Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy
Sid Fleischman
Greenwillow, 1986  90 pgs.
Grades 3-5
Adventure/Historical Fiction

Prince Brat causes all sorts of mischief and mayhem in his castle home.  Whenever he misbehaves his father, the king, calls for "the whipping boy" to take his punishment.  Jemmy has been promoted out of the sewers and into this position.  As much as he enjoys the comforts of castle life, living with Prince Brat for company and the constant threat of an unearned whipping makes life miserable for him.  One night, out of sheer boredom, Prince Brat decides to run away and demands that Jemmy accompany him to carry the hamper. Not long after this adventure begins, the two runaways are captured by a pair of notorious outlaws: Hold-Your-Nose-Billy and Cutwater.  A case of mistaken identity leads to the outlaw's confusion of which boy is the prince and Prince Brat gets a whipping for the first time in his life.  After a narrow escape the boys meet a near-sighted potato man and a young girl with a dancing bear heading to the fair.  After another run-in with the outlaws and a narrow escape with the help of the bear, they travel with their new friends to the fair and enjoy being regular boys.  Unfortunately all is not over with the kidnappers, who manage to catch the boys again.  After a harrowing escapade in the sewers, where they must fight for their lives, the boys escape to freedom.  Its time to head back to the castle, but will Jemmy be accused of Prince Brat's kidnapping?  Will Prince Brat have the courage and loyalty to stand up for his new friend? What will become of the friends and enemies met along the way?  All is revealed by the end of this fast-moving and enjoyable story.

The Whipping Boy is one of my lower-elementary book group favorites.  I'm using it this month for maybe the fifth time in twenty years and it never fails to delight me.  The Whipping Boy in my opinion is what a good chapter book for children should be.  The writing is excellent, the setting distinct, the characters are interesting, the plot moves quickly, and lessons are subtly learned. The book itself is short with equally short chapters, wide margins, large print and superb illustrations by Peter Sis.  This book won the Newbery Award in 1987, which is unusual for a beginning chapter book.  It is a stand-alone book with no sequels or fomulaic writing, also unusual for books aimed at this age group.  This is clearly an adventure story set in the past (making it an acceptable choice for historical fiction book reports) but it also contains much witty humor.  A perfect choice for boys, though girls will like it too.  The runaways are old enough that the book is also a good choice for older reluctant or limited readers.  The Whipping Boy is a wonderful read-aloud in both length and language.  Themes include the value of friendship, the consequences of bratty behavior, questioning of the class system, and the importance of education.  The author's note at the end informs the reader that Whipping Boys really did exist in the olden days, giving legitimacy to the book and further food for thought.

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