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Review of Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught 
the World About Kindness

bowman_step right upStep Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught 
the World About Kindness
by Donna Janell Bowman; 
illus. by Daniel Minter
Primary, Intermediate    Lee & Low    48 pp.
9/16    978-1-62014-148-9    $19.95    g

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.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Anita L. Burkam About Anita L. Burkam

Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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