Plot Summary: Black Beauty is a beautiful black colt living with his mother in a pleasant farm meadow. Soon he is grown and becomes a coach horse at his happy home at Birtwick Park. But nothing lasts forever, and eventually Black Beauty falls upon misfortune at the hands of other owners. This is the story of a horse’s life told from the point of view of the horse, and is an endearing children’s classic.
My Book Review: I bought this book when I was about 14 years old and had as my goal to collect all the classics for my personal library. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it, but I finally took it off the shelf while waiting for my next interlibrary loan book. I expected to be bored, which is why I had kept putting off reading it.
I soon discovered why this children’s book is such a classic. A lot of people have a sentimental attachment to it, and I can see why. There aren’t a great many dramatic scenes, no love scenes, no mysteries to solve. But you are immediately drawn into a moving story that goes straight to the heart. It’s hard not to feel so many different things while reading about Black Beauty. We feel relieved, warm, glad during the times in his life when he is well-treated by good-hearted owners. We feel anxious, saddened, even angered during the times when he or other animals suffer cruel mistreatment.
There are so many good lessons for children to learn throughout the course of the story, but it never really comes off as goody-two-shoes moralizing. Rather we learn by observing different people’s characters with the horses. This is how the lessons seep ‘through the back door’ and into our hearts. We learn how to treat animals with thoughtfulness and compassion, rather than mere objects of service. We learn that they enjoy fresh air, playing, exercise, appropriate work, and healthy food just as we do. Even though animals were not made in the image of God as humans, they still have their feelings. We do well to be mindful of the creatures God has given to us to take care of.
In reading about the author, Anna Sewell, I learned that she was often ill growing up and as an adult. At the age of 12, she fell and injured both her ankles which never healed properly and she was never able to walk well for the rest of her life. This began her close association with horses as they were her means of transportation and she developed a deep love for them. She became very concerned about the humane treatment of animals, especially horses. As an adult in her mid-fifties, she was confined to her bed but dictated the text of this novel to her mother. Black Beauty was the only book she ever wrote. She died a year after it was published.
The chapters are short and easy to read. It is not completely heart-wrenching, and it ends well. It would make a lovely read-aloud book before bedtime, and a beautiful edition would make a great gift for a child age 8-12 (esp. horse lovers) that will be treasured long after they’ve grown up.
There is a movie version of this that I saw years ago and liked very well, especially the beautifully haunting music (enjoy below). If I remember correctly, some of the events and characters in the book are condensed to fit into the film. But it is a pretty decent adaptation that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.