From Early Draft to Award Winner: Step Right Up

Step Right Up by Donna Janell Bowman

Step Right Up by Donna Janell Bowman

I heard the best news the other day, and now that it has officially been announced, I’m so excited to write about it here. My brilliant friend Donna Janell Bowman won the Writers’ League of Texas 2016 Book Award for picture books for her debut picture book biography STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS.

I first read this story seven years ago when Donna and I first became friends. This was before she had an agent, when she was still honing her craft.

Even then, this manuscript was brilliant. It had a lyrical rhythm to it, character in the storytelling and such respect for the story itself. The words have changed many times since the first time I read about the amazing Doc and his horse Beautiful Jim Key, but the brilliance of the manuscript, its readability and love for its subject matter, have not.

STEP RIGHT UP tells the remarkable true story of a former slave who taught himself veterinarian medicine and became the face of the humane movement. Doc saved a spindly foal and with just kindness and patience — and no use of whips — he taught the horse to spell, do math and other tasks. Doc and his Beautiful Jim Key went on the road, showing that kindness is all you need working with animals.

Today, we need to hear this just as much as ever. Animals are abused regularly, especially when they can be breed or fattened up for profit. Bullying has turned even more fierce with social media. And bullying doesn’t stop with kids; it happens online with adults too.

If there’s anything that we need right now, it’s kindness.

Kindness to ourselves.

Kindness to our environment.

Kindness to each other.

That’s why we need books like Donna’s STEP RIGHT UP, which show us that with kindness we can achieve so much more than with cruelty.

And when a book is written with this much heart, it’s easy for those ideas to spread.

If you haven’t read STEP RIGHT UP yet, I highly recommend it. The book also has gorgeous illustrations by award-winning illustrator Daniel Minter. And, while you’re at it, why don’t you take Donna’s STEP RIGHT UP Pledge of Kindness and encourage others to do the same.

You don’t even have to take my word for this book’s brilliance. The Writers’ League of Texas award and all the other awards and starred reviews the book has received says it all.

Congratulations also to the other WLT winners: NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles in Fiction, THE MIDNIGHT ASSASSIN: PANIC, SCANDAL, AND THE HUNT FOR AMERICA’S FIRST SERIAL KILLER by Skip Hollandsworth for Nonfiction, HAMMER IS THE PRAYER by Christian Wiman in Poetry and SOMEWHERE AMONG by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu for Middle Grade/Young Adult.

And Congratulations to my other amazing author friends who were finalists: Kathi Appelt for her MAYBE A FOX, co-written with Alison McGhee; Katherine Catmull for her THE RADIANT ROAD; Chris Barton for his WHOOSH!: LONNIE JOHNSON’S SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS; Bethany Hegedus for her BE THE CHANGE: A GRANDFATHER GANDHI STORY, co-written with Arun Gandhi; and Carmen Oliver for her BEARS MAKE THE BEST READING BUDDIES.

I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many people I admire.



What do you think?