(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)
For my pre-1900 book, I read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which was first published in 1877. The book is an autobiographical account of the life of a horse told from the horse’s point of view. Sewell’s descriptions of horses and their behavior make it easy for readers to imagine themselves in the horse’s place and sympathize with his feelings. I can see how this book would turn young readers into animal lovers (as it did to at least one of my students who would be a vegetarian if her mom would let her). At the same time, I also felt very strongly the underlying message of treating others with love and respect conveyed through the story.
When I was growing up, I wanted a horse as much as the next girl, but because everyone around me was reading this book, I thought it was too “mainstream” and didn’t read it just to be different. By the time people around me had stopped reading it, I thought it was too “easy” and never went back to read it. While I was in college, I played polo for a year and learned that it was dirty, hard work taking care of horses, which cured me of the desire to ever own my own horse. Having experience with horses helped me better imagine what was going on in the book, though, and in a way, I’m glad that my first time reading the book came after I learned how to ride and take care of a horse myself.
Black Beauty gave me goosebumps from the very first chapter reading about the title character’s experiences with kindness and cruelty throughout his life. I could see how Sewell wrote her message of love for animals and other people in a way that would teach children (and adults) the core of the Christian faith in a very real way without being preachy. Maybe I’m getting sappy in my old(ish) age, but as with all good books, I was drawn into the world of Black Beauty and didn’t want to leave.
Also, as a Los Angeles native, I particularly enjoyed Sewell’s descriptions of weaving a horse and cab through London traffic. I wish that my car were as intelligent driving through L.A. traffic as Black Beauty was going through London!
Black Beauty is usually seen as a girly book, but I don’t see any reason why boys would not enjoy this story as much as girls. There’s plenty of action and adventure, and the main character (Black Beauty) is male. I think more boys should be encouraged to read this story. 🙂
This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter B.