Black Beauty vs. Thomas the Tank Engine

Tonight we reached the point in Black Beauty where the horse has galloped for 8 miles and back again to bring the doctor to the Squire’s wife, which saves her life *just in time*. The new stable boy, Little Joe Green, has just been set up as a character who is young and small and means well and very much needs the job. In fact in the chapter before, the older stable guy was explaining to the younger how they have to look out for Little Joe and treat him well (keep in mind this is Anna Sewell’s advice as a Quaker and a social activist.) I wondered how Moomin would take it when Little Joe Green messes up by not covering up Beauty with blankets and feeding him cold water instead of warm, and Beauty gets sick? Would he be judgmental, because Joe made a mistake and hurt the horse, or take the advice of the preceding chapter, and go easy on him?

I sang him the unicorn song, and at the end he put “and Joe, because he thought he was doing the right thing for Beauty”.

I felt proud of him for giving the kid the benefit of the doubt.

I had this book read to me when I was 4 years old and I read it myself many times after that. Until I read it again as an adult, I had thought of it as a sentimental horse story that was perhaps somewhat odd to read to small children. But now that I approach it again, it’s a story about social justice — with a lot of sad bits, but the message over all is that people (and horses) have to struggle to be decent to each other despite unjust situations, bad health, and crushing poverty. So, not really a bad book from an ethical standpoint and a book that certainly teaches over and over that trying your best to help people (or horses) and be unselfish means that other people respect you.

I have said before I find many modern kids’ books, ones for younger children, to be very annoying and of questionable effect, because their theme is that when you have a terrible, sad, or angry feeling, you trump everyone around you (often the plot of Caillou, or Arthur, Fisher Price little people, Thomas the Tank engine (Ugh!!!) and even Bob the Builder) That way, everyone will pay attention to you and figure out despite your passive aggressive sulks what is wrong. This does not seem like a great message to send to a 5 year old! What do you think?

Horses that die in a fire, broken knees, the brutality of the hunt, and that horrible scene with Ginger lying in the cart? Or whining little mice and trains who live in a world of whiny drama?

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