Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

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

Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrator:  Daniel Minter 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee & Low Books, 2016   ISBN: 978-1620141489

William Key was born into a life of slavery in Tennessee in1833, but unlike many slave children he was educated alongside his master’s sons, and he learned how to read and write. These were huge gifts for a person of color in the south at that time; and William had more gifts to offer as well. From a very early age William showed that he had a gift for befriending, helping, and taming animals. William’s master sent him to other people’s farms to work with animals that were troublesome. William knew that the way to connect with these animals was to be patient and kind to them.

Over the years William learned a lot about how to treat people and animals who were injured and sick, and he earned a reputation for having singular “doctoring skills.” He was so well thought of that people began to call him Doc Key or Doc. When the Civil War ended, and Doc was freed, he set out to build a business, and ended up having several ventures that were successful.

Then one day Doc came across a “rundown” circus and he bought one of the horses. Lauretta was a purebred Arabian but she was in terrible condition and Doc had to work very hard to get her healthy and strong again. Eventually Lauretta had a colt, which Doc hoped would be a champion race horse, but the baby was a “spindly, shank-legged animal.” Many people advised Doc to destroy the little colt, but he refused to do so. He cared for the baby diligently, and his love and kindness paid off in a very unusual way. It turned out that the colt, Jim, was very intelligent, and he was able, and eager, to learn things. In fact, he learned how to recognize letters and numbers and became quite a celebrity. Best of all, Jim and his beloved Doc proved what an animal is capable of if it is cared for with kindness, and they became staunch allies for those who wanted animals to be treated humanely.

This wonderful picture book tells the story of a remarkable man who knew that the way to connect with animals was to treat them with respect and compassion. Though they lived in a world where people of color were discriminated against, Doc and his horse friend were still able to spread their message of love. They showed the people who saw and met them what a true relationship between a human and animal should look like.