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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

Black Beauty is an 1877 novel by English author Anna Sewell. It was composed in the last years of her life, during which she remained in her house as an invalid. The novel became an immediate best-seller, with Sewell dying just five months after its publication, but long enough to see her only novel become a success. With fifty million copies sold, Black Beauty is one of the best-selling books of …

Black Beauty

by Anna Sewell

Overall Book Review:

Black Beauty is unique in that it was told from a horse’s point of view decades before it was popular to write books with animal protagonists. Sewell successfully captures the probable emotions of a horse and helps the reader to see through the animal’s eyes, and the author’s love of horses is apparent in her writing. The details of the story are very specific, and the story is believable. The book provides a modern reader with a window into the past plights of working horses in the same way that Charles Dickens novels provide a look into the plight of working-class people, and the overall tone is very similar. However, Black Beauty’s story feels very repetitive, and the recounting by different horses of what are, in some cases, very similar agonies and complaints becomes boring after a while. The author’s intent to draw attention to the cruelty that was rampant against horses at the time of the book’s writing is clear and significant, but it does not make the book a good read.

Though many regard this as a children’s classic, and the story inspired two G-rated movies, this actual novel is probably too intense for young children. The constant description of violence against and neglect towards horses is difficult for adults to read and could be very disturbing for younger readers.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  None

Violence/Gore: Colts kick each other; children throw sticks or stones at horses a few times (3); character boxes another’s ears (2); horse bucks children off intentionally; children gently whip a horse; a horse wishes to die; account of a character dead by disease; character falls from a horse and dies; horses killed when they are no longer able to work (mention); accidental poisoning (mention); account of horses being drowned; a death in the story is mentioned again twice after it happens; horse has a habit of biting; description of painful horse-breaking process including flogging; horse’s mouth is injured and bleeds; horse bucks a trainer and tries to bite him; mention of big sticks being “only good for gypsies”; horse recounts tail being cut off for fashion; dogs’ tails and ears cut for fashion (mention); process of shoeing horses is described; horse tack hurts a horse bad enough to make it bleed; horses are beaten or whipped a few times (9); horse bucks a child off; character’s leg is broken; check reigns, described as being torturous, are used on horses a few times; horse kicks people and other horses; character is thrown from a horse and injured (not graphic); horse is ruined by hard riding; horse’s foot is wounded; character suffers broken bones in an accident; horse is mistreated and underfed; dead body of a horse seen on a cart; child brags that he gave someone “a good thrashing”; characters are knocked over by carriages; character is thrown from a cart with minor injury; horses are killed in a fire; a horse is bled as veterinary treatment; horse is wounded in a bloody crash; child is run over by a cart; horse is wounded badly with blood described; horses are killed to end their suffering; horse drops from exhaustion; brief hunting scene in which a man and a horse are killed; battle scene recounted including horses wounded by shooting, stabbing, and lances and in which men and horses are maimed and die, blood is described and a character is shot then trampled.

Sex/Nudity:  None

Mature Subject Matter:

Animal abuse and neglect, serious illness, war, theft.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Characters are said to have been drinking; characters drive carts and ride horses while drunk; beer and tobacco are mentioned; a character is said to be a violent drunk.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

My taste in literature leans heavily towards sci-fi, fantasy, and (my favorite) horror, and the latter can present some fairly murky waters for parents to let their children explore. I enjoy novels of both the standard and graphic varieties. Since those genres, and graphic novels in particular, tend to appeal to boys, I hope that I can help other Boy Mommies in their quest to find books that their little video gamers--I mean, future bibliophiles will read and enjoy. When I am not reading, I enjoy tabletop role-playing games, video games, and singing karaoke. I have a wonderful husband who lets me indulge my reading habit by sharing the housework and being a great dad to our genius kids and their faithful hound.