Finding Beauty All Over Again

About two months ago, the word “seriously” made its appearance in Iris’s daily speech. It has grown in its presence and now squats annoyingly in every corner of her speech, most often accompanied by a snort. “Seriously, do I have to eat toast?” “Seriously? What are you doing Loli (our new cat)?” You get the idea. However, we now find ourselves in a bit of a quandary. Most times, when Iris uses the word, it’s quite funny and cute. A few times, though, it has bordered on rude. I have called her out on it but when asked to explain why it’s rude, I can’t seem to put it plainly. It’s the attitude. The preview of Iris the teenager. Horrors. So I shall thoroughly enjoy what moments of childhood still remain. Reading to her at bedtime is definitely one of those.

In the world of movies, sequels of classics usually suck. This is because expectations are already high and no matter how much CGI you throw at it, they never live up to them – wrong cast, wrong music, stupid changes to the story-line, the whinging goes on. With children’s books, however, a re-imagining or retelling can be quite refreshing and give a completely different perspective. This is absolutely true with Lou Kuenzler’s Finding Black Beauty (see my post on the original classic here). Although she stays true to the language and description of the original, it does have a much more modern tone, which makes it much easier to read.

In this retelling, Kuezler turns one of the original characters, the stable boy Joe Green, into a girl in disguise, Josephine Green. Josephine loses her father and gets forced out of her family home so she jumps at the chance of starting a career with the one thing she still loves above all – horses. She meets Black Beauty at Birtwick Park where Beauty first went after leaving his mum. She develops as close a bond with a horse that a human can.

I don’t do spoilers and if I did it with this book, I’d be doing it with the original as well. Suffice to say, it was very interesting to see how Kuenzler developed the story with enough of the original to maintain the story’s integrity. It is an excellent read for a 7 to 12-year-old girl. I felt it covered some very hard topics, such as losing a parent, feeling you have only yourself to depend on, being a homeless child on the streets and finding independence with great sensitivity. Kuenzler didn’t let Josephine wallow in grief or dwell too much on the difficult emotions or times, showing her resilience and persistence to her cause.

4 ⭐

Advertisements

Discovering Black Beauty

Whinge alert! A few months ago I re-entered the workforce albeit in a part-time capacity doing admin for the chaplain of a nearby private girls’ school. It is the perfect job because I can still do school drop-offs and pick-ups; it’s five minutes from home and Iris’ school; school term only; and very family friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful that I could get this job and I know how blessed I am. However, I also knew that unlike when I was working full-time and Iris was in day care in Singapore, it would be my most trying period of life. This is because I still have to do most of the housework (cooking, cleaning, food prep and buying, gardening, pet care, accounts, household admin, etc, etc, etc) but now I have to fit it into the last few hours of each afternoon or give up my evening.

As a result, I have never, not even when I was in the throes of huge exams, looked forward to school holidays as much as I do now.

As expected, I’ve had to forego a lot of peripheral stuff (I refuse to call them all hobbies) — yesterday was the first time in 4 months that I stepped into a Spotlight. Yes, amazing isn’t it? Reading has been reduced to in the car before and after work and bedtime, and writing is…well it has been 4.5 months since my last post.

So I absolutely love that Iris’ bedtime reading has progressed to proper books now. Apart from revisiting my beloved Dahl, we recently finished a classic that I’ve actually shockingly not read. This copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was an op-shop find and such a beautiful edition with gorgeous illustrations.

It was really special to experience a good book anew with Iris. We were totally absorbed by Black Beauty’s story, his ups and downs and we both teared up at the sad bits, with Iris bawling her head off.

Black Beauty has been called “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time” by Bernard Unti in the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. I think the fact that it’s written from the horse’s point of view greatly lends itself to this. Animal welfare is a cause very close to my heart and I love nurturing this very important value in Iris. Today’s media, however, is so focused on shock tactics and scare-mongering that I’ve avoided showing her too much of it.

Black Beauty though is the perfect way to educate a six-going-on-seven-year-old because it doesn’t disguise the cruelty but it describes it in a matter-of-fact way without any gore or too much detail. A good sign of this was that while she remembered the saddest bit weeks after we’d finished the book, it wasn’t with horror but with sadness and empathy.

It didn’t give her nightmares but it gave her lots to think about. This, to my mind, is the mark of a true classic.

We’re currently reading Finding Black Beauty, Lou Kuenzler’s retelling of Black Beauty from the point of view of a young girl. So far it’s been just as good with a slightly different focus. Will post a review soon-ish.