The classic story retold in an abbreviated picture-book version.
Sewell’s original Black Beauty, first published in 1877, tells the story of a carriage horse’s life from the horse’s point of view. The impact of the original lies in Black Beauty’s heart-rending narration as he describes his life as a work animal, often suffering due to the neglect and, in some cases, deliberate cruelty of his various owners. While Brown’s retelling retains Black Beauty as narrator and stays true to the main plot points of the original story, the emotional tug is missing, and it reads rather like a dispassionate summary. To be fair, it is hard to see how pathos—the essential strength of Sewell’s original—could be generated in the succinct, 32-page format. Brown’s superb illustrations, however, more than carry their weight. Each double-page spread illuminates the setting of 19th-century England and gives the story an ambiance and luxuriousness that the spare text lacks. The faux marbled endpapers are a nice period touch, as is the information about Sewell included on the endpapers.
It would be rare for a story that depends so thoroughly on establishing empathetic connection to succeed as a picture-book adaptation, and this one doesn’t, but the illustrations provide such a sumptuous visual feast that it is most assuredly worth perusing. (Picture book. 3-7)