CLOSE
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

11 Things You Didn't Know About Black Beauty

Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

Happy anniversary to Black Beauty, which turns 138 today. Though it was written during a time when horses were beasts of burden far more than they are today, the animal cruelty issue still resonates—which is why Black Beauty is one of the best selling books in history. Read on to learn more about the classic tale.

1. BLACK BEAUTY ISN'T THE FULL TITLE.

It’s actually Black Beauty, his grooms and companions; the autobiography of a horse, 'Translated from the original equine by Anna Sewell'. You can see why everyone shortens it.

2. AUTHOR ANNA SEWELL'S MOTHER WAS THE WRITER OF THE FAMILY.

Though Anna would eventually eclipse her mother in both fame and book sales, Mary Wright Sewell was the more successful author for most of her life. The elder Sewell wrote several books, including Mother’s Last Words and Other Ballads and Homely Ballads for The Working Man’s Fireside.

3. SEWELL WASN'T PUBLISHED UNTIL SHE WAS 57 YEARS OLD.

Anna honed her writing skills by helping her mother edit her books, but she didn't get her own book published until she was 57. She started Black Beauty when she was 51, and it was her first and only publication.

4. BLACK BEAUTY WAS INSPIRED BY A PET.

Sewell biographers believe that the title character was based on Bess, a spunky horse owned by her family. Though she was spirited, the Sewells loved her and considered her one of the family.

5. SHE WAS PAID JUST £20 FOR THE BOOK.

Sewell sold her masterpiece to Jarrold and Sons in 1877 for a single payment of £20. They published it the same year, and it became an instant success.

6. SEWELL DIED JUST FIVE MONTHS AFTER IT WAS PUBLISHED.

It’s possible that Sewell could have made more money off of the book once it proved to be popular, but she never got the chance to negotiate with her publisher. She died of hepatitis in April 1878, just five months after the book came out.

7. A SIGNED COPY WILL SET YOU BACK.

The green, cloth-bound first editions of Black Beauty are rare, but even rarer is a signed copy. Because Sewell died so soon after the book’s publication, she wasn’t around to make out a lot of inscriptions. She did manage to sign one for her cousins that read: “Mary and Catherine Sewell from their affectionate cousin the author Christmas 1877.” This copy sold for £11,875 ($18,133) at a Christie’s auction in June 2015—and that’s nothing. In 2006, the copy she signed for her mother (“Mary Sewell, from her loving child A.S.”) went for £33,000 ($50,693).

8. THE BOOK WASN'T INTENDED FOR CHILDREN.

Anna was an animal lover in general, but she was particularly fond of horses after she sprained her ankle as a child and was forced her to rely on them for transportation. When she wrote Black Beauty decades later, it was intended not to amuse children, but to make adults think about what they were putting horses through.

9. IT HAD A VERY REAL IMPACT ON THE TREATMENT OF HORSES.

According to NPR, “There is little doubt” that the book was responsible for the death of the “bearing rein,” a strap that pulled the horse’s head down toward its chest to create an arch. The position was painful for the horse, causing great pain and respiratory problems.

10. IT INSPIRED OTHER BOOKS ABOUT ANIMAL CRUELTY.

Among them was Beautiful Joe, a tale written from the point of view of a dog whose ears and tail were cut off by his master. Though it hasn’t turned out to be quite as classic as Black Beauty, Joe was quite popular in the 1930s, becoming the first Canadian children’s book to sell more than 7 million copies.

11. IT'S ONE OF THE BEST SELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

With more than 50 million copies sold in 50 languages, Black Beauty is one of the most popular books in history. For reference, other books in the 50 million range include The Catcher in the Rye, Charlotte’s Web, The Da Vinci Code, Anne of Green Gables, and all of the Harry Potters (except Philosopher’s Stone, which is up to 107 million).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
literature
The Best Children's Books of the Year, According to Bank Street College of Education
iStock
iStock

The Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education in New York City recently released its 2018 list of the best children's books on the market. Separated into five age-appropriate categories, the list includes more than 600 titles published in the U.S. and Canada in 2017.

In making their selection, judges considered books' literary merit, presentation, and potential emotional impact on young readers, as well as originality of the story, credibility of the characters, and absence of stereotypes. They also looked for positive representations of religious and ethnic differences.

Nonfiction books were checked for accuracy, balance, and documentation, while poetry books were assessed for their language, sound, rhythm, substance, and emotional intensity. Each book on the list was read and reviewed by at least two members of the committee, and then considered by the committee as a whole.

Of the books on the list, three are selected for special awards each year. For 2018, the Josette Frank Award—given to an outstanding novel in which a child character handles difficulty in a positive and realistic way—was awarded to Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. The Claudia Lewis Award for poetry went to One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes, and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for inspiring nonfiction went to Hawk Mother: The Story of a Red-Tailed Hawk Who Hatched Chickens by Kara Hagedorn.

Below is a selection of some of the books on the list. All of the titles below were awarded "outstanding merit" by the committee. For the full selection, click on the PDF link next to each individual category.

Under five category [PDF]
Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root and G. Brian Karas
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown
Mine! by Jeff Mack
Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs
Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Snow Scene by Richard Jackson and Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer and Richard Jones

Five to nine category [PDF]
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
Alfie: The Turtle That Disappeared by Thyra Heder
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
Good Night, Planet by Liniers
Pandora by Victoria Turnbull
Robinson by Peter Sís
Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
Spiders!: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle and Meryl Henderson

Nine to twelve category [PDF]
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander and Kelly Murphy
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
Little Bits of Sky by S. E. Durrant and Katie Harnett
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King
Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain, Philip C. Stead, and Erin E. Stead
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Twelve to fourteen category [PDF]
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali
Satellite by Nick Lake
The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World's Favorite Candy by H. P. Newquist
The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner and Maxime Plasse
Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Fourteen and up category [PDF]
Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A print copy of The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2018 Edition ($10, plus $3 shipping) can be purchased by emailing bookcom@bankstreet.edu.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Lists
10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
iStock
iStock

by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
iStock

Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios