Murder mysteries, a horse that spells, and being a Friend

Celebrated local author a longtime supporter of Friends of the Library

What does a spelling horse have in common with a community-produced murder mystery?

Donna Janell Bowman, of course!

Bowman, a longtime library user and volunteer, is a local author whose newest book Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness focuses on the power of positive relationships to accomplish amazing things—like helping a horse learn to read, write, and do math.

Her legacy with Mystery Night is kindness in action, volunteering time and talent over the years to extend the Library’s impact through this annual Friends of the Library fundraiser. Her many interactions with the Library community as a Library user, storytime parent, member of the Friends, and author are a living example of the Library’s values of curiosity, discovery, and community-building.

Publishing success

Bowman’s latest book tells the true story of former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, who taught a horse, Beautiful Jim, academic skills through the power of kindness. As Beautiful Jim’s fame grew, the pair toured the country, breaking down racial barriers and raising awareness for the humane treatment of animals.

The book earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly; it is also a Booklist Editor’s Choice selection, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, an Orbis Pictus Outstanding Nonfiction title, and a Junior Library Guild selection.

Bowman will meet tweens (ages 8-12) at the Library to talk about her book and the writing process during Children’s Book Week, 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4.

Mystery Night

But before Bowman’s books were on our shelves, she was a Library user who volunteered with the Friends group for Mystery Night, a fundraiser and interactive play that invites audience members to collaborate as they solve a murder.

“At that time, Mystery Night was a welcomed personal distraction and entertainment for me, but there were astounding collateral benefits to getting involved, as a parent, as a citizen, and as a writer,” said Bowman, who first joined the cast in 1994. “In so many ways, my involvement with the Library and the wacky Mystery Night casts have built the person and writer I am today.”

She’s been a cast member at least 11 times since, and blogged about her experiences here.

Although she is not in this year’s cast, she and other members of Austin’s vibrant Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators community often can be found in the Library.

This year’s Mystery Night play, Death by Disco, has performances the first two weekends in April.  You can support the Friends by purchasing tickets for the show, by inviting friends to attend, by participating in the show, or by volunteering at the show.

Friends of the Round Rock Public Library

Mystery Night is one of several fundraisers staged by the Friends to extend the Library’s impact in our community—much like a PTA group extends the impact of a school’s resources.


Youth Services programming
is a major recipient of the Friends’ fundraising efforts, but the Friends group also provides funding for the adult summer reading program, Biz.Ability, our eBook collections, and our genealogy resources.

Friends group volunteers sometimes represent the Library at community events.

If supporting and extending the role of the Library in our community sounds like something you’d like to participate in, please visit the Friends of the Round Rock Public Library website to learn more.

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