STEP RIGHT UP- My first book sale!

Me with my big-hearted, uber-talented agent, Erin Murphy.


I am over-the-moon about the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement on June 21, 2013-the same day I flew to Montana for my agent’s annual retreat. The deal is finally final and now I can scream it from the blog roof. I SOLD A BOOK!

Here’s the happy blurb, including the P.M. bit, from my agent’s website:

All debuts are amazing and wonderful, but here’s one that’s especially satisfying. Donna Bowman Bratton
has been on a long and incredibly patient journey of near-misses,
please-wait-longers, and just-this-one-more-things before reaching this
happy point of being able to announce her debut book deal:


Donna Bowman Bratton’s debut, tentatively
titled STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY, the biography of a
former slave and self-taught veterinarian who, armed only with patience
and kindness, taught a horse to spell, write, and do math, and together
they became powerful advocates for the emerging animal humane movement,
to Samantha Wolf at Lee & Low, by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy
Literary Agency.

Hooray for Donna, and hooray for Sam, and hooray for Jim Key! This is
going to be a wonderful book–the first of many of gorgeous projects to
get a contract, but I assure you, not the last!


It has been difficult to keep this story under wraps for so long. That’s the way it goes with nonfiction writers, isn’t it? We guard our projects from the public until we have a deal. Now, I can’t wait to introduce the world to Dr. William Key and Beautiful Jim Key. I am grateful to my editor Samantha Wolf at Lee and Low Books, who spent the past two years championing the story with me. I can’t wait to hold the book in my hot little hands.

So, how did I come up with this story, you ask?
I stumbled upon Beautiful Jim Key in 2005, when an adult book about the subject hit the shelves. I was drawn to it because of my own history with horses. I grew up on a ranch and spent my time helping to care for our many horses while training for shows around the state. Horses were my first love. Growing up with horses taught me compassion, empathy, responsibility, patience. They taught me so very much. And I taught them to do a lot of things, too. But I had never considered that they could learn to spell, calculate math problems, identify playing cards, etc.I read this adult book with skepticism, then launched into two years of my own research, including census records, archive photos, newspaper accounts from 1897-1907, white-gloved research at the Tennessee State Archives, and a visit to the home town of Doc and Jim.  I was hooked. At the center of the true story of Dr. William Key and his educated horse is kindness. Jim learned because, despite living during a very brutal time for animals, Doc was endlessly kind and tremendously patient. Beautiful Jim Key was a fortunate animal and Doc loved him on an almost parental level.

But, this isn’t just a story about a man who taught a horse to do phenomenal things. Doc was a slave until he was in his thirties. But, as horrendous as slavery was, he felt grateful to have had a kind master. Imagine that-feeling so grateful that, as a free man, he worked to pay off the master’s mortgage. How extraordinary! Doc went on to become a respected self-taught veterinarian and a wealthy business man, despite racial prejudices against him. So, you see, this is also an underdog story with a culminating historical significance. Beautiful Jim Key became a poster child for the budding humane movement. This story spoke to my heart. I knew I needed to share it with kids.
And now I get to do a happy dance.

The tentative release date is spring 2015. I Can’t Wait! 

6 Responses to “STEP RIGHT UP- My first book sale!”

  1. Cynthia Levinson

    I can't wait, either. This one's long overdue.