Books Mentally Yours Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Power of Kindness in “Step Right Up”

What does it mean to step right up?


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.



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

Written by: Donna Janell Bowman Illustrated by: Daniel Minter
Published by: Lee & Low Books, 2016
ISBN: 1620141485 (ISBN13: 9781620141489)
Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book photos taken by me.

When I saw this book being shared by quite a number of trusted book-blogging friends, I knew I had to find it for our reading theme. It is also a recently published picturebook (just last year) about a man named William “Doc” Key who was born into slavery in 1833. Unlike other slaves, though, he was educated by his masters who thought it was important for him to get an education. The Author’s Note also indicated that this may also be because he was the son of one of his masters – which was not uncommon during that period.


William Key grew up to be a kind, compassionate being who took care of the farm animals. He was so good at it that his masters would even send him across the County to work with other people’s difficult animals. Eventually, he learned how to treat their illnesses that he became known as “Doc Key.” When William became a free man after the Civil War ended, he developed his own line of medicine that was used among both horses and people. He had a soft spot for animals who were mistreated for some reason or another, which is what made him purchase a purebread Arabian horse named Loretta who walked with a limp after years of abuse as part of a traveling circus. He had this dream that if Loretta was paired with one of the fastest stallions in the country that he could have a champion racehorse.


Unfortunately, it was a sickly colt that Lauretta gave birth to, a young horse who could even barely walk. Everyone advised him “to put the colt out of his misery” but Doc Key persisted in taking care of the young horse as he patiently and gently nursed him back to health:


What followed next is a remarkable story of resilience, compassion, unusual friendship – and just staggering brilliance, it will blow anyone’s mind away.


Doc Key may not have gotten his champion race horse – but he got something much much more in exchange for his compassion and his kindness – which paved the way for a movement that sought better treatment towards animals and also revolutionized people’s thinking about animal intelligence and animal training.

I found this lovely video clip of the illustrator who talked about his creative process in making the book. Enjoy!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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