced by the fact that at 44, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent reading this book.
Violence: The whipping boy takes several lashings, and there is much peril on their runaway journey.
Bandits, a kidnapping, and robbery are integral to the plot. There are also moments of awakening as the prince encounters the realization of his charmed existence and experiences, however briefly, the life of a peasant.