Black Beauty

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Black Beauty Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Classic horse novel has be-kind-to-animals message.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 20 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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. 

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
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.

What 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. 

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byblack beauty October 11, 2019

best book

Wow!

I AM SPEECHLESS
Best Book
I would pay 1 million for this book but unfortuantely i paid 2.45
Parent Written byabdelsamad m. March 1, 2018
Kid, 9 years old February 12, 2011

love it

this is a sad book but it gets better threw the book i want to read it again and again and again
Kid, 11 years old April 16, 2010
Black Beauty is an extremely cleverly written book. I am eleven years old and I enjoyed the book thouroughly. There are some trajic parts of the story and there... Continue reading

What's the story?

An animal rights classic that's also an engaging read, BLACK BEAUTY follows the life of an ebony horse from birth to old age, and from pasture to the cobblestone streets of 19th century England. This morality tale and animal "autobiography" gives a majestic horse a voice that's relatable yet unsentimental. Black Beauty's life begins on the grounds of an aristocratic English family. The young horse learns early lessons from his mother before circumstances force his sale to a new master; it's the first of several such sales/moves for the horse. As his life intersects with different human owners, caretakers, and neighbors, Black Beauty experiences different kinds of care and abuse, and he observes the differing attitudes of humans toward horses. Peppered throughout the novel are the moral lessons that the author, Anna Sewell, wants to impart to her readers: that truly good humans are kind to all of God's creatures, that parents should teach their children to be kind to animals, and perhaps most important, that even though they can't speak, horses can feel. Sewell was a devout Quaker, and that is apparent in her pacifist point of view, and in the book's emphasis on the value of hard work without complaint.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about treatment of animals in Black Beauty. What are some examples of the right and wrong way to treat animals in the book?

  • Black Beauty was written more than 100 years ago. How has the role of horses in human society changed between then and now?

  • What did you learn about horses from this book? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horses

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