I remember reading this book as a child and comparing it to other Newbery Award winners and thinking it fell short. After re-reading it, I have to say that my ten-year-old self was right on the money.
Fleischman’s story is about two boys: Prince Horace, a spoiled, selfish prince, and, Jemmy, a poor orphan who is the prince’s whipping boy. Since no one is allowed to harm the prince, every time he misbehaves, Jemmy is whipped. But “Prince Brat,” as he has been nicknamed, simply tries to misbehave more often in an effort to make Jemmy cry out in pain and to get his father’s attention.
One day, Prince Horace decides to run away and makes Jemmy accompany him. Along the way, the two boys are kidnapped by two highwaymen. Jemmy tries to secure Prince Horace’s freedom by pretending to be the prince, but Horace’s arrogance and stupidity reveal the truth of his identity to the highwaymen.
It could be an interesting little morality tale, and the friendship between the two boys does grow through their adventures together. But, all told, it’s a pretty flat and dull book. I know it’s children’s lit, so I’m not expecting The Grapes of Wrath, here. But 1988’s winner was Sarah, Plain and Tall, and that was a masterfully written book.
1989 was just not a good year for children’s literature. Makes me want to write a children’s book even more. 2011 could be my 1989.