Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Step Right Up by Donna Janell Bowman

Each Wednesday in February, I am highlighting great nonfiction picture books about African-Americans. These posts are my way of marking Black History Month and also part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge organized by Alyson Beecher.

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about KindnessStep Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s description: A biography of William “Doc” Key, a formerly enslaved man and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read, write, and do math, and who together with Jim became a famous traveling performance act and proponent for the humane treatment of animals around the turn of the twentieth century.

My thoughts: Have you ever thought horses are just as smart as humans? This picture book tells the story of a remarkable man, William “Doc” Key and his educated horse, Jim Key, who traveled the country as one of the most popular shows in America. Touching on issues of slavery, segregation and animal cruelty, it is a great addition to historical collections of classrooms and children’s libraries. It would also make a great movie.
Bonus: lots of interesting extra information in the back matter.

View all my reviews

“Step Right Up” is also this month’s books in Lisa Rose’s Missing Voice Picture Book discussion group.

How I did on my 2015 We Need Diverse Books resolution


From August through December, I read 23 diverse children’s books, bringing my year-end total to 68.

That means I surpassed my We Need Diverse Books resolution of 50 diverse books even without counting adult books!

My grand total for children’s books this year is 151. Diverse books being 45 percent of that is a number I feel good about. But it didn’t happen by chance. I’ve found titles by following the Cooperative Children’s Book Center blog, reading recommendations in Rethinking Schools magazine, keeping up with the We Need Diverse Books newsletters and Twitter account, and participating a variety of other social media conversations. And also, of course, paying attention to the new children’s book shelves at my local library.

I plan to keep up those efforts in 2016 and will decide on my new We Need Diverse Books resolution next week. In the meantime, below are the diverse kids’ titles I read in August through December. To see the rest of my 2015 list, visit these posts: JanuaryFebruary, March, April through July.

August through October mosaic.jpg

Row 1: (All related to civil rights) “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer” by Carole Boston Weatherford, “Voices from the March on Washington” by George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis, “Lillian’s Right to Vote” by Jonah Winter, “Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama” by Hester Bass

Row 2: (All fictional picture books) “One Word from Sophia” by Jim Averbeck, “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña, “Lion Lion” by Miriam Busch, “Mango, Abuela, and Me” by Meg Medina

Row 3: (All middle grade or YA; 1st three deal with LGBT themes) “Honor Girl” by Maggie Thrash, “George” by Alex Gino, “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Robin Talley, “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

Row 4: (All picture books; 1st two are nonfiction) “Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, “One Plastic Bag” by Miranda Paul, “The Big Box” by Toni and Slade Morrison, “Please, Louise,” by Toni and Slade Morrison

Row 5: “A Storm Called Katrina” by Myron Uhlberg, “Mama’s Nightingale” by Edwidge Danticat, “Minna’s Patchwork Coast” by Lauren A. Mills, “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade” by Justin Roberts

Row 6: (All fictional picture books) “The First Day in Grapes” by L. King Pérez, “Little Kunoichi: The Ninja Girl” by Sanae Ishida, “Langston’s Train Ride” by Robert Burleigh

My diverse reading for April through July

From April through July I read 27 total children’s and YA books. Compare that to March alone, when I read 29. Yikes! I definitely lost some focus in recent months, though I did read many more adult books (9) than I had earlier in the year. Among those, more than half were by or about diverse people.

Of the children’s books I read from April through July, 37% were diverse. (It’s worth noting that books that don’t qualify aren’t necessarily un-diverse. Several featured animal characters, and some were about nonfiction topics.)

In sum, over the last four months, my reading was about 42% diverse, which is pretty good, especially when compared with the rates at which these types of books are published. Also, it puts me one book away from my year-long goal of 50 diverse books!
Here are the diverse books I read for this period. I’ll put asterisks next to my favorites.

April thru July mosaic

Row 1: (All children’s fiction) “Drum Dream Girl” by Margarita Engle, “Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree” by Naoko Stoop, “The Red Pencil” by Andrea Davis Pinkney (middle grade), “None of the Above” by I.W. Gregorio (young adult), “Firebird” by Misty Copeland

Row 2: (All children’s nonfiction) “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba, “The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families” by Susan Roth, “Wangari Maathai: The Woman who Planted Millions of Trees” by Franck Prévot, “Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America” by Carole Boston Weatherford, “14 Cows for America” by Carmen Agra Deedy

Row 3: (All books for adults) “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother” by Alison Bechdel (both graphic novels), “The Tusk that Did the Damage” by Tania James, “Above Us Only Sky” by Michele Young-Stone, “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi


My #WeNeedDiverseBooks resolution

The We Need Diverse Books campaign is challenging its supporters to pledge to read a certain number of diverse books this year. I am pledging to read 5o.


What qualifies as a diverse book? As the campaign challenge puts it: “Books where people of color can be first-page HEROES rather than second-class citizens. Books in which LGBTQIA characters can represent social CHANGE rather than social problems. And books where people with disabilities can be just…people.” I’ll also be making sure a majority of those books are also by diverse authors.

The campaign focuses on children’s literature, and the majority a large portion of my diverse reads will probably be picture books, but I will also be counting adult books, like “Half a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I read at the end of 2014 and highly recommend.

Ngozi Adichie gave a TED talk on the critical misunderstandings created when we only hear one thing about a person or a place. It’s called “The Danger of a Single Story,” and it is also very worth your time.

I have some other goals for my kidlit reading this year in addition to diversity. I hope to share them in the coming days or weeks. What are your 2015 reading goals? Please share them in the comments!