‘Finding Black Beauty.’

I am absolutely delighted to welcome the magnificent Lou Kuenzler to the blog as part of her ‘Finding Black Beauty’ blog tour – a beautiful version of the classic ‘Black Beauty’ with a twist.  As well as getting read and review her book, I got to ask Lou about where her desire to work with  ‘Black Beauty’ came from and to learn a little more about her childhood love of horses.   Here’s what she had to say:

Thank you Library Girl and Book Boy for inviting me on to the blog to talk about horses and why I chose to rewrite Black Beauty for a new audience.

I grew up on a farm with horses but have lived in the city for many years. Writing Finding Black Beauty was a great way to re-engage with my love of these magnificent creatures and also to question why they have such enduring popularity, especially in children’s fiction.

The great thing about horse stories is that they tend to have movement at the very heart of the plot. This is something Michael Morpurgo understands; of course, in his wonderful War Horse. Joey takes the reader from a sleepy Devon village to the carnage of the trenches.  Similarly, Anna Sewell harnesses her reader to Black Beauty from his first fragile steps as a foal beneath a chestnut tree to the horrors of life as an abused and over-worked cab horse in Victorian London.

More than any other animal, a horse is a vehicle – a means of transport.  This was even more true in Victorian times, before the invention of motor vehicles, than it is today.  A living, breathing vehicle – right at the centre of a plot – is a wonderful gift for any writer.  This is one of the reasons I leapt at the chance to reimagine Anna Sewell’s classic story for a new generation of readers. As writers, we are always trying to ensure that our plot has action and momentum.  Thank you Black Beauty! A horse brings that momentum galloping onto the page and rearing up at every chapter end.  You would have to be a very lazy or uninspired writer to allow your horse-drawn story to remain in just one static location throughout. And with any journey; of course, comes the chance of adventure …

What I loved about Black Beauty as a child reader was how terrible, terrifying and wonderful the twists and turns in Beauty’s troubled life turned out to be.  I knew, if I was going to attempt to do credit to Sewell’s heart-wrenching story, I would have to make things matter.  Black Beauty is so brilliant because it is life and death stuff! In choosing to tell the story from the point of view of a young girl – Josie, in disguise as a stable lad – I hoped to capture that despair, passion and hope through the voice of character young readers could instantly identify with.  Josie is the same age as they are.  I hope that boys and girls can imagine themselves in her (borrowed and too large) riding boots struggling to alter events beyond their control and protect Black Beauty from danger.

This is the other great thing about horse stories for children: owning a horse (or indeed a dog or cat) is a great responsibility.  A horse can quickly carry the young protagonist far away from any adult help or interference. Leaving adults behind in a cloud of dust has to be a great way to propel any children’s plot!

I had huge fun writing Finding Black Beauty and hope that young readers who enjoy it may find their way back to the original story as well.

Knowing that I write picture books as well as stories for older readers, Library Girl and Book Boy asked what classic I’d like to recreate as a picture book?  This is a brilliant question and had me scratching my head for days. There were just too many to choose from.  In the end I settled for another childhood favourite of mine: The Little Grey Men by BB which explores the adventures of the last four gnomes in Great Britain. I would love the chance to tell the story in a simple style for very young readers and to see how a contemporary illustrator would interpret the original artwork (also drawn by BB under his real name, D J Watkins-Pitchford).

Thank you very much Lou, it’s always fascinating to find out about a writer’s motivation and gain insights into their writing process.  Now for the review you’ve all been waiting for…

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This gorgeous book retells the well-known story from a whole new perspective, not that of Black Beauty (the majestic horse) but that of a girl called Josie – who transforms herself into Joe the stable boy after a family tragedy.

After the death of her father, Josie makes the decision to run away with her pony as he’s sold to Birtwick Park.  Disguising herself as a stable boy, Josie stows away on the cart and heads off towards a new life.

It’s there that she encounters Black Beauty – the spirited horse who captures her heart and ultimately leads her on a desperate rescue mission to the harsh streets of Victorian London.  Streets that mean death to any horse forced to pull a cab along them.  Will she find Beauty in time?

As soon as I started reading, I knew I was going to love the character of Josie.  Right from the start, she refused to stick to the rules and behaviour expected of a young girl at that time.  Josie is just as spirited as Beauty though perhaps not quite so wild.

Her passion for horses and love of Black Beauty run through the whole of the story, making your heart pound with fear when Beauty’s safety is threatened again and again.  And the life of Josie herself!

This book takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions and is a testament to the power of friendship between man and beast.  It’s a really beautiful introduction to the themes and language of the original text by Anna Sewell. I think it’s so important that children are introduced to the world of classic children’s literature in an accessible way and ‘Finding Black Beauty’ is sure to open the door to the rich world of our literary heritage.

I really hope you love this as much as I did!

Library Girl.

*Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review*

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