Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

By Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrated by Daniel Minter

Hardcover: $21.95


A horse that can read, write, spell, and do math? Ridiculous! That’s what people thought in the late 1800s—until they met Jim Key.

Born a weak and wobbly colt in 1889, Jim was cared for by William “Doc” Key, a formerly enslaved man and self-taught veterinarian who believed in treating animals with kindness, patience, and his own homemade remedies. Under Doc’s watchful eyes, Jim grew to be a healthy young stallion with a surprising talent—a knack for learning! For seven years, Doc and Jim worked together perfecting Jim’s skills. Then it was time for them to go on the road, traveling throughout the United States and impressing audiences with Jim’s amazing performances. In the process, they broke racial barriers and raised awareness for the humane treatment of animals.

Here is the true story of an extraordinary horse and the remarkable man who nurtured the horse’s natural abilities. Together they asked the world to step right up and embrace their message of kindness toward animals.

Download the free Step Right Up Kindness Pledge in color or black and white to use with your students! 

Watch illustrator Daniel Minter discuss his process for creating the beautiful woodcut illustrations for Step Right Up

Check out educator lesson plan and activities for Step Right Up, a title featured in RIF’s Multicultural Book Collections. To find other free activities that inspire young readers as well as learn more about Reading Is Fundamental, visit us at

About the Creators

Thumb_donna_bowman Donna Janell Bowman - Author

Donna Janell Bowman grew up on a quarter horse ranch where she trained for horse shows and developed her passion for writing. When she first heard about Doc and Jim Key, Bowman was skeptical about Jim’s “education.” But after doing her own research, she was inspired to share Doc and Jim’s fascinating story with young readers. Bowman lives in Texas with her family and their rescue animals. This is her debut book.

Thumb_daniel_minter Daniel Minter

Daniel Minter is the illustrator of several award-winning picture books. He is also an adjunct instructor of art at the Maine College of Art. Minter finds inspiration for his work from observing the natural world and thinking about history and science. He is the founding director of Maine Freedom Trails, an organization dedicated to identifying sites related to the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement. Minter lives with his family in Portland, Maine.