I was fairly sure that I'd read this when I was much younger, but in my quest to read the BBC Big Read books, I thought I'd better be sure. Black Beauty was always overshadowed in my mind by The Black Stallion, which had desert islands and horseracing to hold up against a story about animal cruelty.
Small wonder that, as a child, I preferred the more exciting one, no matter what apocalyptic turns the Black Stallion series took in later books.
But I think I still prefer it now. Black Beauty is fine, and the message Anna Sewell wanted to send is pretty clear, but, although this might have made it difficult to sell as a children's book, it does suffer from telling rather than showing. Black Beauty himself suffers a few times, but only in isolated incidents, and generally always has kind masters. The horses who truly suffer, their stories are told to Black Beauty, at that remove.
This sense of distance may cushion the story, but it also makes it less immediate. Ginger was interesting, but I cared less if she was abused in her distant past, or eventual future, than I would have if it had happened to the character I cared about.
It's a good book, but it's not exciting. It never really caught my imagination.