Step Right Up

By Booklist

William “Doc” Key’s was a life of contradictions and accomplishments. He was born a slave in 1833, but educated by his master; he served the Confederates during the Civil War and the Union after he was free; he was a self-trained veterinarian whose liniments and cures were nationally known. But most of all, Doc is remembered for the way he nourished a sickly colt named Jim to life and then taught him to spell and recognize words, do math, and perform numerous other feats. His strategy: positive reinforcement through kindness and rewards, which was unknown at the time in the treatment of animals. As the pair traveled, Doc often faced discrimination, particularly in the South, but he quietly championed racial equality by refusing segregated seating at his shows and by performing in many of the country’s traditionally white venues. 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.