The Whipping Boy

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
The Whipping Boy Book Poster Image
Prince and pauper find friendship in rollicking tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a feel for life in medieval times in a straightforward, simple story. The epilogue explains that the practice of having a whipping boy stand in for the prince for corporal punishment was a real practice in the Middle Ages.

Positive Messages

The spoiled, naive, and inconsiderate Prince Brat learns that his own subjects despise him for his arrogance and legendary temper tantrums, forcing him to confront his own flaws for the first time. By connecting with people from different social statuses than himself, the young nobleman realizes his superiority complex is unfounded and unattractive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jemmy from the streets serves as the perfect foil for the arrogant Prince. Cunning, street-smart, and self-sacrificing, the whipping boy manages to keep the fugitive aristocrat safe, in spite of his deep resentment for a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the royal family.

Violence & Scariness

Some violent but bloodless chase scenes, as well as a few gruesome threats thrown out by the dastardly bandits who kidnap the runaways.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sid Fleishman's Newbery Medal-winining The Whipping Boy is an exciting, endearing children's novel about a spoiled prince who runs away from the castle with the servant boy who takes disciplinary beatings in his place. The former enemies must learn to tolerate each other and work together to survive in this thrilling tale of kidnapping, ransom, disguise, and ultimately friendship. Pen-and-ink illustrations by Peter Sis heighten the action and humor. 

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What's the story?

Prince Brat (as his resentful subjects call him) lives a life of pampered privilege in which his laziness and disobedience go unpunished, save for the floggings of a surrogate street rat named Jemmy, known in the castle as the whipping boy. Ignorant of the outside world and tired of life inside the walls of his father's palace, the prince decides to run away in the dead of night, forcing his streetwise whipping boy to accompany him. In their quest for freedom, they're intercepted by two notorious highwaymen, Hold-Your-Nose-Billy and Cutwater, who develop a bumbling plan to ransom the prince for a fortune. Far from the protection of his royal titles and armed guards, the prince must conspire with Jemmy the rat-catcher to elude their kidnappers and succeed in their escape from the king's control. Along the way, old prejudices are forgotten, something resembling friendship develops between the lonely boys, and the prince returns to the castle knowing a bit more about his kingdom and the common people in it than he ever could have learned trapped behind high walls. 

Is it any good?

Though celebrated children's author Sid Fleishman's writing is clearly intended for younger kids, the story is exciting enough to make up for the lack of linguistic flair. Jemmy is a scrappy and likable protagonist, and his frustration with the prince's ignorance and attitude is hilarious. The novel is brief, but it packs a good amount of fun into its sweet little story. Illustrations by Peter Sis underscore the comic turns. Kids looking for an adventure in medieval times won't be disappointed. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the long history of tensions between the rich and poor and the leaders who represent the ruling classes. How do people get along with and understand folks from different backgrounds?

  • Why do stories about princes, knights, and castles remain so popular? What fascinates us about that time? How is it different from ours?

  • According to the epilogue, the practice of having a whipping boy to stand in for the prince for corporal punishment was a real practice in the Middle Ages. What do you think it would be like to have that role in the castle? Was it worth it if it meant you'd get an education and have a better life than never would have been possible in the sewers where you came from?

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Themes & Topics

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For kids who love tales of castles, princes, and paupers

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