Reviews for Wonder Horse : The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse


Booklist Reviews 2010 April #2
*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. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Bill "Doc" Key, born a slave, later became a veterinarian. Apparently, Doc taught his astonishingly intelligent horse, Jim Key, the alphabet, numbers, even colors. In her concluding note, McCully is suitably skeptical; but whatever truths lie behind this engaging tale, it's a fine portrait of accomplishment. In McCully's signature watercolors, the pre-industrial setting and its rural inhabitants are realized at their bucolic best. Bib. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #4
Bill "Doc" Key, born a slave in 1833, was notably kind to animals in an age when people tended to manage horses with a whip. Once free, Doc became a veterinarian. When a beloved mare died after giving birth to a foal with twisted legs, he was inconsolable. However, "Jim Key" grew up to be a horse who was not only insistently companionable (he slept in the house until he grew too big for the door) but astonishingly intelligent. Apparently, Doc taught Jim the alphabet, numbers, even colors. A huge success with audiences, he was tested by a team of Harvard professors who concluded that his ability was not a hoax, a finding that the S.P.C.A. adopted to demonstrate the power of kindness to animals. In her concluding note, McCully is suitably skeptical: those professors "probably watched Jim perform...but didn't do controlled experiments." Whatever truths lie behind this engaging tale, it's a fine portrait of accomplishment by man and beast. In McCully's signature watercolors, Doc and Jim become livelier versions of their portraits in a reproduced photo, while the pre-industrial setting and its rural inhabitants are realized at their bucolic best. Sources are appended. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2010 May #2
A fictionalized account of the story of Doc Key and his famous horse Jim Key. Born a slave, Doc became known as a doctor to humans even before Emancipation. After the Civil War, he developed a bestselling liniment for both humans and animals. In an era when animals, especially horses, were often treated cruelly, Doc campaigned for kindness and understanding. He raised Jim Key, an orphan foal, from birth; recognizing Jim's intelligence and desire to please, he began to teach him the alphabet. Over several years the horse learned letters, numbers and colors and even to add and subtract. Doc and Jim traveled around the country on exhibition, including at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, always emphasizing the importance of kindness to animals. McCully's liquid illustrations make this book a delight to look at and invest Jim with considerable personality. However, she makes one misleading claim: The text says plainly that Harvard professors examined Jim in Doc's absence, but the endnote says that they probably only watched his usual performance. Jim's talents were marvelous enough that they don't need this embellishment, which, sadly, detracts. (bibliography) (Picture book. 6-10) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2010 July #2

A horse that recognizes the alphabet, fetches, and dances takes center stage in this true story from the late 19th century. McCully's tale is as much about the beloved and clever animal as it is about his owner and trainer, Bill Key. Born a slave, Bill also is an animal whisperer who "could soothe and... cure just about any creature." Later freed, Bill becomes a veterinarian known as Doc Key, and he spends years training a weak foal named Jim. Taking him on the road, he shows off the horse's many feats. "People will be amazed by how much you know. They will see that animals have feelings, and it's wrong to make them suffer." McCully (Manjiro: The Boy Who Risked His Life for Two Countries) brings the story to life through her watercolors, especially vig-nettes of Jim playing fetch and learning the alphabet. Despite hecklers and the racist attitudes of the Reconstruction-era South (briefly alluded to in the text, and explained more fully in author's notes), Jim and Doc Key are a testament to hard work and the nascent movement for humane treatment of animals. Ages 4-8. (July)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 June

K-Gr 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

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