Stories with horses can be found nearly everywhere you turn: Heartland, My Little Pony, The Horse and His Boy, Spirit, Secretariat, and many more. But the first in this trend of horse stories was the iconic Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, the autobiography of a highbred horse. In fact, Black Beauty was the first significant children’s story to be written in English with a focus on animal characters.
Sewell was born on March 30, 1820, in Norfolk, England as the daughter of a children’s book writer. She often helped to edit her mother’s manuscripts, though she remained unpublished until she was fifty-seven years old. She was injured during her childhood and was subsequently sequestered as an invalid.
The last seven years of her life were spent writing her most famous work: Black Beauty. She was disgusted by the way that some masters during her time would treat their horses, and she wanted to do what she could to teach the next generation that it is not acceptable to treat any animal that way. The story is written from the perspective of Black Beauty and shows the horse’s life under a series of cruel owners. Eventually, the stress is too much on the horse’s body, but he is saved by a kind owner. Sadly, Sewell died of hepatitis in 1878 shortly after Black Beauty was published.
Black Beauty is a dearly-beloved children’s classic, and one of the most iconic children’s stories in the English language. It was first made into a movie in 1921, though it has since been made into a few made-for-TV movies, a television series, and four major motion pictures in 1946, 1971, 1994, and 2015. As the sixth best seller in the English language and the first English story to feature animal characters, Black Beauty has set a high standard for children’s literature. So, on what would be Anna Sewell’s 196th birthday, let’s make her proud by being kind to animals and standing up for those who are defenseless.