Monday, December 18, 2017

Middle-grade Monday: The Whipping Boy


Title: The Whipping Boy
Author: Sid Fleischman
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 1986. 90 pages.
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
A shout comes echoing up the stairway "Fetch the whipping boy!"

A young orphan named Jemmy rouses from his sleep. "Ain't I already been whipped twice today? Gaw! What's the prince done now? It was forbidden to spank, thrash, or whack the heir to the throne. Jemmy had been plucked from the streets to serve as whipping boy to the arrogant and spiteful Prince Brat.

Dreaming of running away, Jemmy finds himself trapped in Prince Brat's own dream at once brash and perilous.

In this briskly told tale of high adventure, taut with suspense and rich with colorful characters, the whipping boy and Prince Brat must at last confront each other.

Award-winning author Sid Fleischman again blends the broadly comic with the deeply compassionate in this memorable novel.

My Review:  

Every now and then I snag a classic that I never read. In the case of Sid Fleischman, his books mostly came out in the time when I was too old for kids' books, and not yet old enough to be rediscovering them. But I do like his style, so when I ran across this while sorting books at the library, I grabbed it. (You would be amazed at how many books I get that way, and how dangerously tall the teetering pile at the head of the bed can become.)

At 90 pages of writing aimed at 8- or 9-year-olds, it only needed an hour or so to read this one. More to the point, the writing kept me turning pages, so that while I had thought to "just take a look right now," I read the whole thing in one sitting. As with By the Great Horn Spoon and other of Fleischman's books, this one makes an interesting blend of realism and just a touch of the absurd. That touch of humor (nicely assisted in this case by the illustrations by Peter Sis) keeps what could be a scary story light and fun.

Yet under the humor lies a story about maturity, responsibility, and friendship, at the very least. Both of the boys in this book have a lot to learn, and if at first we think that the goodies are all on one side, and all the hard knocks on the other, by the end we have to revise our opinions.

I will go out on a limb here and say that I'd bet that even now, 30 years on, this is a book that will get reluctant readers laughing and reading and enjoying the process. That they might think a little, too, is a nice bonus! (Hmm...thoughts on historical fiction suitable for another musing post...).

My Recommendation:
For readers from about 7 up, and especially good for reluctant readers. An interesting bit from the author's note at the end: as absurd as it sounds, the idea of a whipping boy to take the punishments for the prince is straight out of history. No wonder so many rulers were tyrants! Not that I'm advocating whippings, but if a kid is never disciplined, the results won't be pretty. Prince Brat is one of the lucky ones, as are his subjects.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Whipping Boy out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


  1. Holy crap! I remember this book! I read the title and was like 'Huh, that sounds familiar' and then I read the description. I read this when I was 7 and volunteering at my library! So cool!!! (Ignore my excitement please, I'm a spaz)

    1. Ignore your excitement? Are you kidding? I think it's great--nothing like a little walk down memory lane :)

  2. I loved the idea of that pile at the end of your bed, wobbling ever closer...

    1. Oh, you have no idea. If I die in the next big SF earthquake, you can lay safe bets it was under a pile of books.


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