My memory of school reading in elementary school is a blur of boring and stupid. The Giver is the only book I really loved from that time period, followed closely by Sign of the Beaver. I still re-read Shiloh, a book from third grade, from time to time. I remember the books I read on my own more than the classics that were being shoved down my throat in grades four through six. I wanted Goosebumps and Felicity Saves the Day and The Boxcar Children: That One Where They Live in a Lighthouse for the Summer. As far as I was concerned school could keep their Sing Down the Moons and their Bridge to Terabithias and their Phantom Tollbooths.
This is why I’m not a school librarian, guys.
As I said, the assigned reading during these years is hazy at this date. But I’m pretty sure The Whipping Boy was a reading group assignment in fourth grade. Maybe third, but I refuse to blame Mr. Morin for The Whipping Boy. I don’t recall reading groups in sixth grade, but it’s possible–I mostly remember the science units from that year. At any rate, at some point during my later elementary years I was supposed to read The Whipping Boy and I didn’t because I thought it was boring and confusing and then I had to fudge my way through the response sheet and discussion at school. Several times.
I decided to go ahead and give The Whipping Boy a fair shake. So I took it home last night and read it. I kept an open mind, and brought my adult reading sensibilities and comprehension to the work. Perhaps I’d just been in the wrong headspace for it when I was in school. Maybe other homework had been getting in the way. Maybe I just didn’t get it or something.
The story is about the horrible bratty Prince Horace and his whipping boy, Jemmy. As it is not fitting for a prince to be beaten, it’s the whipping boy’s job to take a thrashing whenever the prince misbehaves. The idea was that, since a prince and whipping boy were brought up and educated together, the prince would not want to see a friend get whipped and he would behave. You can imagine how well this works out for Jemmy. So he decides he’s going to make a run for it–only Prince Horace is running away, too. Horace and Jemmy run into some highwaymen, which leads to them inadvertently switching places prince and pauper style. From there it’s a run from highwaymen and a journey of personal growth, with lots of characters and adventures thrown in.
Would you believe it? I got bored and wanted to stop in the exact same place as I did when I was a kid!
Clearly, this is a case of personal preference over judgment. The Whipping Boy is a good story with a nice quick pace, good characters that develop nicely, funny bits and moving bits. As a grown-up I think I had more appreciation for the relationship that develops between Jemmy, the whipping boy, and Prince Horace. It’s actually very well-done and believable how they come to an understanding and come to respect each other. The narration is primarily through Jemmy’s eyes and his voice is perfect. The bumbling villains are fun. It deserved its Newbery Award. I’m just the wrong reader for this one.
At least I can say I finally fulfilled a homework assignment that’s been on the shelf for nearly a decade! All thanks to the Reading Challenge.
No joke, while I was researching this post and reading about The Whipping Boy, I got distracted and started reading a blog about Goosebumps. Old habits, man.