Black Beauty (Junior Classics for Young Readers)
Author: Anna Sewell
Illustrator: Michael Fisher (Cover Art by Ezra Tucker)
Adapted By: Louise Colln
Original Story Published in 1877
This Edition Published in 2014
Anna Sewell's only novel is told in the first person by the titular horse, and follows his life in several stages. From his birthplace on an English countryside farm where he lives with his mother, through his work as a carriage horse for a wealthy family and his eventual sale to London taxi-drivers, Black Beauty is called by many names and lives through many experience, some uplifting and some cruel. Through it all, Black Beauty does his honest best to help the humans he is in the care of, even if those people's actions do not warrant his loyalty.
Though Sewell stated that she originally wrote the novel for the people who worked with horses and not directly for children, it has since become a children's classic. It is a timeless story of a horse and the people who care for him, and has become a the shining example of a work which highlights cruelty to animals.
Like the Junior Classics for Young Readers edition of White Fang that we read before, this edition has been condensed and shortened from its original version. Illustrations abound throughout the book, helping little minds envision what is happening to the characters. Unlike White Fang, there is a good deal of humor in the book, though some of it might be too subtle for children. The story reads easily, the words flow nicely and, in short, it is an excellent example of a read-aloud novel.
As far as the voices go, there are a TON of speaking characters in this novel; some have only one line, and some show up in Black Beauty's life only to disappear and resurface much later. If you want, you can have a lot of fun coming up with different ridiculous voices for the one-off characters; I gave one of them my best impersonation of Mickey Mouse and the kids immediately called me out on it (K: "Hey, that's Mickey! Mickey's not in this book!"). I think I'll take that as a compliment.
Due to the sheer number of characters in the book, it can be difficult to keep track of who is in charge of Black Beauty at any given time. Giving short reminders to your kiddos at the start of each chapter about where Beauty is and why he's there might be helpful to them (e.g. "Last time we read a chapter, here's what happened..."). Or, better yet, have the kids tell you what they remember from the last chapter and fill in the gaps.
There's not much violence in this novel. A character is thrown from a horse and injured, a fire breaks out and kills two horses (though nothing is described in detail), and Beauty gets worked so hard that he collapses from exhaustion. But on the whole, the novel has no real scary imagery.
There is a major death that may be concerning to parents of younger ones. At one of the farms that Beauty finds himself living at, he meets and becomes friends with a horse named Ginger. Ginger is a bit more feisty than Beauty, and has to be restrained more often so she won't hurt a human. That said, she's not bad or evil in any way, and so it's quite a shock when Beauty finds a cart carrying a dead horse that looks exactly like Ginger, and Black Beauty thinks it is in fact her. The text implies (comes close to outright stating) that she died of overwork, and Beauty laments that "at least her troubles would be over."
No other content warnings are necessary for this book. It's gentle and kind, like the emotions that the author Sewell wanted pet owners to have for their pets.
This was K's, the youngest's, book from Easter. As might be expected of a five-year-old little girl, she absolutely adored it. Her brothers, though, were not as enamored.
"It's OK, I guess. I fell asleep for some of it. It didn't feel as good as Harry Potter. But it wasn't bad."
"Some people were nice to Beauty, and some were mean. Beauty liked the nice ones more. I think maybe the book was trying to say we should be nice to our pets."
As usual, A gets the message.
"I LOVE HORSES!!! I love this book! I love Merrylegs, and Ginger, and Jack, and Black Auster, and and and all the horses!"
I think K got a little confused, because Black Beauty goes by "Jack" and "Black Auster" at different points in the novel and I'm not sure if she thought these were different horses.
Black Beauty is a truly timeless classic about a horse and his life. Through all of his trials and his various owners, the horse Black Beauty exhibits a kind of quiet strength; always trying his best, no matter what. The novel deals with animal cruelty and asks a question: would you want your pets treated this way?
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has kids that are interested in horses and to parents of younger readers. Older readers (like my boys) may find it boring in places, but all-in-all it's a fine addition to anyone's read-aloud library.
Recommended Age: 3 and up