Friday, March 17, 2017

PPBF: Step Right Up

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Step Right Up, by Donna Bowman and Daniel Minter
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Showed Kindness

Written by Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
Lee & Low Books, 2016
Grades 2-8, 48 pp., 910L

Biography, Kindness, Non-fiction, Animals

       "Spring 1889 stretched a blanket of wildflowers over Shelbyville, Tennessee, but William "Doc" Key barely noticed. He paced and fidgeted like an expectant father. He had been on hand for plenty of births before, but this one was special. Visions of a future champion racehorse darted through his mind as he comforted his mare Lauretta. Finally a dark, wet colt lay shivering at her side.
       "Doc knelt to welcome the little fellow, but something was terribly wrong. "He's the most spindly, shank-legged animal I ever did see," he said.
       "Most folks would have given up on the colt right then. But Doc had a kind streak that ran clear through his heart and all the way back to his childhood."

Doc Key was born a slave. Throughout his life he taught kindness through his actions. As a free man he opened a veterinary clinic in Tennessee. He especially had a way with horses. He once spent a small fortune on a mare which he believed would parent a valuable racehorse, but when the colt was born, it was sickly. Doc spent all his time and energy raising that colt, though it was clear it would never win a horserace. But the horse, Beautiful Jim Key, turned out to be an amazing animal. Doc taught him to count and spell, for one thing. Jim lived was much like a pet dog: he followed Doc around, slept in his house as often as he could sneak in, and delighted in learning tricks. So Doc and Jim went on the road to make their fortune, but more importantly, to spread a message about God's creatures, about education, and about the miraculous transformative power of compassion.

What I Love:
I'd seen Mim Rivas's Beautiful Jim Key years ago, and knew it would make a splendid children's book. Their story is a real-life fairy tale. And while Jim is the star, Doc's quiet compassion and his patient temperament make him the hero of the story. Jim may seem like a miracle horse, but I don't believe anyone else could have brought out his talents. the story focuses on their life together and the underlying stream of selflessness in Doc Key, which saw the good in others and chose to give his all for those around him.

Excellent illustrations. Well-chosen text. Fact-filled and beautifully organized. The author includes thorough back matter on this fascinating duo. Don't miss this book. As a side-show barker might have said, you won't believe your eyes.


Chocolate-covered Nutter Butter Cookies
from Krazy in the Kitchen
1. Mim Eichler Rivas wrote a book for adults about Doc and Jim, entitled Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World and Emily Arnold McCully wrote and illustrated a picture book, focusing on Jim Key and his skills, called Wonder Horse: the True Story of the World's Smartest Horse.

2. Learn the history behind the books at Beautiful Jim Key, including links to a documentary, kids' contests, and more.

3. If you're anywhere near Tennessee, you can visit the memorial to Jim Key in Shelbyville.

4. Lee & Low has posted an interesting interview with the author.

5. Safe Haven Humane Society offers tips for kids who want to show kindness to animals, and how they can volunteer. Google the local SPCA, and you'll find pages of information like I did. Kids who can't volunteer can sponsor a drive for food, blankets, towels, dishes, toys, and other necessities to keep our shelters running.

7. Equine therapy is another great way for kids to learn kindness. Centers all around the country work with either adults or children struggling with anger management, physical or mental handicaps, autism, and depression. These camps are a great place to learn to work with people or animals, and they always need compassionate volunteers. Maybe there's one in your area.


8. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Miranda
Reviewed by Jarm
Reviewed by Kirsten
Reviewed by Leslie

Reviewed by Leslie
Reviewed by Joanne

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!
Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, March 17, 2017 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.


  1. I've never heard of Jim Key, but I'm glad it's been told. Kids need to believe in real-life fairy tales. What a kind and compassionate man. I'm glad this is a book about kindness --very timely.

    1. I think it would be a great addition to the books you normally recommend. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for sharing - already placed a hold!

    1. Glad you could find it. I think you'll love the art style. Thanks.

  3. Wow, I knew nothing of Doc and am so happy for this introduction and to hear of Jim Key!

    1. You won't believe what this horse could do and what Doc did to take care of him. It's a great read for kids and grown-ups.

  4. How amazing that Doc taught a horse to count and spell! Clearly, this is a book for all ages to enjoy!

    1. If it seems unbelievable now, wait til you read the book! Jim was not only intelligent, but eager to please. I think that's why he could perform so many tricks. Thanks.

  5. Great book. I love your chocolate horse treat.


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