A lot or a little?
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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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?
- Author: Anna Sewell
- Genre: Literary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Horses and Farm Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Penguin Group
- Publication date: November 24, 1887
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 275
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Audiobook (abridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: December 4, 2019
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