The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, illustrations by Peter Sis 88pp RL3
"The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path," is how the Newbery Winner, The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, begins. If this doesn't catch your child's attention, I'm not sure what will.
Jemmy, the whipping boy of the title, receives the corporal punishment meant for Prince Horace, since it not permitted to strike a royal. But, Jemmy never howls when he is hit and the Prince is furious and continually threatens to send Jemmy back to the streets in the rags he came in with. Instead, after a year, the Prince runs away and forces Jemmy to come along as his manservant. Almost immediately, they are captured by the ruffians Hold-Your-Nose-Billy and Cutwater. The prince stupidly reveals his true identity, and blunders into further trouble when he is forced to write his own ransom note and cannot even spell his name. The ruffians begin to suspect that Jemmy, who can write, is the real Prince Horace and the ignorant fellow is the whipping boy. Jemmy writes the note and the scoundrels proposes they send Prince Horace/the whipping boy, to the castle to deliver the note.
Thinking that this will allow him to be free of Prince Horace, who, by all rights should be pleased to flee the kidnappers and return to the castle, Jemmy is surprised when the Prince will not play along, and even betrays him as he tries to escape. But, escape they do. They meet Betsey, a girl with a dancing bear named Petunia and hitch a ride from Captain Harry Nips, Hot-Potato Man before they are captured once again. The ruffians proceed to punish the whipping boy - Prince Horace - for their escape and Jemmy looks on as the Prince takes his blows in stony silence.
The boys make it to the nearest town where they enjoy the fair and learn that their disappearance has become news. Jemmy and the Prince decide to hide in the sewers where Jemmy used to catch rats to sell and are almost captured by the brutes one last time. After escaping into the daylight, the Prince decides it is time for both of them to return to the castle, despite the fact that the king thinks Jemmy kidnapped the Prince and there is a reward out on his head. Doing the first kind thing ever in his life, Prince Brat convinces Captain Harry and Betsey to return him to the castle and collect the reward. Once there, all is set to right without even one whipping.
Sid Fleischman is a great, diverse writer, often tackling different aspects of history. This is a superb book for its humor and plot as well as its length - it is one of the better books under 100 pages out there and it should appeal to boys and girls.