Jemmy is the whipping boy at the castle, the one who gets all of the punishment that is earned by “Prince Brat”, but not legally allowed to be delivered onto the royal personage. Jemmy isn’t exactly thrilled with his job – especially since the illiterate prince is always in trouble with his tutor – but at least he’s getting all of the learning the prince is steadfastly ignoring. And he’s able to get his own back by refusing to cry or make a sound when he is whipped.
Then, in the middle of the night, he’s woken by Prince Brat, who announces that he is running away and requires a manservant. But the adventure quickly turns sour when the pair is accosted almost immediately by highwaymen. Jemmy’s ready to talk his way out of the situation, but the spoiled Prince Brat ruins everything. The highwaymen are thrilled with the idea that they can hold the prince for ransom. Quick thinking on Jemmy’s part convinces the ruffians that he is the prince and Prince Brat the whipping boy, against the Brat’s fervent howling, of course. But it will take more than just one boy to outwit the highwaymen and make it back to the castle in safety. Somehow, Jemmy must find a way to turn the bratty royal child into a decent human being.
The Whipping Boy by Paul Fleischman won the Newbery Honor in 1987, and has been beloved of third and fourth grade readers ever since. There is lots of action and adventure, a charming character in Jemmy, the always-popular theme of children outwitting adults, and the ability to smugly exult when the Prince gets his comeuppance, yet also sympathize with the prince as he slowly begins to take responsibility for his actions. A great book, and one that is destined to spend another twenty years of popularity.