How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

Illustrated by Daniel Minter

Lee and Low Books

The 19th century was a brutal time for animals, but William “Doc” Key, a formerly-enslaved, self-taught veterinarian and entrepreneur, believed that kindness was more powerful than cruelty. He determined to prove it by using only kindness and patience to “educate” a once-sickly and crooked-legged colt born in 1889. The colt, named Jim Key, later Beautiful Jim Key, was declared the smartest horse in the world, seemingly able to read, spell words, calculate math problems, and more. Despite racial prejudice and skepticism, Doc and Beautiful Jim Key ultimately fueled the humane movement and inspired millions of people to be kinder to animals. About two million people signed the Jim Key kindness pledge. Download, sign, and share the new Step Right Up Kindness Pledge.

Daniel Minter illustrator video

Reviews and Praise

“Once in a blue moon, you come across a story that is so unbelievable—seemingly impossible to make up—that it has to be true. That’s just what we find in the deeply inspiring duo, William “Doc” Key and Beautiful Jim Key. Their relationship speaks to the tremendous power of the human-animal bond. Step Right Up tells a truly remarkable tale steeped in history, humor, curiosity, and humanity. A must-read for any age.” —Carolyn Merono Mullin, founder and executive director, The Animal Museum

STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus Excerpt: “Minter’s acrylic-painted linoleum-block prints combine with Bowman’s story of a former slave who trained a brilliant horse for a memorable book…An incredible story that out to be widely known—a must-read.”

STARRED REVIEW from BOOKLIST—Excerpt: 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…This beautiful, picture-book homage to Doc and Jim is nothing short of enthralling.”

STARRED REVIEW from Publishers Weekly—Excerpt: “Themes of racial injustice and the harsh treatment of animals offer a poignant supplement to the main narrative…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…”

Horn Book review—Excerpt: 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.”

School Library Journal Review—Excerpt: Minter’s linoleum block prints, painted with acrylic, add the perfect historic feel to an incredible true story.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Review—Excerpt: “…a smooth and well-sourced account of a fascinating phenomenon with some significant cultural implications.”

2016 Cybils finalist—Excerpt: “Step Right Up is a story that you will keep going back to read and recommend.”

Photo Gallery

Illustrator Daniel Minter



Junior Library Guild Selection

State book award nominations,  including the Texas Bluebonnet Award, Kansas’ William Allen White Award, Louisiana’s Young Reader’s Choice Awards, Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award, Indiana’s Young Hoosier Book Award, Utah’s Beehive Book Award.

WINNER! South Dakota Prairie Pasque Book Award

WINNER!—Writer’s League of Texas Book Award

Carter G. Woodson Honor from the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

2017 NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended Book

2017 ALA/ALSC Notable Children’s Book

2016 Cybils finalist