Customer Reviews: Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on May 12, 2011
Based on a true story of a horse and black owner, set in the 1860-1880's or so, I think everyone who loves how picture books inform us on historical wonders will truly enjoy this book. This is what I appreciate about picture books. They often provide you with a snapshot (though sometimes lacking meaty detail) of a historical event, figure, or in this case a wonder horse. They can be the first introduction to history's great stories. This one tells the true story of a pre-Civil War black gentleman who becomes free, becomes a vet (wow!), creates a profitable liniment, and trains, through kindness and patience (over years!), a horse to read, spell, know colors, and give cash register change. I enjoyed even more the further details of the man, Bill "Doc" Key, in the back notes as he was amazingly generous (had immense charity) to his slave owner.

My 10 yr old daughter recently picked it out to borrow from our local library. She loves sharing it with her horse-loving (and owning) girl friend. My wife keeps asking, "But is it true?!" I believe it is and wouldn't have learned about it unless this picture book was published.

Teachers today, in their often large classrooms, can be inspired by Doc Key's kindness and patience.

Thank you Emily Arnold McCully for writing, illustrating, and Henry Holt for publishing this book!!!
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on August 6, 2010
Charming story told about the real life experience of a young black man who survived to become free after the civil war. He became good at taking care of animals because he believed in treating them with kindness. He made some money by creating a veterinary medicine called Keystone Liniment. He buys an Arabian mare, and breeds her to develop a racehorse. Instead, the horse is born with crippled legs so instead, he teaches the young horse over many years to recognize letters and colors, dance, and make change. An author's note and selected bibliography provide context and additional resources for the curious. The gorgeous illustrations are classic McCully: the foal running and retrieving a stick, sleeping on the floor of the man's house, performing in front of audiences filled with expression, color and realism. This is a must-read in school classrooms.
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on February 21, 2013
We loved this book! It is based on a true story, so not only are the kids learning about treating animals with kindness, but they are learning about history too! It has such a wonderful message. I love how it has more facts at the end of the story. Other reviewers gave great details! Animal lovers of all ages would enjoy.
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When Bill Key was a young boy, he loved animals. They clustered about in the barnyard waiting for his soothing touch. He wrapped his arms around the neck of a calf and turned his head and leaned close, nestling against that of the calf. When Bill grew up and became a freed man he was destined to become a veterinarian. Doc Key, as he was called, mostly took care of horses. Whenever he saw someone abusing a horse, he would firmly ask them to stop and would exclaim, "All creatures like kindness." Now that was just how Doc felt about the critters of the earth.

Doc Key became rich and famous for his invention, Keystone Liniment, but there was something he would become even more famous for. He heard that a "circus was selling its animals." He spotted an Arabian mare whose flanks were scarred from the whipping she received. Later Lauretta, who "was the smartest horse he'd ever known," had a foal he named "Jim Key," but unfortunately died when Jim was a wobbly colt. Now Jim was even smarter than his mother and it soon became apparent that this little guy was something else!

Doc began to teach him his letters and colors. Now Jim was a big ham, but some people thought he was a faker and a newspaper asked, "Is Horse's Intelligence a Fraud?" No little old uneducated black man and dumb old horse were that smart. A bunch of smart aleck professors from Harvard were going to see if Jim Key "was really educated." Was Jim nothing but a hoax or was he really a wonder horse?

This amazing story about Jim Key, the horse who could read, write, spell and cipher will charm the reader. Most people have never heard of Jim Key, let alone Doc Key, but no doubt this mesmerizing tale will encourage more than one youngster to write a report on the charismatic "Key" family. The book brings up the once known misconception that animals had no feelings and cruelty was totally acceptable. The artwork is evocative, beautiful, and captures the love Doc had for not only Jim, but all animals. If you are an animal lover, this is one `key' book you're simply going to have to add to your li
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on July 27, 2011
This is a pretty good summary of the bigger story, Beautiful Jim Key. The major role of the promoter was omitted, but it still works for me. This is a good read aloud and the pictures are excellent. It would motivate a child to read the full story later in life.

If you want your child to have a love of history and respect for animals...pick this. It is a keeper. Beautiful message for all ages.
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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2011
I don't know where I came across this book, I think it might have been when I was looking for a wholesome movie for family night and was researching Secretariat. I think it must have popped up in the "other people also looked at.." window on the web-page. Anyway it's time for the summer reading program so I borrowed this with a healthy arm-load of other books.

I highly recomemnd this book to animal lovers of all ages. It's a sweet heart-warming story about Bill Key and his clever horse Jim Key who knew how to spell and do math. Another wonderful book by Emily Arnold McCully.

For me the Author's Note is as wonderful as the book itself. McCully includes a brief biography on Bill Key including the fact that he was born a slave and during the Civil War followed his master's two sons into battle with Confederate troops and saved their lives. He later paid off his master's morgage with his own money after he was a free man.

Wonder Horse's author's note piqued my interest in Bill Key and I found a biography about him. Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World I look forward to reading the adult story of Bill Key's life.
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VINE VOICEon September 28, 2010
Kids love animal stories, and they are sure to be amazed by Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Emily Arnold McCully's newest picture book about Jim Key, a 19th century horse who astonished audiences with his incredible talents.

This enchanting book is not just an animal story, however; it is also a story about slavery, the power of kindness and patience, and overcoming prejudice. Jim's owner, Bill Key, was born a slave in 1833. McCully's heartwarming water-color illustrations portray the child Bill, already gifted with a special way with animals, surrounded by animals of all kinds, hugging a young calf while slaves work in the field and the mama cow looks on. We learn that after he was freed, Bill became a veterinarian, known by everyone as Doc Key. At a time when farm animals were often mistreated, Doc Key advocated kindness to all creatures. Doc was a talented businessman as well as a vet, and made his fortune with a special medicine called Keystone Liniment, which worked on both humans and animals and helped with a wide variety of ailments.

With his new riches, Doc Key tried to breed the world's fastest racehorse; but the little colt that was born was weak, with crooked legs. Doc named him Jim, and although racing wasn't in the cards for this baby, Doc soon saw that he was something special; he even played fetch like Doc's dogs! Hand-raised by Doc, Jim soon figured out all kinds of tricks without even being taught, including learning how to open and shut the drawer where Doc kept apples as treats.

Doc couldn't help wondering what else Jim might be able to learn; with lots of patience and rewards, Doc taught Jim to recognize the entire alphabet, add and subtract, and recognize primary colors. Doc decided to take Jim on the road, and audiences couldn't believe their eyes. Jim was a natural performer, and loved the spotlight.

But when a newspaper reporter questioned whether Jim's intelligence was a fraud, asking "How could a little old black man with no education teach a dumb animal to do those things?" Doc brought in professors from Harvard to test Jim Key. These experts made Doc wait outside, while they tested the horse. The results were announced by every newspaper around: "Jim Key Educated By Kindness."

Jim and Doc travelled the country, sponsored by the Humane Society, even appearing at the St. Louis World Fair, before retiring to a peaceful life on Jim Key Farm.

McCully's vibrantly colored watercolor illustrations capture the excitement that Jim generated among crowds everywhere, and she manages to imbue her paintings of our hero Jim with a special expression of keen intelligence. She also does a beautiful job capturing the period details in the colorful costumes worn by the many children and adults who are depicted as spectators in the story.

McCully includes an author's note with biographical information on Bill Key and his horse, as well as a brief bibliography.
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on November 17, 2012
My granddaughter and I read this story and she was fascinated by it. When it is a good book you can reread it time after time - which we did!!
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on February 18, 2014
Written for young children with not a lot of words. But it makes children aware of this horse's fascinating brain and abilities.
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on September 4, 2014
Great story, really nice book! Gave my first one away to grandchildren, and ordered me another to keep for myself.
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