Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Whipping Boy

by Sid Fleischman

The 1987 Newbery Winner, this fanciful tale is set in a quasi-medieval kingdom, and tells of the arrogant Prince Brat (as everyone calls him; his real name is Horace) and the titular Whipping Boy who has been impressed into service as the stand-in for all the punishments the Prince would get for his behavior, were he not of royal blood.  When the clever whipping boy, Jemmy, decides to run away, the sullen, lonely prince insists on accompanying him.  They are immediately captured and held for ransom by two doltish outlaws, then manage to escape, but remain only a few steps ahead of the pair.

This is a fun, lightweight adventure, full of memorable period characters such as the illiterate outlaw Hold-Your-Nose Billy (so named for his garlicky breath), Captain Nips the hot-potato seller, and Betsy who displays a trained bear for cash.  It’s a good mixture of silliness and suspense in tone.  Fleischman skillfully shows not only a gradual change in the prince, as he is shamed by being mistaken for the whipping boy, since he is lazy and illiterate himself, then saddened to learn what people think of him; but he also manipulates the readers’ expectations by showing that the prince’s life, in its own way, has been oppressive and unfair to him.  When Jemmy learns that he is wanted for “abducting” the prince, he hopes that he and Horace have actually become friends during their adventure.  A very enjoyably, witty tale.

four stars

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