Saturday, March 27, 2010
The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman
I feel reasonably certain that this book was required reading for me once upon a time in elementary school, but I didn't seem to remember any of it as I (re?)read it recently.
In an unnamed kingdom, the prince is nothing short of a total disgrace. Nicknamed Prince Brat everywhere but in his own presence, he pulls cruel pranks on guests, and refuses to learn anything from his tutor (presuming that when he is king, he will simply pay some one to do unpleasant tasks such as reading and writing). And because it is completely forbidden to strike the prince, all of the punishments for his various crimes are heaped upon Jemmy, his whipping boy. An orphan taken from the streets, Jemmy was selected to live in the palace, eat and dress well, and be beaten soundly when the prince steps out of line (frequently, in this case). He longs for the day when he can escape this life that he hates, and escape back to the sewers to be a rat catcher like his father.
On whim, Prince Brat decides one evening that he'd like to run away, and he's taking Jemmy with him. Jemmy looks forward to slipping away on his own as soon as the opportunity presents itself, but the two are quickly apprehended on the road by infamous bandits. In a very Prince-and-the-Pauperlike twist, Jemmy, who has actually paid attention to his lessons, is able to convincingly take on the role of the prince. Clearly cleverer than the two robbers, he tries to set them up to escape, but Prince Brat, having none of it, constantly thwarts his attempts.
This book has remarkable depth for only being 90 pages with large type. Over the course of time, the prince becomes less shallow and grows in admiration for Jemmy, who, in turn, learns to sympathize a bit with the prince (but no more than he deserves). The book also has elements of humor, making it a fun and fast read. For the intended audience, it's perfect!
Incidentally, I selected The Whipping Boy for my next review after reading that the author, Sid Fleischman, had passed away last week. He had an immense number of well-loved children's books to his credit. For the LA Times's summary of his life, read here.