Black Beauty has been one of my favorite stories since I was a little girl, when I watched the 1994 film repeatedly, as much for my love of English accents as for my love of horses. For many years, this book was the source of all my knowledge of horse-related vocabulary and horse care. And even now, having had experience with caring for horses in life as well as in my imagination, I would say that this book has served as a solid foundation for how animals ought to be treated.
To start, it's important to note that Black Beauty was written specifically to address the problem of animal abuse in England at the time, so in that light this could be classified as a Social Commentary. But this book was also an expression of horse-love from a woman who wasn't allowed to show interest in very much else, so that's important to keep in mind as you read.
What I found most interesting in this particular narrative is that while the main character is more than willing to state bluntly when the people around him do terrible things, he's reluctant in the extreme to label them as bad people, which I think is an important distinction to make when judging others, whether consciously or otherwise.
In addition, other characters express strong opinions about what constitutes wrongdoing or abuse, and while the narrator has an obvious inclination toward one side of the argument, both sides are presented. For example, there's a conversation relatively early in the book between John Manly and Mr. Green about whether or not ignorance constitutes wrongdoing when it results in harm. While Manly's opinion takes up a majority of the conversation and is implied to be correct, both sides of that subject are presented and discussed.
That said, there is a clear bias in the narrative, and further research or discussion may be required in order to approach the discussion with a less slanted foundation.
While there are scenes in which characters suffer, there is no visual description of violence, and no use of profanity. This story is impeccably clean, while still addressing serious concepts that can spark intelligent discussion between readers.
Books with a similar style/subject matter may include titles such as King of the Wind, Misty of Chincoteague, and Puppy Lost in Lapland, which will be reviewed at a later date (when I can get my hands on them for re-reading).