Author(s): Sid Fleischman
Illustrator/Photographer: Peter Sis
Publisher and Year: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996 (reprint); Greenwillow Books, 1986 (original)
Number of pages: 104
Tags/Themes: Adventure, Award Book, Chapter Book, Emotion, Historical Fiction, Friendship, Social Science, 4-5, 6-8, Meagan DeSalvo
Genre: Children’s Novel
Descriptive Annotation: The Whipping Boy is the winner of the 1987 John Newbery Medal. It is a tale of friendship in the unlikeliest of ways. The two main characters come from seemingly different backgrounds. Prince Brat grows up with everything he could ever want causing mischief along the way while Jemmy is a boy from the streets who becomes Prince Brat’s whipping boy. Since it is illegal to whip the prince, Jemmy takes all the whippings. All Prince Brat wants is for Jemmy to scream out during the whippings, but Jemmy holds strong. Along the way, Jemmy learns to read and write since he must be with Prince Brat at all times while Prince Brat chooses to not learn. Eventually Prince Brat becomes bored of the castle and wants an adventure. He runs away and forces Jemmy to come along. The pair run into two highwaymen who make a plan to ransom the prince back to the king. Jemmy tricks the pair into thinking that he is the prince while Prince Brat is the whipping boy. Prince Brat acts entitled the entire time while Jemmy just wants to escape to freedom away from the prince. The pair do escape and along the way they learn that they have more and more in common. Through their journey, the boys meet street performers, Betsy, Petunia (the dancing bear), and Captain Nip who help them along the way. Eventually Prince Brat goes back to the castle with Jemmy and the boys are changed. They have found friendship within each other.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The text provides for some difficult words that the students will need to use context clues or the dictionary to look up. It takes some getting used to because some of the text is in time period dialect.
Interdisciplinary Connections: As an extension to the book, students can look at medieval culture and the time period. Whipping boys were a real thing in some royal families. I am working with my fifth grade students in literature circles with this book.
Other Information: Even though this book was not recently written, the message is still applicable even to this day. People who seem to come from completely different backgrounds and beliefs can still be friends. It takes time and commitment to form a friendship between people, but it is worth it in the end. The boys in the book learned that they did actually have something in common after all.