Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5
The Whipping Boy won the Newbery Medal in 1987. It is a humorous adventure-tale with a pseudo-medieval setting. Jemmy serves as Prince Brat’s whipping boy; he is punished every time the Prince misbehaves, which, as his nickname suggests, is frequently. Only one of the boys learns to read and write, and it isn’t the Prince. One evening, Prince Brat decides to run away from the palace, dragging Jemmy with him. The two are kidnapped by highwaymen and held for ransom. In an effort to protect and free the Prince, Jemmy pretends to be the royal. Prince Brat repeatedly foils Jemmy’s attempts to misdirect the thugs and to escape. Eventually, however, they both escape, at which point a dancing bear and a potato monger aid them. Jemmy knows the sewers well from his previous life, so he takes the Prince there to avoid recapture. They bond when the Prince deliberately sends the thugs into the tunnel with vicious rats; together, they return to Palace, with the Prince promising good behaviour forevermore.
Although not a deep story by any means, The Whipping Boy was amusing and the action moved quickly enough to keep me interested. It’s a fairly short book – I finished it in about 40 minutes. The author matched the story line to the length, so it neither felt rushed nor beleaguered. Jemmy is a plucky character who does the best he can to protect the Prince, even though he initially dislikes Prince Brat. The intersection with his old life as a rat-catcher was well executed.
Scholastic informed me that this is 4th grade level. As with Sarah, Plain and Tall, this seems a bit inflated. I believe that children as young as 2nd grade should be able to read this mostly independently; parents might need to explain a few words and concepts, but the book is an easy read, just slightly above the level of the “first chapter book” books. While not an essential read, The Whipping Boy, this is a fun book which might appeal to reluctant readers, particularly those who enjoy adventure. Because of the low reading level, this will appeal less to adults than some of the Newbery entries aimed at slightly older kids. However, it’s a very fast reading, so if you’re looking for brainless fun, I recommend this.