by Anna Sewell
Although this classic is now commonly thought of as a children's story, I don't believe that was its original intention. Anna Sewell wrote it in order to bring to light the conditions horses lived in when they were as widely used for transportation as cars are today. I suppose you could call her one of the earliest animal-rights activists. She wanted to promote kindness to animals (and between people) and do away with the use of checkreins, which forcibly held a horses' head high, often damaging their necks; and other cruel practices such docking horses' tails. Through telling the story of one horse's life, Sewell demonstrated how kind, indifferent or cruel treatment affected a horses' health, soundness and well-being. She even showed how ignorant owners could harm their animals unintentionally. Black Beauty traded hands often, living in turns on a farm, on a rich estate as a carriage horse, in the city pulling a London cab, in a "rental" stable hired out for day use, hauling delivery carts for a butcher, etc. His equine acquaintances even share experiences as a mount in the military, a children's pet pony, and racing in steeplechases.
I've read this book many times. Recently I found a beautiful copy at the public library, the Viking Whole Story for Young Readers edition, 2000. In addition to containing lovely pen-and-ink illustrations by William Geldart, it has text, diagrams and miniature reproductions of gorgeous classical paintings in the margins. These give further explanations of things mentioned in the story which may have been common knowledge in Sewell's day but aren't now. I found it delightful and very informative. If you're interested in reading Black Beauty to understand how horses were used in the 19th century, I would highly recommend this edition.
Rating: 4/5 Published 206 pages, 1877
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