National Velvet

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
National Velvet Book Poster Image
Inspiring horse story has small but mighty heroine.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

National Velvet teaches readers about country life in 1920s England, including gender roles, clothing, food and cooking, and child raising. There's also detailed information about horse care and riding, and horse behavior.

Positive Messages

This classic novel sends a strong message that girls can achieve their goals, just like boys can. Another essential point is that personal achievement is its own reward.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Velvet's strong, quiet mother's own past achievement and her steadfast support set a strong example for her daughters. Velvet shows young girls the value of dedication, and the bond that can grow between a horse and a sensitive caretaker.

Violence

Velvet doesn't see it happen, but she's close enough to hear when a man commits suicide.

Sex

Teen Edwina and her boyfriend, Teddy, meet after dark and kiss.

Language

The word "bitch" is used in reference to female animals, and once as a derogatory term.

Consumerism

The Brown girls eat Mars bars and Crunchies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Port and some kind of peppermint spirits are taken medicinally.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Enid Bagnold's classic novel National Velvet stands with Anna Sewell's Black Beauty as one of the great books for horse lovers. The story of scrawny, 14-year-old Velvet Brown and her equestrian triumphs inspires young horse riders, and offers an intimate view of family life in rural 1920s Sussex, England. Note that a man commits suicide within earshot (but not view) of a teen girl. There are also suspenseful scenes where adults fear that a child has been injured. A small amount of alcohol is consumed (for medicinal purposes), and a teen couple kiss. National Velvet was adapted to a popular film starring Elizabeth Taylor in 1944. The movie takes some liberties with the plot and characters; for exmple, the Velvet of the novel is thin and homely, whereas in the film, she's Elizabeth Taylor. However, the movie captures the spirit of the novel, and both it and the book are highly enjoyable and moving.

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What's the story?

NATIONAL VELVET, by Enid Bagnold, tells the story of thin, sickly 14-year-old Velvet Brown and how she beats the odds to become an internationally regarded horsewoman. Velvet is a dreamer whose love of horses occupies her waking and sleeping thoughts. Her three older sisters also love horses, but their father, a butcher, can't afford to own animals that don't earn their keep. Mr. Brown's patience is tested when Velvet -- in a couple of surprising ways -- comes to possess several horses that once belonged to neighbors. Velvet's mother, however, was a great sportswoman in her younger days and is quietly supportive of Velvet's dreams. So, Mrs. Brown is taken into Velvet's confidence when the girl and her father's assistant, Mi (short for Michael), come up with a plan to give a fiery horse its chance to shine in the world's greatest steeplechase, the Grand National.

Is it any good?

Enid Bagnold's National Velvet is written in a somewhat unusual way; frequent shorthand dialogue conveys the intimacy of a close-knit family, but could be difficult to follow for very young readers. However, Velvet's miraculous story is suspenseful and inspiring, and will be especially entertaining to horse lovers.

Velvet's older sisters are very well-drawn at their different stages of maturity, and the youngest of the Brown children, preschool-age Donald, is an adorable, enfuriating toddler, who adds comic relief. This is an entertaining, motivational novel about a young girl's great love for horses, and the way she challenges widely held gender prejudice.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Familes can talk about how National Velvet compares with more modern horse books you may have read. What would be different about the plot if the book were written now?

  • Check out the film version of National Velvet. Which do you like better? How are the book and film different?

  • How is Velvet like her mother, and how is she different?

Book details

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For kids who love horse stories and books with strong girls

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