I had not intended to review titles from the Picture Book list, but Wonder Horse: the True Story of the World's Smartest Horse, by Emily Arnold McCully, came across my desk today. As ever, her illustrations are beautiful and gentle with an almost impressionist touch. Even so, there is enough detail in them to give the reader a real sense of time and place. In this case, the time is about 25 years after the end of the American Civil War. Former slave Bill Key has made a fortune selling his Keystone Liniment and buys a horse in hopes of breeding a racer. What he gets is an ugly foal with twisted legs. Eventually, the colt, named Jim Key, grows to be a healthy horse of great intelligence. Bill Key, always a believer in treating and training animals with kindness, teaches Jim Key the alphabet, colors, counting, and how to do math problems. They go on the road, performing until some folks begin to challenge the validity of Jim Key's "education." Amid insults to himself and his methods, Bill Key perseveres. Although this is a fictionalized account, an Author's Note in the back outlines the life of the real Bill Key and his "wonder horse," Jim Key. Ms McCully also includes a bibliography of additional resources on the pair.
While not for pre-school children, this picture book is a delight for the Kindergarten through Second Grade crowd.