The Whipping Boy

by Sid Fleischman (1987)

The Whipping Boy is an action-packed historical fiction sure to please entire families. It showcases the amazing inequality that used to exist, in medieval times, in the handing out of royal punishments. The entire story hinges on the premise that in some countries a prince’s punishment occurred only through a stand-in, the royal “whipping boy.” Punishment was meted out for all indiscretions, but the offending prince only watched. The rod never touched a prince.

In The Whipping Boy, Prince Horace runs away from the castle on a whim, forcing his “whipping boy,” Jemmy, to accompany him. Over time, the two bond and eventually become fast friends.  Together they try to avoid villainous encounters with two cutthroats seeking a reward for returning the prince to the king.  The prince, who has never had to lift a finger, finds out that “lifting a finger” is in fact fun, challenging, and connecting.

During their journey, the prince and his ‘whipping boy’ meet all sorts of genuine people working in the real world, folks with kind hearts and brave spirits. The Whipping Boy ends up delivering messages about the the importance of reading and writing, and of course, friendship. It’s a fantastic, effective, historical tale that can enable families to learn and enjoy together. Though the title sounds severe, the story is actually soft and affirming. At a bite-size 96 pages it can make for a brisker One School, One Book selection, a perfect blend of crazy and historic truth and lessons, a blend that works so well, it won the Newbery Award in 1987.