Monday, October 30, 2023. This past Friday the temps hit the low 80s midday. It was sunny and warm and almost felt like Summer. But Saturday cooled off some, and yesterday was a lot cooler and rained for most of the day.
Today we’re running a book party hosted by Gretchen Kimball and friend Peter Brown who has the perfect apartment overlooking Central Park (to the east) for a New York book party. And what is a “New York book party” that’s different from any other town? Easy: the crowd; you never know what you’re going to get in terms of types, ages, personalities.
Mrs. Kimball, for example, is a fulltime resident of Belvedere, California, as well as publishing associate of Jesse Kornbluth of this “children’s version” of Black Beauty, Anna Sewell’s story about a horse, published in London in 1877 when horses were quite a different element in the entire community.
Black Beauty is considered the sixth-most popular novel in English and has sold more than 50 million copies. Jesse Kornbluth’s version is abridged since it is too long for young readers, and perfect material for those who are just about to begin reading, and at least old enough to be affected by the story.
Our friend and contributor Paige Peterson is also the illustrator of this current volume and this “unforgettable horse.” Fortunately, Paige and Jesse choose stories with a common, very welcome theme: the healing power of relationships, commitment, and community.
Stacks of books dwindled to a few copies, and at the end of the party, signed books were on their way to homes where children would meet a new friend: a horse that confronted every challenge, and triumphed.
I remember the book clearly read to me by my mother, just before going to sleep. And I am still impressed by its effect on me emotionally; touching.
According to Jesse Kornbluth: “In the case of Black Beauty, what we don’t recall is the political purpose that drove Anna Sewell’s story. Cruelty to London’s 10,000 cab horses was of no great concern to the public in the 19th century. They were often rented out to drivers who needed to work them every day in order to make even a poor living.
“In essence, those horses were worked to death — Black Beauty’s sweet days of play with friends in the fields when he was young were the exception. All too soon he experienced cruelty from a society woman who wanted the bit in his mouth pulled tight so his head would be held fashionably high. A drunken rider caused him to fall and scar his knees, and soon he was a cab horse, being worked to death and wishing for it. Give Anna Sewell credit for smart plotting: There’s a happy ending — Black Beauty once again has a good home and loving memories of his youth — but he’s the exception.”
“Sewell’s story became obsolete in 1903, when gasoline-powered cabs were introduced in London. If horses had any use after that, it was as friends for young boys and girls, who encountered them at fairs. Now horses are luxury possessions, flesh-and-blood Bentleys collected by the super-rich. I once wrote an article about a family in Wellington, Florida that filled a plane with 20 horses for “the season” in Europe. I don’t think they have any idea how much that cost. I’m sure they don’t care. If their children read Black Beauty, it’s pure fiction. Same book. Different world.”
When Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty in the 1870s, she had a political purpose: to “induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding of the treatment of horses.” For Sewell, Black Beauty is a political book with a moral. But that’s not the enduring reason for the popularity of Black Beauty.
As Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley has written, “When I first read Black Beauty at age ten, I did not read it for the story — I read it for the horse, for the chance to possess the thing that I otherwise could not have.” That appeal is eternal. For young readers, Black Beauty is simply the best book about horses. It has everything: danger, cruelty, and a plot that never ambles when it can race.
Jesse and Paige’s abridged edition will be welcomed by parents who read books aloud to young children — and to children who regard horses as friends and will be riveted by a story that tells them how hard a horse’s life could be. For those young readers and many others, Black Beauty is simply the best book about horses. It has danger, cruelty, a plot that never ambles when it can race — and Paige Peterson’s intense, colorful illustrations.