We often talk about teaching children values, but in most cases children's literature is insipid and of no lasting value. BLACK BEAUTY, however, is both valuable as art and valuable for the virtues it teaches: kindness, common sense, and helping those who cannot help themselves. The book is well written in clean prose. It does not over reach the "reading child," nor does it talk down to him. And although it is touching and occasionally sad, it is not in the least sentimental.
The story, of course, is about Black Beauty, a handsome horse who is born and raised in happy circumstances. But in Victorian England horses were used much as we use cars today: they were things to be bought and sold and then gotten rid of when they were no longer useful. Black Beauty is first sold to a good home, but as time passes he is sold again and again--and not always to people who treat him kindly or even to those who give him common care.
There are adventures aplenty, like a stable fire and a dangerous bridge; there are many memorable characters, like the horse Ginger and the kind cabbie Jerry. All of them are seen from Black Beauty's point of view, and beautifully, perfectly described. My mother read this book to me, and as soon as I could I was anxious to read it myself; now, some thirty years later I have stumbled once more upon it. And I can honestly say that it lives up to my memory: it is a fine book, and one that every parent should place in the hands of their children. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
This is a beautiful chapter book for a child who is reading at around a 5th grade level to read alone. Black Beauty is a classic. We all know that it tells the life story of an English riding horse from his own point of view. What can be harder to remember is how deftly it teaches children about the importance of kindness to their fellow creatures.
During the course of his lifetime, Beauty experiences the best and the worst humanity has to offer its companion animals. Children old enough to read this book will just be developing the kind of empathy skills necessary to understand how important kindness is, even, and perhaps especially, to those who cannot verbalize their gratitude.
The book teaches kids to notice how they and their peers treat others, and I have been buying it for all of the kids in my life for as long as I can remember.
I particularly like this edition because it is unabridged (the story is perfect), and because the illustrations are enchanting. I'd give it a hundred stars if I could.
on June 23, 2007
Being a typical horse-loving 10 year old girl (way, way back in the day..), it almost goes without saying that of course I read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. The story of the gentle black horse in Victorian England is simple and perfect. It's a true classic for kids, proven over several generations that have grown up reading it just as I did. With this in mind, I went looking to buy a copy at a bookstore yesterday as a birthday present for a 10 year old young lady.
Now as far as I know, kids today are no less intelligent, and they do still teach them to read starting in Kindergarten. So imagine my horror at discovering that the attractively bound, hardback of Black Beauty that I picked up was, uh, *paraphrased* (actually there are more accurate terms for it, but for the sake of the Amazon censors I'd better stick to the less graphic ones). Comparing selections of this version side by side with the original, the so-called "Classic Starts" Black Beauty plot is stripped down; worse, the lovely language of the original has been replaced with, ahem, simplified text and dialog that could have been written by the author of the Judy Moody books. This left little sense of the turn of the century England setting, and completely obliterated the spirit and style of Anna Sewell. Is this the publisher's idea of a quality introduction to children's lit?
What I really want to know is, why change it at all? As I said, kids today aren't less smart, they should be able to read the real Black Beauty well enough by the time they are in the 9-12 suggested age range. The reason it's a classic is because IT WORKED JUST AS IT WAS. Sorry, I had to put that in large type for the publishers, who evidently believe that the rest of the population matches their literary fluency.
I hope other parents who are planning on purchasing this and other classics for their kids will catch the difference between the CS paraphrased/heavily edited/oh what the heck, dumbed down versions and the real books. Apparently the School Library Journal agrees with me on this, if you care to read their review above the customer reviews on the product page.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle
on May 14, 2000
Since pictures & illustrations are as much a part of a child's imagination as the written word, then this book beautifully combines both, with the abundant B&W line illustrations by illustrator Lucy Kemp-Welch, in addition to the 12 colour plates included - all in keeping with the time period this novel is set in. A wonderful edition to any child's library.
I've been reading horse-topic related books for as long as I can remember; but the very 1st horse story that left an indelible impression on me was ANNA SEWELL's " BLACK BEAUTY ".
It really openend my eyes as to the abuse and cruelty - and majestic fraility - that these wonderful creatures suffer at the hands of their human counterparts.
Ms Sewell opted to write this book from " the horse's point of view " and she was one of the very few authors that was able to pull this off with such great success.
This book also, laid the cornerstone for the ASPCA aims and goals, and brought to light the conditions and treatment of working horses in 20th century London, England ( and elsewhere ).
The story is such a wonderful tale of a horse's life from start to finish; told with a quiet dignity and warmth - and serves as a successful analogy also, as to how humans should interact with one another.
This book also laid the cornerstone for my interest and love of horses, and further spurred my interest in reading about all things Equine.
From there, and I went on to read all of Walter Farley's "The Black Stallion" series ( I used to collect the hardcover editions), and Marguerite Henry's books, and National Velvet(which really wasn't about a horse per se, but more about a little girl who's dreams come true), and anything else I could get my horsey-hungry hands on!
I now keep a copy of Anna Sewell's "Black Beauty" in my library at home, and have given a copy to my daughter to read.
This is a tale that sensitizes the reader to the plight of horses at the hands of their human caregivers, trainers, etc - all told from the horse's mouth ( so to speak )..!
And lest we think that the inhumane treatment of horses has abided since this book was written - one only has to follow the controversy surrounding the use of "Premarin", or abusive training methods of gaited horses, or the Thoroughbred racing industry, or rodeo...etc.
There is still much to be gleaned about the exploitation and abuse of animals from this book - which will always remain a timeless classic.
Kim C. Montreal, 05/2000
on May 3, 2002
Because it is a well-known classic and a children's perennial favorite, many people do not realize that "Black Beauty" is an impassioned plea for animal rights, written at a time when such a notion was dismissed as ridiculous. And because it is what it is, sensitive children may need a parent to explain that, thankfully, most of the abuses described in the book are long gone, thanks in part to crusaders like Anna Sewell.
In a story that takes place in 19th century England, a gorgeous glossy black colt, who comes to be known as Black Beauty, is born into a life of comfort and kindness. His life is a kind of horsey paradise, until the fortunes of his owners turn...and Black Beauty is sold.
Sold to a cruel owner as a cab horse, Beauty is now treated as so many hapless animals were in his day...he is virtually tortured. He is in constant pain. His knees are sore. He is made to wear a "check rein," a device that no longer exists, but which scares me to this day because of the impression its description made upon me as a child. It was a type of rein that forced the horse to keep his head up extremely high at an unnatural angle, the more to look "elegant." The pain that this rein inflicts upon Beauty is heartbreaking, and it did indeed break my heart to read it.
Along the way, Beauty meets other horses, and keeps a lifelong friend, Ginger, who also suffers. Everything comes out alright in the end, in a story that is so tender and yet meaningful at the same time, that it is a shame it is relegated by reputation to the backwaters of so-called "children's literature." It was pure muckracking, in the style of the great American muckrakers who came shortly thereafter. Will a child realize this? It's hard to know, but I know that as a child I was simply haunted by the described cruelty to this horse. And of course heartened by the ending. But I have to say that, many decades later, some of the cruelty in this book still upsets me.
Therefore, I recommend the book with a caveat: If you have a particularly sensitive or thoughtful child, please warn him or her that Black Beauty is mistreated in the story, but that because of the book, and others like it, such mistreatment of animals no longer exists. And then let your child enjoy the sheer wealth of detail in what really is, in the end, a beautiful story.
Animal books that are told from the creature's point of view (whether cat, dog, horse, or some other species entirely) are a dime a dozen these days, but "Black Beauty," was the first book of its kind to use this technique and is thus the forerunner to all animal stories that came after it. Most people are unaware that Anna Sewell broke new literary ground when she wrote "Black Beauty" in the style of an autobiography, though ironically she never meant it to be a children's story at all. Instead she intended that it would be read by those that work with horses: "to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses."
Beauty is one of several names given to the horse that grows throughout the story from a young colt in a farmyard to an elderly stallion enjoying his retirement, chronicling all his experiences in between, both good and bad. These include being the horse of a squire, a cabby, a gentleman and a cart driver among others, as well as events that are probably known even to those who haven't read the book, such as the fire in the barn and the washed-out bridge.
Throughout his life he meets several other horses such as cheerful Merrylegs and feisty Ginger who recount their stories to him; and it's difficult not to get a little choked up when it comes to Ginger and her tragic tale, especially when she tells Beauty at their final meeting: "you are the only friend I ever had." For many children, Ginger's story may well have been their first experience with the portrayal of death in a story - I know it was mine, and I never forgot it.
Since being published in 1877, the story has lost none of its power, and the image of a black horse with a white star on his forehead is universally recognized as the iconic Black Beauty. Not only this, but the novel is credited with driving the bearing rein out of fashion, a device that was popular in the Victorian age but which damaged horses' necks by forcing them upright at an unnatural angle, and is also believed to have made a difference in reducing the taxicab licence fee of the time, (something that was often exploited by those that hired out cabbies to drivers), not to mention heightening the awareness of animal cruelty at a time when animal welfare simply didn't exist.
As such "Black Beauty" can be described as the first animal rights book, told in first-person narrative from the (literal) horse's mouth, criticizing things such as docking (that is, cutting off horse's tails), the aforementioned bearing reins, and the long, hard hours of work that horses had to endure. The trick of it though, is that the issues never seem particularly moralizing or heavy-handed because it's all told by the horses themselves. It doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that if horses were capable of talking to each other, they would discuss the cruelties and kindnesses that human beings mete out upon them.
This is effectively portrayed by the sheer confusion of the animals as to why humans act in certain ways; such as Beauty pondering why human beings endanger both themselves and their horses in fox hunting, or why so much pain is inflicted on animals for the sake of fashion, asking: "What right have they to torment and disfigure God's creatures?" Likewise, the first-person narrative gives a perspective on the life of a horse that had probably never occurred to Sewell's original audience (or indeed, her first-time contemporary readers), has when Beauty discusses how it feels to wear a bit:
"Those who have never had a bit in their mouths cannot think how bad it feels. A great piece of cold hard steel as thick as a man's finger is pushed into one's mouth, between one's teeth and over one's tongue. It ends come out at the corner of your mouth and are held fast there by straps over your head, under your throat, round your nose, and under your chin, so that in no way in the world can you get rid of the nasty hard thing."
Towards the end of the book, it does start to get slightly more preachy, mainly due to the fact that Sewell begins to dwell on issues such as alcohol, elections and religion that have no bearing on the horses at all, but are merely being discussed by the humans around them. However, this aspect is thankfully minor and doesn't detract too much from Beauty's own story.
I have a particular soft-spot for "Black Beauty" considering Anna Sewell is lurking up in my family tree somewhere (on my grandmother's side), and the fact that the memories of reading this book as a child have always stayed with me. This is an essential book for any children's library in order to cultivate empathy for the animal kingdom, but is also valuable reading for an adult as well, not just for the ur-example of an animal tale, but as a thoughtful, bittersweet and well-researched look into the life of man's second-best friend.
on September 15, 2010
Black Beauty is a classic read for any animal lover, however, this is a fact based novel, with vivid descriptions of the various abuses of man upon horse which are still carried on in some forms to this day. At the time this was written, horses were often overloaded and used up before going to the knackers.
Really helps get you inside a horse's life and will change how you look at horses and how they are treated, but not for very young children as this is unabridged.
I would highly recommend this on so many levels, from the lovely vintage language to the insight into a horse's life and training.
on August 17, 2004
This unusual novel for children has 'aged' surprisingly well. I have been reading the story from my 1897 copy, described as a "new illustrated edition ... sure to command attention." The life of a horse told in the first person is not on every child's reading list these days. It wasn't on mine years ago. This was my first reading. Perhaps I missed this classic because I didn't have the typical young girl's 'love affair with horses'.
*BLACK BEAUTY* was written by Anna Sewell, an English invalid whose Quaker beliefs permeate every page. IF kids will read it, I guarantee the preachiness won't injure them! I was surprised to be so moved by the wrongs done to animals -- all the suggestions for treating horses more humanely translate into decent human relations now, as it did then.
Amazon.com states the reading level for *Black Beauty* is ages 4-8; maybe only prodigies are to atempt it? Listening to an adult read this story may help children bridge the years since "progress" brought us the motor car. Black Beauty talks with other horses about good and bad handlers and owners, and discusses all aspects of life (except mating) with friends Ginger and Merrylegs. He mulls over their temperments and his own, and the good influences of reasoning and praise. Unfortunate events caused by cruel check reins, and bits, whips, or being knocked about are part of this story. There are also exciting times of racing for the doctor, being saved from a stable in flames, or a broken bridge, becoming lame from the loss of a horseshoe.
I hope you won't avoid this 'classis' but will allow yourself to do some time-traveling by adventuring into the late 1800s. Listen to a horse's wise thoughts over the clatter of hooves in the streets. Later you can look up the LISTMANIA titled "You've never heard of a talking horse?" and ask with Reviewer mcHAIKU: Did the legendary "horse whisperer" grow up reading *Black Beauty*?
on May 30, 2012
I read Black Beauty 41 years ago, when I was in the 6th grade. There was no amazon.com then, but this book was so wonderful to me, that it deserves a review, 41 years later. (I have chosen a random edition of it to review.) Black Beauty was the first book I ever loved to read. It was the first novel that I ever found to be exciting, captivating, and fun. I loved the first-person narration by the horse herself! So, 41 years later, thank you, Anna Sewell!
on November 12, 2003
I first read this book a long time ago - frankly, I don't remember when. It has been several years since then, but it touched me all the same. Currently, I am in the process of re-reading it. That's how good it is! You will want to read it over and over.
It begins with Black Beauty as a young colt, born into a good bloodline with racing blood running through his veins. His master was a good one and made sure that the horse became an obedient, noble steed. Unlike many other horses, he was broken in gently to insure years of the loyal service of a beautiful animal.
Unfortunately, Black Beauty's life is not all good; like any other horse, he came into the hands of both kind, cold, and simply ignorant masters. Though fiction, it really could've been any horse that went through the life of Black Beauty, and some probably did. At least, horses lived the lives of some in the book, such as those abused or beaten for doing things natural to a horse.
This novel was most definately touching and inspiring. It presented several important moral issues. A few include always doing your best, how to NOT "look out for number one,". and thoughts on how kindness can change a horse... and a person too.
Of course, I am somewhat biased, being a Horse in the Chinese Zodiac and a special fan of stories about horses, but all the same - I have taken many of the themes in this book to heart, and truly believe that the world might be a bit nicer if a few others picked up this classic tale of a horse's journey though the harsh reality of life.
Read it once! If you don't like it, then that's understandable, I guess.
But chances are, you'll love it.
And then you'll want to read it again.