Title: Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse
Author: Emily Arnold McCully
ISBN: 9780805087932
Pages: Picture Book
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, c2010.

Born Bill Key a slave on a plantation in 1833, “Doc” Key’s way with animals soon became well-known. An Arabian mare that he saved from a circus whipping soon gave birth to a homely horse. Named Jim Key, Doc recognized how smart his horse was after he opened the drawer the apples were kept, ate them all, and then shut the drawer. Curious how smart the horse really was, Doc taught him to recognize letters, colors, and simple math. Wanting to spread his message that animals have feelings and require kindness, Doc took his show on the road and had Jim perform for audiences. But was it all a hoax, as one newspaper questioned, that an uneducated former slave could teach an animal all these things?

I had never heard of Jim or Doc Key, and I thoroughly enjoy finding these unknown stories to share with others. Caldecott Award winning author and illustrator Emily Arnold McCully expounds on what few facts we have regarding this story in an author’s note after the story. Featuring a photo of Doc and Jim, you see how accurately she portrayed the couple in her artwork. I thought she did a great job of combining the stories of Doc and Jim, although that makes it difficult to put it in the biography section. This book is an African-American biography that doesn’t hit you over the head with African-American rights, slavery, or prejudice, something that I really appreciate and might make it suitable for younger readers. Horse nuts are also sure to pick it up with that cover and title, although they might be a little suprised by the first few pages that focus on Doc before Jim.

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