Today it is my pleasure to feature picture book author ARTIE BENNETT with his newest book that just happens to be a true tale of endurance, courage, and determination,The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t. Here’s Artie:
Thank you, Darlene, for this magnificent opportunity to share The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t with your many readers.
It was the sweetest of serendipity that brought me to Zippy Chippy. As I was reading a newspaper article about the remarkable racehorse, I paused momentarily, setting down the paper. A lightbulb went off. “Wow! Wouldn’t this make an enthralling children’s book?!” I thought.
All of the elements of a great story were there. There was Zippy’s quirky but winning personality. There was drama in Zippy’s last-second reprieve from the slaughterhouse when Felix Monserrate, a horse trainer from Puerto Rico, swapped his old pickup truck for the hapless, unwanted horse. There was the horse’s inseparable friendship with Felix’s small daughter, Marisa. There was determination, resilience, and hope. And there was, ultimately, redemption, as the “losingest” horse in history, descended from the greatest racehorses ever to lay hoof to track, becomes a legend, too, and his popularity soars.
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. And the fact that Zippy Chippy is still alive today, at 29-plus years old, very long in the tooth for a horse, lends even more relevance and resonance. He’s not some distant historical figure. You can go and feed him a carrot today!
Zippy Chippy ran one hundred races and lost every single one, but he never gave up. I fell in love with this horse. He’s full of mischief and mayhem, and something of an oddball. There was also our shared appetite for ice cream, though he may not be a three-scooper like me. His name alone, preposterous as it is, only adds to the mystique.
I read as much as I could find about Zippy Chippy. And I began to familiarize myself with the sport of horseracing. I had a rudimentary awareness, but there was so much to learn. There was terminology that was unfamiliar to me. But I always love learning new words and expressions. And the fact that the horse was still alive meant that I would be able to interview him—and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth!
Zippy is lovingly cared for at Old Friends at Cabin Creek Farm, a retirement home for aging racehorses in upstate New York, where he has become the reigning celebrity. They host an annual Zippy Day every summer, and people come from far and wide to celebrate the stalwart steed. I visited the horse in his paddock a few years ago and was given a wonderful tour by the kindhearted people who operate the facility. I had a ton of questions, and they helped me fill in the gaps in my understanding.
Zippy Chippy was the embodiment of determination and stick-to-itiveness. He raced until he was fifteen years old, giving it his all, whereas many racehorses hang up their halters by the age of four. There was a time, earlier in Zippy’s racing career, when Felix tried to retire him, but Zippy wouldn’t hear of it. He became despondent and refused to eat. Though defeat never disheartened Zippy, retirement did. Felix had to bring him back to the track for his own well-being. Because the horse’s pedigree included such fabled racehorses as Man o’ War, Bold Ruler, War Admiral, Buckpasser, and Northern Dancer, racing was in his marrow. He just wasn’t terribly good at it.
Lessons for children abound in this timely tale. 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. Youngsters will relate to Zippy’s story. And they’ll be inspired by the trajectory of his life. We all have our strengths. Some of us are great at sports. Some of us aren’t. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We mustn’t be afraid of failure.
Take Zippy. He loved being a racehorse and he loved to compete, despite his palpable lack of success. Once, in an effort to boost Zippy Chippy’s confidence with a surefire win, Felix matched him up against a minor-league ballplayer in the forty-yard sprint. The scoreboard proclaimed “Man Against Beast.” But poor Zippy was dealt yet another setback, falling to the fleet-footed outfielder.
Yet later in his career, a strange thing happened. Huge crowds came to cheer on Zippy, and he developed legions of admirers, even as his losses continued to mount. He would race as the favorite because so many people bet on him to win, although he had never, ever finished first. He was even featured in People magazine, though they did pose him alongside a tortoise. Ouch!
Another important lesson for youngsters is acceptance. We aren’t all blessed with the same gifts—and that’s okay, too. We need to accept our limitations, just as we recognize our strengths. As Felix says, “Not everyone can be a winner.”
Ultimately, I want children to learn that losers can still be winners. Zippy teaches us to never give up on our dreams, even when their fulfillment may be elusive. It’s an equally important lesson for writers.
Though I had never written a picture-book biography before (I am the author of five superfun rhyming picture books, including the classic kids’ book The Butt Book, and two overstuffed joke and riddle books), I felt a powerful tug to share Zippy’s story with young readers. It would be a horse of a different color for me, but I plowed ahead.
When I was a boy, my father would take me, on occasion, to Aqueduct Racetrack, in nearby Queens, New York. It was an opportunity for us to bond and I enjoyed our time together. And I especially enjoyed seeing the horses. They were so large and so fast, quite breathtaking. I watched in awe as they would thunder by. These boyhood experiences must surely have planted the seeds of The True Story of Zippy Chippy.
I dedicated the book “to valiant underdogs and underhorses everywhere—and to my dad, who played the ponies.”
I would be woefully (whoa-fully?) remiss if I didn’t mention that the book is beautifully illustrated by Dave Szalay, who captures the soul of a steed. His endearing artwork adds immeasurable value to the story. And that ain’t hay!
There is a wealth of materials and activities in the CURRICULUM GUIDE for the book. It is available at: http://www.artiebennett.com/Zippy_Guide.pdf