The True Story of Zippy Chippy The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay is a humorous, non-fiction, inspiring and wonderful story for young children. After reading this book to my children for the first time, we loved the story!
Who is Zippy Chippy? Zippy Chippy is descended from the leading legends of horse racing. He is destined for greatness and glory. However, when the bell rings and the horse begins, Zippy Chippy goes for a gentle stroll around the track and never wins! Will his owners give up on him? Will he ever win a race? Read the book to find out!
I love this book for several reasons. It helps children learn about a character that became famous for trying and NOT winning. Although Zippy Chippy wasn’t a champion with winning races, he was a champion in other ways. The True Story of Zippy Chippy is a wonderful book to reinforce the growth mindset and to never give up. What makes it even better is that it’s a true story!
The author, Artie Bennett blends humor, friendship, love and perseverance into a beautiful story that both children and adults will enjoy. I wanted to include an author interview with Artie so my readers can learn more about what sparked this remarkable story!
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Author Interview with Artie Bennett
Artie Bennett is an executive copy editor by day and a writer by night. He is author of several popular children’s books as well as well as two joke and riddle books. To learn more about Artie, go to his website here!
It was sheer serendipity that led me to it. I stumbled upon the story of this remarkable racehorse in a newspaper article, and I knew, right out of the starting gate, that I wanted to bring his fascinating tale to young readers. The more I learned about Zippy Chippy, the more certain I was that his story would both touch and delight youngsters, just as it did me. There are so many interesting dimensions to the tale. Among them are Zippy’s skin-of-his-teeth escape from the slaughterhouse, when Felix Monserrate, a horse trainer from Puerto Rico, swaps his battered old pickup truck for the unfortunate horse. Zippy’s champion bloodlines, boasting descent from the greats of racing, including the most famous racehorse of them all, Man o’ War. Zippy’s quirky, untamable nature, whose pugnacity is softened by little Marisa, Felix’s eight-year-old daughter, with whom he develops a loving bond. How the horse, who had yet to win a single race, is matched up against a minor-league baseball player in hopes that just one elusive victory would boost Zippy’s morale and, perhaps, turn his fortunes around. Zippy Chippy’s very name itself—and how he acquired it. And what transpires during Zippy’s final race, his one-hundredth, that astonished spectators and brought tears to many eyes. All of these elements and more inspired me to write my very first picture-book biography. I knew it would be a departure from my previous picture books, which include humor-filled, educational picture books in verse and a more traditional rhyming storybook, but I felt an irresistible tug to share Zippy Chippy’s story and so I set about writing it. And when the publisher, NorthSouth Books, signed up Dave Szalay, whose tender illustrations perfectly capture the soul of a steed, it was clear to me that, together, we could satisfyingly spin this engrossing yarn.
Tell me about your research process with this nonfiction picture book.
I read as much as I could find about Zippy Chippy. And I began to familiarize myself with the sport of horseracing. I had an elementary awareness, but there was so much to learn. There was terminology that was new to me. For example, I came upon the word “dwelling.” This is the term used in racing circles when a horse fails to depart the starting gate at the sound of the bell. I’m very fortunate that Zippy Chippy is still alive, just shy of twenty-nine years old, quite ancient for a horse. So I was able to interview him. J Zippy is lovingly cared for at Old Friends at Cabin Creek Farms, in upstate New York, where he has become the reigning celebrity. I visited the horse a couple years ago and was given a moving tour by the kind people who operate the facility. I had a ton of questions and they helped me fill in any missing pieces in my understanding. This summer they hope to mount a Zippy Day, a celebration of the life of the beloved horse, and they’ve invited me to read and sign The True Story of Zippy Chippy. I’m absolutely twitterpated about returning once more to Old Friends and seeing my old friend, Zippy Chippy.
What would you like children to learn from this book?
I think that children will naturally identify with the equine protagonist. This was a horse who ran 100 races but lost every one yet, in the process, became a folk hero. Zippy teaches us that winning isn’t the only thing that matters. The important thing is to try, to give it your best shot. That’s how we develop character. It’s found in the effort. Zippy loved being a racehorse and he loved to compete. He just wasn’t very good at it. There was a time earlier in his career when Felix decided to retire Zippy. But Zippy became depressed and stopped eating. He had to get back on track. Later in his career, huge crowds came to cheer on Zippy, and he developed legions of admirers, even as his losses continued to build. Ultimately, I want children to learn that losers can still be winners.
In addition, I want children to come away with a richer vocabulary. I’ve taken pains to introduce young readers to words that aren’t often found in kids’ books. So we find ten-dollar words like “shenanigans,” “rambunctious,” “ballyhooed,” “hapless,” and “zaniest” in The True Story of Zippy Chippy, all, though, clearly understood from their context. I’m a word lover and I’d be thrilled if children embraced these fun new words.
Can you provide any links for parents who want to learn more about Zippy Chippy?
Yes, I’d be delighted to. Here is a link to Old Friends at Cabin Creek, where Zippy Chippy and other retired racehorses, all more successful than Zippy, are well cared for: https://oldfriendsatcabincreek.com/zippy-chippy And here is a link to the parent organization, based in Kentucky: https://www.oldfriendsequine.org/horses/zippy-chippy-0.html I also will have a teaching guide for the picture book on my website, http://www.artiebennett.com, but I’m afraid it isn’t quite ready yet. Please hold your horses!
Tell me about your other books.
Gladly. I launched my literary career with The Butt Book, which I based on Dr. Seuss’s wacky anatomical books—The Foot Book, The Eye Book, The Tooth Book, The Eyetooth Book, etc. It earned me the nickname “the Dr. Seuss of your caboose.” The Butt Book was a sensation and sold out its entire print run of 6,000 copies in its first two months. Its inspired illustrator, Mike Lester, who won the Reuben Award for the artwork, elevated the levity level by sprinkling subliminal butts into the backgrounds. Is that a cumulus cloud formation—or a butt? A double scoop of ice cream—or a butt? The hills are alive with the shape of . . . butts? I recently received an email from an enthusiastic fan who told me that he had just picked up a copy for a friend undergoing chemotherapy. He felt that the humor would prove immensely therapeutic. It remains my most popular book and is now in its sixth printing.
I then answered the call of doody with my “number two” picture book, Poopendous!, as much fun to say as it is to read. It’s delightfully illustrated by Mike Moran, who clearly had a “poopensity” for the topic. It’s chock-a-block with riveting information and rife with good-natured humor. And it contains one of my proudest verses:
Poop from critters is called dung,
And monkey dung is sometimes flung.
Monkeys fling when under stress.
It helps the monkey decompress.
So if a monkey aims at you,
Duck behind a friend, or two!
I next tried my hand at a more traditional picture book, Peter Panda Melts Down!, adorably illustrated by the Seattle-based artist John Nez. Though it’s a storybook, we didn’t stint on the humor. A fun, interactive refrain runs through it, with surprise variations along the way. We learn that Peter, the most meltdownable panda we know, isn’t fond of veggies:
Peter loves pasta, all covered with cheese.
Yet Mama knows pandas must also have peas.
But green-colored food Peter Panda pooh-poohs.
Pure panda-monium promptly ensues!
Uh-oh. Here it comes.
Here comes that frown.
Peter Panda melts dowwwnnn!
I’ve heard from several parents of special-needs children about how this book has made a difference in their lives. Parents have also written to lament that their child now has a meltdown if denied their nightly reading, so we must assume those children didn’t absorb the appropriate lesson from the tale.
After taking a stab at a storybook, I hastily got right back on track with the uproarious Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, illustrated by Pranas T. Naujokaitis, whose name, it’s said, even he can’t pronounce. Belches is an unabashed gas and would be chosen for the World Science Festival for Science and Storytime. We ramped up the humor, as well as the educational heft (it’s my first book to have a two-page fact spread at the end, giving much more about those pungent puffs that exit from our mouths and duffs). Here are some sample verses:
Can you belch your ABCs?
Demonstrate your ex-burp-tise!
Dogs fart with alarming ease.
Smell it wafting on the breeze.
My next picture book, What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet, has been described as Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book on steroids. It joyfully reunited me with Poopendous!’s illustrator, Mike Moran, and it contains some of my choicest verses. Here’s one:
A skunk stamps front feet on the ground?
You’ve just been told “Don’t hang around!”
Back off! Get lost! Make some room!
Or wear a smear of skunk “perfume”!
Like Belches, What’s Afoot! also contains a fun- and fact-filled two-page fact spread, enhancing the book’s appeal to librarians and educators—and youngsters.
I’m also the author of two cute joke and riddle books, The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles and The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns. Each has approximately 650 original, side-splitting jokes, enough to keep you in stitches for some time to come.
Educators regularly tell me that my books show children just how much fun a book can be—and how they can jumpstart a lifelong love of reading. Reluctant readers, in particular, are ripe for their charms. With so many coarser pleasures vying for the attention of youngsters, the simple joy of reading can never be overestimated.
I think it might be fun to wrap things up with a snippet from The Butt Book, which comes to a grand finale with this farewell flurry:
So respect your butt and listen, folks.
It must not be the butt of jokes.
Bottoms up! Hip, hip, hooray!
Our useful butts are here to stay.
Don’t undercut your butt, my friend.
Your butt will thank you in . . .