Black Beauty : Anna Sewell

Black BeautyBlack Beauty by Anna Sewell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s talk about Black Beauty then, shall we?

And yet, having swung into this review with such a glorious opening sentence, I’m not sure where to begin. Much of that, I think, stems from the fact that we know Black Beauty. It is a story that’s slid so far beyond what it was that it now holds a rather mythic quality. Of course we know Black Beauty. We might not know the fine, fine detail of it, but we know the feeling of it. The sensation of the text. The way that it’s the story of a horse’s life, and it can be suddenly something rather awful, but you are tied to it, and you have to keep going to find out what happens, and when you finish it, there’s a peculiar sensation of quality and the realisation that you’ve read a classic.

Because Black Beauty is a classic. Stylistically it’s somewhat heavy when read with a contemporary, critical eye, and I’ll grant that I slid over some of the passages, but then I dallied with a sort of indulgent joy over the moments presented in others. Over Merrylegs, mainly, but also over other characters and of the determined grace to be found in Sewell’s writing. For it is a graceful book, no doubt, but it is also a hard one for it does not run away from the darkness. Do I give you spoilers? No, but I tell you that if you don’t know the detail of this book, then you will find it darker than you expect and should you present it to a new young reader for Christmas, as a benevolent and book-loving adult might do, you will probably emotionally scar that child for life. But that is what this book does, and you’ll just have to welcome them to the club.

What’s really interesting about Black Beauty is that it presents the reader, even in its grimmest points, with a methodology for change. It tells you about the world that is what it is, and offers you a chance to impact that, to change it. There’s a resonance there for a modern reading, one that I didn’t quite expect.

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part three)

The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

I came to this after watching the amazing animated film (I’m ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE) and fell in love. It’s a fantasy classic that tells the story of the last unicorn and her journey to find all the others of her kind. It shifts from pantomine, to pathos, to heart-breaking. Beautiful.

Similar to : the Last Unicorn movie (which is still a treat but is very scary in places so be warned if you watch it with littlies)

The Chalet School in Exile – Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Although this is a few titles on in the series, it is one of the best pieces of wartime children’s literature you will ever read. Brent-Dyer’s attitude and treatment of the Nazis remains stunning and her invention of the Peace League as a way for women to fight war is ideologically miles ahead of its time. Amazing, thought-provoking book. (Ignore the hideous cover!)

Similar to : the rest of the Chalet School series. Start with The School at the Chalet.

Millions – Frank Cottrell Boyce

A ridiculously stunning book, Millions is the one book I would have loved to have written. Brothers Anthony and Damien have a whole shedload of money fall into their hands after witnessing a train robbery. Trouble is, they only have days to spend it because Britain is about to join the Euro and the money they’ve found is all in pounds. This book is very very perfect and Damien is an amazing character.

Similar to : Nothing. Perfect. Go read it.

The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann

Dann was a keen naturalist and it shows in this tale of animals banding together to find themselves a new home after their current is threatened by the encroachment of man. Writing the animals as Fox, Vixen, Badger etc, Dann carefully avoids sentiment and over anthropomorphising and creates a thrilling animal saga.

Similar to : Tarka the Otter

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

This was originally published in serial form and it shows. There’s a gorgeous sense of readability to it, the pacing is brilliant and it remains a classic of its time. There’s swords, swash-buckling, derring-do and some amazing intrigue going on. Last month I went to a Musketeer festival in the South-West of France where people sauntered around the centre of the village and slapped their thigh a lot and called for beer. It was amazing and this book is wholly to blame for that (and also for my obsession with ‘sturdy Gascon ponies’)

Similar to : The Man in the Iron Mask

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell 

The Silver Brumby is one of the richest books I know. Set in the wilds of the Australian outback, it is the story of Thowra – the silver brumby. The first of a massive (and gorgeous) series that sings with love for the landscape it is set in, it’s a treat for horse-lovers that remains beyond compare.

Similar to : Bambi

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

An intensely vivid and personal graphic novel, this is the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, a girl growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Full of a witty, and sharp sense of humour, and also a sardonic self-reflection on life, this book is superb.

Similar to : the film version – also very very brilliant.

Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

Nominally a book about a horses life, this proto-animal rights book remains superb and relevant to today. There’s also a rite of passage in it that every reader must go through – frankly, if you don’t weep buckets when XXXXXX XXXXXX then I’m going to come and have a word.

Similar to: Watership Down

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Shakespeare gets a bad rap sometimes and it’s not fair. This play is brilliant. There’s death, witches, ghosts, trees and come-uppance(s) a plenty. I love this play and it is very much worth reading. Take the lines out of the book and play with the language. I still love the witches parts for example.

Similar to : The Duchess of Malfi (but there are MAJOR adult themes in that one so be warned).

Ballet Shoes – Noel Streatfield

Streatfield wrote a ton of stuff about children on the stage and exploring alternative avenues of fulfilment (ice-skating, circus(ing) etc). This is one of her best-loved and it’s endured for a reason. The story of Pauline, Petrova and Posy remains engaging, warm and very very lovely.

Similar to : Sadler’s Wells