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Cover image for Step right up : how Doc and Jim Key taught the world about kindness
Step right up : how Doc and Jim Key taught the world about kindness

First edition.
New York, NY : Lee & Low Books Inc., [2016]
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : illustrations ; 29 cm
Series title(s):
"A picture book biography of Dr. William Key, a former slave and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read and write and who together with Jim became one of the most famous traveling performance acts around the turn of the twentieth century. Includes afterword and author's sources"-- Provided by publisher.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader 5.3.

AR LG 5.3 0.5.
Geographic Term:
Added Author:


Call Number
926 Key, William
J 179.3 Bowman 2016

On Order



A biography of William "Doc" Key, a formerly enslaved man and self--trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read, write, and do math, and who together with Jim became a famous traveling performance act and proponent for the humane treatment of animals around the turn of the twentieth century.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-6-A profile of William "Doc" Key and his relationship with animals, specifically his skilled horse Jim. Key was born a slave in Shelbyville, TN, in the 1830s. After the Civil War, he stayed in Shelbyville and built a veterinary where he sold his homemade remedies, and became very successful. Referred to as "Doc" Key, he traveled extensively while pursuing various entrepreneurial goals. Key eventually trained a clumsy colt named Jim to amaze audiences with his uncanny ability to spell and do math. He donated portions of his proceeds to humane societies and was instrumental in raising awareness for the compassionate treatment of animals. Minter's linoleum block prints, painted with acrylic, add the perfect historic feel to an incredible true story. The extensive back matter will be useful for student reports. VERDICT A solid purchase for most collections with an interest in biographies and animal rights.-Jennifer Steib Simmons, Anderson County Library, SC © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born into slavery, William "Doc" Key drew national attention at the end of the 19th century for his training of a purebred Arabian horse, eventually known as Beautiful Jim Key, teaching the animal how to "combine letters to spell words, choose numbers to make sums, find flags to identify states, move clock hands to tell time, and a whole lot more." Themes of racial injustice and the harsh treatment of animals offer a poignant supplement to the main narrative ("Kindness, kindness, and more kindness, that's the way," was how Doc Key described his success with Jim), which has another sturdy complement in Minter's (Ellen's Broom) bold linoleum block prints. Though debut author Bowman focuses on Doc's relationship with Jim, a substantial afterword will leave children eager to learn more about Doc Key's remarkable life, including his reluctant service work with Confederate forces during the Civil War and his efforts to free the enslaved. Ages 7-12. Author's agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

William "Doc" Key was a self-taught veterinarian, businessman, and patent medicine salesman who was born into slavery in 1833 and became a free man after the Civil War. In 1889 his beloved horse Lauretta gave birth to the colt Jim, a sickly creature that nevertheless showed remarkable intelligence. With Doc's gentle, noncoercive training, Jim learned to read, spell, write, and do sums, and thus became the star of Doc's traveling shows. As their fame grew, the two teamed up with the country's newly founded humane societies, raising money for the cause and inspiring about two million children to sign "the official Jim Key Pledge: 'I promise always to be kind to animals.'" Bowman's steady, natural narration pays close attention to the bond between Doc and Jim, including humorous details of Jim's behavior, while incorporating the social conditions facing an emancipated black man in the latter part of the nineteenth century and Doc's insistence on integrating the spaces where he and Jim performed. An intriguing afterword touches on Doc's experiences during the Civil War and gives additional details about Jim's feats of intelligence, although it only superficially alludes to the Clever Hans Effect (identified in 1907, a year after Doc and Jim's retirement) and so misses the chance to suggest further topics of exploration. Minter's enticing woodcut-style illustrations, marked by heavy black-scored lines for texture and rich greens, reds, and chocolate-browns, are lit by a golden glow that warms people and animals alike, the perfect medium to reflect Doc's philosophy of kindness. anita l. burkam (c) Copyright 2017. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Minters acrylic-painted linoleum-block prints combine with Bowmans story of a former slave who trained a brilliant horse for a memorable book.Born circa 1833 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, William Doc Key earned his nickname by developing expertise in caring for horses. He had helped many horses give birth, but when his purebred Arabian, Lauretta, gives birth to a weak, spindly, shank-legged colt, Doc despairs of ever raising a prizewinning racehorse. Raising Beautiful Jim Key with the attention a doting parent gives a child, Doc soon realizes that he has no ordinary horse. Over time, Doc teaches Jim to answer questions, spell words, and write letters on a blackboard. Doc makes a living from selling his liniments on a medicine wagon, but when Jim performs in the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, held in Nashville in 1897, it catapults both of them to fame, which Key uses to promote animal welfare. Surrounding this amazing and mostly true story is the American segregation that prevented Doc and Jim from performing in certain places and for certain audiences. The strong, black lines of Minters prints give the book an old-timey feel; colored in a palette of gold, brown, and green, they glow with life. Photographs of Doc and Jim in the backmatter along with useful historical information on the pair will give readers valuable background and context. An incredible story that ought to be widely knowna must-read.nbsp;(Picture book/biography. 7-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* William Doc Key's was a life of contradictions and accomplishments. He was born a slave in 1833 but was educated by his master; he served the Confederates during the Civil War, and the Union after he was free; he was a self-trained veterinarian whose liniments and cures were nationally known. But most of all, Doc is remembered for the way he nourished a sickly colt named Jim to life and then taught him to spell and recognize words, do math, and perform numerous other feats. His strategy: positive reinforcement through kindness and rewards, which, at the time, was unknown in the treatment of animals. As the pair traveled, Doc often faced discrimination, particularly in the South, but he quietly championed racial equality by refusing segregated seating at his shows and by performing in many of the country's traditionally white venues. Stunning hand-painted linoleum block print illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award winner Minter are awash with color and light, as from a stained glass window, and capture the nuances of Doc and Jim's life together perfectly. The narrative's quiet tone conveys a sense of respect for Doc's life and legacy, while back matter offers an extended biography, archival photos of Doc and Jim, and source notes. This beautiful picture-book homage to Doc and Jim is nothing short of enthralling.--Chaudhri, Amina Copyright 2016 Booklist