Considering Kindness

Best Users: Librarians, Educators, Art Educators

Best Audience: Children Grades 02-05


It is hard to know where to begin with describing this award-winning non-fiction picture book.  Every part of the story of William “Doc” Key and his horse Jim Key is astonishing.

That Doc raised the colt Jim to recognize letters, then to read, write, add, and subtract is more than compelling.  That formerly enslaved Doc Key used his stage show to teach post-war American lessons of kindness is doubly so.

Performing from Broadway stages to Spelling Bees in schools, Doc and Jim showed that with kindness and education anything was possible. In the years following the enslavement of millions, this was a revolutionary and beautiful idea and effort.  While Doc Key talked about kindness to animals, he was, perhaps talking about something much larger.  Close to two million Americans, many of them children, signed Doc’s pledge of kindness.

Watch Coretta Scott King honoree Daniel Minter talk about  Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness




All produced by Lee & Low Books

Download Step Right Up: Educators Guide

Download Step Right Up: Kindness Pledge (B&W)

Download Step Right Up: Kindness Pledge (Color)



Step Right Up:
How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness
By Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
Published by Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Age Range: 7 – 12 Years
Locate at Indiebound | Amazon | B&N | Local Library

William “Doc” Key had a special way with animals. Growing up enslaved in Tennessee, Doc was sent to plantations around the state to care for sick and wounded animals. When the Civil War ended and Doc was freed, he began to dream of breeding a winning racehorse. But those dreams were dashed when his colt was born weak and sickly. Although many people would have euthanized the colt, Doc nursed him back to health and named him Jim.

Noticing a level of curiosity and eagerness in the horse, Doc began teaching Beautiful Jim Key first to recognize letters, then to read, write, add, subtract, and more. Doc soon took his talented horse on the road, spreading a message of patience and kindness, over cruelty, to all animals.

With striking illustrations by Daniel Minter, Step Right Up is the inspiring story of one man and one horse who showed the world the power of kindness.

This biography explores Common Core English Language Arts Standards and Social Studies Standards.

2017 ALA/ALSC Notable Children’s Book
Betsy Bird’s “Best Nonfiction Picture Books” list of 2016.
2017 Orbis Pictus Recommended Book by NCTE!
2016 Booklist Editor’s Choice
Junior Library Guild Selection
“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.” —Horn Book
“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 ought to be widely known—a must-read.”  —Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“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, while back matter offers an extended biography, archival photos of Doc and Jim, and source notes. This beautiful, picture-book homage to Doc and Jim is nothing short of enthralling.”
Booklist, Starred Review
“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, including his reluctant service work with Confederate forces during the Civil War and his efforts to free the enslaved.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Minter’s linoleum block prints, painted with acrylic, add the perfect historic feel to an incredible true story.”  —School Library Journal

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