“The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse that Couldn’t” is by Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay. This clever picture book is the result of a small newspaper article that Bennett read about a race horse whose only win was for the most number of races lost. Zippy Chippy ran 100 races and lost every one! Ironically, Zippy Chippy makes more money now, as the biggest loser, than he ever did racing.
Zippy Chippy, as we learn, is descended from the greatest racers, horses who ran like the wind. But as Bennett writes in this picture book, when Zippy ran it was more like a “breeze.” His first trainer finally despaired as Zippy lost race after race after race. A little-known fact about unsuccessful race horses is that they are usually sold to slaughterhouses and die horrible deaths. However, Zippy escaped such a horrible death because a trainer decided to trade his ancient truck for a chance to make Zippy a champion. He believed in Zippy.
But no matter what his new trainer did, Zippy still lost race after race. In fact, this incorrigible horse bit people, was unsociable, and destroyed stalls in his desire to escape. However, he loved the trainer’s daughter. Zippy also loved to run races; he just didn’t love to win. When his trainer first tried to retire him after seasons of losses, he went into a decline from depression and wouldn’t eat. But winning wasn’t his thing. He just loved racing.
This book is wonderful for teaching children that winning isn’t everything. Sometimes — often, in fact — we do things simply for the joy of doing them. Millions of people jog every day not to win a race, but for the joy of being outside and breathing in fresh air. People do art not necessarily because they want to win a contest or make millions, but because they love the creative expression, and putting brush to paper is an enjoyable experience. People cook delicious recipes not just to win cooking contests, but to make scrumptious food for others to appreciate. Most of the things we do in our lives we don’t do to win something, but because we enjoy them. And that’s the reward, the prize.
Zippy loved to run against other horses He just didn’t do it to win. Did he have the capability to win? Almost certainly. But when you stop on the track to smell the flowers (think “Ferdinand”), or bite the other horse, or refuse leave the starting gate, you’re not going to win. And that didn’t bother Zippy at all.
When I read this to my students, I paired it with “Olympig” by Victoria Jamieson. “Olympig” is the sweet story of Boomer, a pig determined to win at the Animal Olympics. But as most of us know, and as most children know, pigs are not known for their athleticism. They are known for their intelligence and their ability to smell and problem solve, but never for their ability to run or jump or swim. So Boomer is doomed to fail at every single event he enters. Optimistically he thinks that determination and practice will enable him to win, but at the end, the students realize that those things only matter to a degree. A pig cannot win a race against a cheetah. And while the kids realize that, Boomer unfortunately does not.
When asked how the story of Zippy Chippy and Olympig are different, students take their time to consider how the two books differ. An obvious difference is that Zippy Chippy is a real animal in a nonfiction book while Boomer is not a real animal and “Olympig” is a fictional picture book. But they also might come to share that while Zippy Chippy certainly had the ability to run fast and win races — if not all of them, at least some, winning wasn’t important to Zippy Chippy. Yet Boomer, who will not ever win at the Olympic events because he’s a pig, is determined to win.
I love to have students ponder whether Zippy Chippy would consider the name “loser” something bad. Does Zippy Chippy care that he never won a race? What do those kids think about that? It’s a wonderful opportunity for self-reflection. Do we compete because we love the sport or activity, or do we do it solely for the purpose of winning?
“The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t” is a perfect choice for school libraries and classroom bookshelves. Children will love Zippy’s quirky personality and the sweet story of determination — not to win but to enjoy the race.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover copy provided by the author for review purposes. The publisher is NorthSouth Books.