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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers of Anna Sewell's 1877 novel will learn about life in London and rural England in the 19th century, including family life, gender roles, and jobs among working-class and aristocratic families. Also about horses and their care.
Lots of meaningful lessons about how to treat animals kindly. How someone treats animals says a lot about him or her as a human being. As the character John Manly says, "There is no religion without love. People may talk as they like about their religion, but if it doesn't teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham."
Positive Role Models
As horse is shifted from owner to owner, there are cruel and thoughtless people, and remarkably perceptive and good people. Positive role models are often the grooms, such as James and John, who are honest and kind, and understand proper horse care. Also Jerry Barker, about whom Black Beauty says, "I never knew a better man." Jerry, who drives a horse-drawn cab, is a generous, fair horse owner, and a devoted husband and father who works hard six days a week, but puts family first when faced with decision to take a Sunday job as well.
Violence & Scariness
Violence against horses is not very graphic, but young readers may be upset by the fact of a horse being shot and killed to put it out of its misery. Horses in novel also suffer painful injuries to feet and knees, are whipped viciously by cruel, uncaring masters. A couple of accidents when humans fall from horses. Jerry's son gives some other boys a "good thrashing" for throwing dirt at his sister.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The book takes a moralizing attitude toward adult drinking, and those who drink alcohol ruin their lives with it. Most notably, the character of Reuben is like a different man when he drinks; he's a responsible caretaker when sober, but he becomes very careless when drunk, and he comes to a bad end because of his drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Anna Sewell's classic 1877 novel Black Beauty is written from the point of view of a horse who is shifted to several different owners over the course of his life. His experiences reveal a great deal about how horses should be cared for, and the dangers of unkind treatment. The book was influential in its time; it helped to ban the cruel bearing rein, kicked off the animal-rights movement, and forced more humane treatment of London's human cabbies. The author uses various human voices to share her moral lessons about the evils of mistreating animals ("Cruelty is the devil's own trademark") and about the virtues of lovingkindness ("God is love"). There are meaningful lessons in this novel, and the abundance of detail about horses and their care has made Black Beauty a perennial favorite among horse-loving readers. However, some readers may be sensitive to the book's portrayal of violence against horses, including whipping, overworking, mistreatment in the name of "fashion," and one mercy killing. The book also cautions against the evils of drink, illustrated through the character of Reuben, whose personality changes radically when he drinks: When sober, he's a reliable caretaker, but when he's drunk, he becomes irresponsible and thoughtless, endangering the health of horses in his care. In this case, and so many others, horses are at the mercy of their human owners and caregivers, for good and ill. This novel was reissued in 2019 in a hardcover gift edition by Candlewick Press, adorned with painterly illustrations and fine drawings.
Is It Any Good?
The first full-length book told from a horse's viewpoint, this beloved classic shines a light on the cruelties that animals suffer at the hands of humans. It's also full of simple moral lessons and sensuous writing that can take the reader from the beauty of a spring country evening to the hard working world of Victorian London. Black Beauty is not a modern book, and some of today's readers may find the morality of the novel dated or preachy. However, it offers a fascinating, detailed portrait of Victorian English life, and a meaningful reminder of the simple fact that animals have feelings. Children who love horses will love riding along through Black Beauty's life, and treasure the opportunity to imagine a world seen through a horse's eyes.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.