Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse
written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
(Henry Holt Kids) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
Bill Key was a man who "could soothe and cure just about any creature." He was a former slave who became a veterinarian after the Civil War. Doc Key believed in being kind to animals which was an unusual concept in this time period. He bought a beautiful Arabian mare from a circus that had signs of being mistreated. Doc loved this smart horse named Lauretta, but she died soon after giving birth to a "homely" foal with crooked legs. Doc was consumed with grief. Days later, the foal named Jim Key nudged Doc with a stick in his mouth. The horse wanted to play fetch! Jim Key was so bright that Doc took time off from his liniment business and proceeded to teach the horse to recognize letters and numbers. Doc and Jim Key gave performances and spread the word that kindness was necessary when dealing with animals.
Wonder Horse is a terrific example of how a good piece of nonfiction can teach you something entirely new or add to your knowledge of a subject. I had never heard of Jim Key before reading this book, but I think students will be fascinated by the story. They will make connections and want to talk about how they have taught their pets tricks and have been kind to them. The back matter could contribute to a unit with older students on life in the South during Reconstruction.
Other reviews of Wonder Horse:
School Library Journal