From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Kindergarten-Grade 2—Based on the true story of a remarkable self-made man whose love for animals won him fame and fortune, this book is sure to grab young readers. Bill "Doc" Key was born a slave and had a special way with animals even as a youngster. Following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, he worked as a veterinarian and preached the gospel of kindness to all creatures. Despite the racial climate in the Jim Crow South, he joined a medicine show and became wealthy selling a liniment that he invented for both animals and humans. With his newfound wealth, Doc bought a racehorse and bred her in hopes of producing a champion. When the foal was born, his twisted legs meant racing was not in the cards. But Jim Key was an unusual and smart horse, and his antics tickled his owner. Doc set about teaching him to pick out letters and colors, and to count and do arithmetic, and he mastered all of these tasks. Could this horse really do the things he was said to have done? Was it trickery on Doc's part? A team of Harvard professors was brought in to determine exactly what Jim Key could and could not do. McCully's signature watercolors make this title as beautiful as it is fun to read, and its humane message is an important one.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* McCully celebrates the profound bond between humans and animals in this inspiring picture book based on the true story of Bill “Doc” Key and the “wonder horse” he taught to count and spell. Born into slavery in 1833, Key hurdled formidable obstacles for a black man of his time and became a veterinarian and wealthy entrepreneur who held the unusually progressive belief that animals had feelings. Heartbroken after his favorite horse dies while giving birth, Key is delighted when her weak, homely colt, Jim, grows into a strong, affectionate companion: Key even moves his cot into the barn to sleep next to Jim's stall. Recognizing the horse's intelligence, Key begins to teach Jim astonishing tricks, and after he learns to identify letters, add and subtract, and ham it up with dance steps and grins, the duo takes its show on the road. Naysayers suspect trickery, but after Harvard professors vouch for Jim's intelligence, Key and Jim team up with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in traveling shows that remind audiences to treat animals with compassion. Caldecott Medalist McCully's storytelling is as sensitive, engaging, and well paced as her brightly colored, expressive artwork, which highlights the period setting as well as the remarkable friendship between man and horse. An appended author's note discusses the virulent racism Key confronted and fills in more biographical details. A winsome celebration of an extraordinary man and the immeasurable effects of kindness. Preschool-Grade 2. --Gillian Engberg