Sid Fleischman's book, "The Whipping Boy," is about a runaway prince and his whipping boy, who discover adventure on their journey, and surprisingly find friendship in one another. The boys' adventures include them being abducted by two criminals, "Hold-Your-Nose-Billy," and Cutwater. The criminals kidnap the boys and plan to hold them for ransom from the King.
"The Whipping Boy," focuses on the distinctions and differences of social classes throughout the book. These differences are vividly illustrated through Prince Brat (Horace) and Jemmy, the whipping boy. Prince Horace, who is from a high social class and is considered very important, is never whipped. However, Jemmy, who is from a lower class, serves as a, "whipping boy," and takes the punishments for Prince Brat.
However, "The Whipping Boy," also looks at the overcoming of these class barriers. At the beginning of the story, there was a definite difference between the upper class and the lower class. This difference is intensified in the description of the boys escape into the city's sewer. Jemmy, a member of the working class, is well-informed of the tunnels of the sewer because he has spent the early years of his life there, trapping rats and selling them for money. Jemmy seems at ease in the sewer, knowing what direction to take and where to hide. On the other hand, the Prince is very frightened in the tunnels below the city and clings desperately to Jemmy for security. The Prince has never been to the sewers. His life has always been spent in the luxury of the palace walls with everyone at his beck and call.
As the two boys spend more and more time together the Prince slowly begins to become a part of Jemmy's world. The same can be said for Jemmy's whose quick thinking while dealing with the two men helps the boys escape. When Jemmy is mistaken for the prince, he really takes over the role, and the two classes seemed meshed.
During their journey, Prince Horace and Jemmy both become responsible for their own actions. Jemmy, who has been away from his family and on his own for awhile, is prepared when he gets chased and tormented by the two men in the forest. The Prince, on the other hand, has to learn responsibility since he has never had to rely on himself before. At first, the Prince is stubborn and foolish in his actions, but, as time passes and he sees Jemmy for who he really is. It is when the Prince realizes this, that he learns a very important lesson, and the moral of the book. The Prince learns to break down the barriers that hold the two boys apart. The Prince shows a very big step in growth that even some adults have not taken yet. With his maturation, he is able to become true friends with Jemmy, and earn the name Prince Horace.
I really enjoyed how Fleischman is able to take a very serious and real topic, such as class discrimination, and simplify it for a young reader. The author does not make light of the topic, yet he addresses it in such a way that the reader understands and can relate the story to his/her own life. Children that would read or hear this book have most likely already read or heard fairytales that include royalty. However, I think it is rare that a child is given the opportunity to hear the story of the lower class. "The Whipping Boy," gives a vivid explanation and description of the class differences.
This main theme in this book is that friendship should be free of prejudices. "The Whipping Boy," would be an excellent choice in encouraging students to get along with one another no matter what their differences may be. It lays a very good framework for young students who have been or one day will be on the giving or receiving end of discrimination or prejudices without being preachy. The theme is a powerful one, yet the story includes enough adventure to keep the reader interested and engaged.