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An Interview With Artie Bennett – Author of The True Story of Zippy Chippy

MEET ARTIE BENNETT

AUTHOR OF THE NEW NONFICTION PICTURE BOOK

THE TRUE STORY OF ZIPPY CHIPPY:

THE LITTLE HORSE THAT COULDN’T

 

Zippy Chippy hi res cover

 

 

What a treat it was to read Artie Bennett’s new picture book biography, The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t (NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8) with illustrations by Dave Szalay! Bennett, who’s best known for his humorous picture books in verse, hit the daily double by bringing out both the humor and humanity (equus-ity?) in this charming tale of a horse destined for fame, but not the winning races kind. You’ll no doubt be champing at the bit for a chance to read Zippy Chippy’s story after my interview with Artie Bennett below.

SUMMARY

Zippy Chippy is descended from the leading legends of horse racing. He is destined for greatness and glory.

But . . . when the starting bell rings, it’s anybody’s guess what Zippy will do. Will Zippy go for a gentle trot around the track or stop and smell the roses? Or, perhaps, never even leave the starting gate?!

 

Zippy #6
Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t     written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

With mischief in his makeup, he’s known to stick his tongue out at people and chew up the hats of passersby. And he’s always trying to break out of his stall. What’s an owner to do? Try and try again! After all, he believes in Zippy—and, besides, the horse is now a part of the family. But as Zippy’s losses mount, a funny thing happens. People start to take notice of the hapless, cupcake-eating horse. Could it be that they’re betting on Zippy to win?

This remarkable story of the famed racehorse who lost every race is sure to win your heart!

Q+A

Good Reads With Ronna: Artie, this picture-book biography is like nothing else you’ve written before. What motivated you to pursue this horse’s tale and diverge from your funny nonfiction writing in verse?

Artie Bennett: Yes, you’re right, Ronna. This one is very different. I like to say it’s a horse of a different color for me. For one thing, it was something of an experiment to see if I could write in prose. I wasn’t sure myself. My five previous picture books (The Butt Book, Poopendous!, Peter Panda Melts Down!, Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, and What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet) are all in inspired verse. And I’m quite comfortable writing that way. I’ve worked hard to make the verses sing. I constantly tinker, and then when I’m finally satisfied, I tinker some more. But I knew I would have to take a different tack to write the tale of this remarkable horse. I had to transcend my impulse to rhyme. Curiously, the fact that Zippy Chippy’s own name rhymes may have drawn me to the subject, as well as helped to satisfy my itch to versify.

It was serendipity that drew me to the tale. I stumbled upon a newspaper article about the horse and knew right away that this story would resonate with young readers, just as it resonated with me. And after visiting the retired racehorse at his home in upstate New York, I was never more certain. Youngsters will identify with Zippy Chippy. He may have lost every single one of the 100 races he ran (Zippy won zip), but in the process, he became a folk hero, just like his champion ancestors. Zippy teaches us that just being in the game is enough. And he reminds us that sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses.

 

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Interior art from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Aside from being one of the losingest horses in racing history, what else did you learn about Zippy Chippy during your research that made you care about sharing his story?

AB: I was drawn to his quirkiness and his mischievous nature. And there was our shared love of ice cream, though I don’t know if he’s a three-scooper, like me! Free-spirited Zippy Chippy was always breaking out of his stall to go for a nice gallop. He was quite volatile in his youth and often ornery. He was known to kick and bite. He would even try to bite the other horses at the finish line. People were afraid to be around him. In fact, after Felix Monserrate, his third owner, acquired him, he greeted Felix with a sharp bite on the back. But despite being a terror to his handlers—which included the farrier, who fit Zippy with shoes—Zippy was always gentle and loving with Felix’s young daughter, Marisa. Once, eight-year-old Marisa went missing. Felix searched everywhere and finally found her in Zippy’s stall, being nuzzled by the temperamental horse, though the area was off limits to most everyone for safety’s sake. Zippy would blossom under the loving guidance of Felix, and he developed a strong familial bond with Marisa.

There were so many interesting aspects to Zippy Chippy’s story. One was how he happened to acquire his singsongy name. Another wonderful anecdote was how Felix had set up an exhibition race between his horse and a minor-league outfielder. His hope was that a victory, any victory, would boost Zippy’s morale. But the fleet-footed ballplayer bested Zippy in the forty-yard sprint.

Zippy Chippy is a model of determination and stick-to-itiveness. He raced until he was fifteen years old, giving it his all, whereas many racehorses retire by age 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 crestfallen and stopped eating. Though defeat never disheartened Zippy, retirement did. Felix had to bring him back to the track for his own well-being. Because the horse was descended from so many legendary racehorses, including Man o’ War, Bold Ruler, War Admiral, Buckpasser, and Northern Dancer, racing was in his blood. He just wasn’t terribly good at it.

When I learned that Zippy Chippy was still alive, though quite ancient by horse standards, I made it my goal to write his story—and find a publisher—before the horse passed. This became something of a horse race, too. I’m so happy to note that Zippy, who will be 29 years old in April 2020, is still with us, lovingly looked after at Old Friends at Cabin Creek Farm, as the book publishes. I wanted the book to be a tribute to a living, breathing legend, not a eulogy. And I’m hoping that youngsters who are as moved by his story as I was may even pay him a visit.

GRWR: Your trademark sense of humor shines through many aspects of recounting this fascinating true story. Was it difficult to balance that with certain serious aspects of Zippy Chippy’s life and unsuccessful racing career?

AB: That’s a wonderful question. Yes, it was a balancing act. And it took me a while to find just the right tone. Writing in prose helped. Verse seems to invite mirth and laughter, but prose can be sober-sided. I had to rein in my sense of humor, for there are serious dimensions to the story. There’s a poignancy here that would be undermined by humor—how Zippy Chippy escaped the slaughterhouse by the skin of his teeth. But a touch of humor does uplift the tale. I love how Dave Szalay’s marvelous illustrations strike just the right balance, too, with many touching, memorable images.

 

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Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.


GRWR:
Can you explain the appeal of a horse who’d rather stop and smell the roses instead of competing against other horses, a dark horse, so to speak, for winning hearts, not races?

AB: I think Zippy Chippy is the quintessential Everyman, or Everyhorse, and therein lies his appeal. Few of us are blessed with exceptional athletic prowess, yet we still love to compete, to play the game. Zippy continued to run—and continued to love it!—even as he was amassing a rather lopsided won-loss record. But as his losses mounted, Zippy became a star attraction. And his oddball behavior just added to his appeal. Ever unpredictable, he would occasionally succumb to “dwelling,” failing to leave the starting gate at the sound of the bell. What was extraordinary was that later in his career, the horse often ran as the favorite to win, according to the betting line, despite his protracted lack of success. Racing fans were pulling for him. Spectators would besiege Felix for his autograph. Zippy had developed a cult following. He was the ultimate underdog. Horses are very intuitive animals and can pick up on people’s emotions, so Zippy would have known, and rejoiced, if he had won.

GRWR: For 15 years, Felix, Zippy Chippy’s owner, kept entering the unmotivated horse in races. That had to have been so frustrating for him. Why do you think he persisted?

AB: Yes, it must have been. But he was the horse’s biggest champion. He believed in Zippy with all his heart and felt, when he acquired the horse, that he would be the one to bring out the horse’s dormant greatness. Part of why he persisted was because he couldn’t disappoint the horse. We saw how Zippy spiraled into depression when Felix tried to retire him earlier in his career. And because he loved Zippy, he couldn’t let the horse down. He was also an eternal optimist and may have felt that the next race would be the one that Zippy would win, the one that would drape them both in glory. So there would always be one more race. And Zippy was actually highly motivated, though his idiosyncrasies might sometimes interfere with his motivation.

GRWR: What would you like young readers to take away from this picture book?

AB: I would love young readers to find inspiration in this book, but also acceptance. Inspiration can be found in the arc of Zippy’s story, as his popularity grew and grew from such inauspicious beginnings, despite his pedigree. He would even be featured in People magazine, though he was posed alongside a tortoise. Acceptance in the fact that we aren’t all blessed with the same gifts—and that’s okay, too. We need to accept our limitations, just as we celebrate our strengths. As Felix says, “Not everyone can be a winner.” But the important thing is to try. That’s where true courage lies.

 

Zippy15
Interior spread from The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, North South Books ©2020.

 

GRWR: Has this experience motivated you to try your hand at more nonfiction in prose?

AB: Yes indeed. Though my first love will always be writing in verse, it’s not my only love. In fact, I’ve an idea for another crackerjack children’s biography, also with a protagonist ripe for revival. I’m doing research as we speak. But I also have ideas for more books in verse, so I hope to be moving back and forth between worlds. Additionally, I have two riotously funny joke and riddle books out (The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles and The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns), so when I’m bubbling over with jokes (Knock, knock . . .) and riddles, there’s always that outlet.

GRWR: Is there anything else I haven’t asked that you’d like to add?

AB: Because I’m a word lover, I’ve tried to use a rich, creative vocabulary in telling the story. You’ll find words like “rambunctious,” “shenanigans,” “wafting,” “ballyhooed,” and much more, words that are evocative and fun to say. I hope young readers will make these words their own. And lastly, I want to thank you, Ronna, so very much for giving me the opportunity to share this captivating story. I’m deeply appreciative.

GRWR: Right back at you, Artie. I learned so much from your thoughtful replies and hope everyone makes tracks to pick up a copy of The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t to find out more about this truly unique horse.

ABOUT ARTIE

Artie Bennett at bridge
Children’s Book Author Artie Bennett

Artie Bennett is an executive copy editor by day and a writer by night. He is the author of an inspiring picture-book biography of a hapless, though beloved, horse: The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t. He is also the author of a quintet of hilarious rhyming picture books: The Butt Book, his first “mature” work and winner of the Reuben Award; Poopendous!, his “number two” picture book; Peter Panda Melts Down!, an adorable departure from derrières and doo; the explosively funny Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!; and his latest, What’s Afoot! Your Complete, Offbeat Guide to Feet, which is guaranteed to knock your socks off. And if that’s not enough, he’s the author of two riotous joke and riddle books: The Universe’s Greatest Dinosaur Jokes and Pre-Hysteric Puns and The Universe’s Greatest School Jokes and Rip-Roaring Riddles.

He and his wife, Leah, live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors. The Show Me Librarian says: “Bennett’s use of rhyme is excellent; his stanzas flow and exude joviality in a manner that few writers since Dr. Seuss have truly mastered. Simply put, these books are a joy.” The Huffington Post says: “It appears there is no topic Mr. Bennett can’t make funny and educational.” Visit ArtieBennett.com . . . before someone else does!

Want to read more of Artie’s books? Here’s a link to my review of a personal fave.

 

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I Am a Thief Book Review With a Guest Post by Illustrator Molly Ruttan

I AM A THIEF!
Written by Abigail Rayner
Illustrated by Molly Ruttan
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 

I Am a Thief book cover

 

Happy Book Birthday 🎂 🎈to I Am a Thief!, written by Abigail Rayner with art by Molly Ruttan, marking her illustrator debut.

I enjoyed hearing about this picture book’s artistic evolution when Molly was working on the illustrations (NOTE: We’re in the same picture book study group), but I hadn’t read the story or seen any sample spreads. What a thrill it’s been to finally read I Am a Thief! It’s a humorous, thoughtful, much needed tale about taking things, okay, STEALING things then facing the uncomfortable feeling of having done something wrong. Please read my review then get the inside scoop on illustrating the book by the artist herself, Molly Ruttan.

BOOK REVIEW:

Starred Review – Kirkus

The main character in I Am a Thief, Eliza Jane Murphy, is a star student having racked up all kinds of achievements and accolades at school. But when temptation in the form of  a “brilliant green” stone on display in her classroom shouts her name, she heeds the call and swipes said item. Regret and guilt set in immediately and Raynor does a great job in her prose by conveying how these feelings overwhelm Eliza. Molly’s images wonderfully depict how riddled with remorse poor Eliza is. It’s not easy to capture the raw emotion of guilt but Molly succeeds especially in the scene where the menacing gemstone weighs heavy on Eliza’s conscience as she tries to swing with her friends. The challenge now is that while it was easy to nick the stone without anyone seeing her, Eliza worries that she’ll get caught trying to put it back.

 

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Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The awful feelings follow her home. She proceeds to ask everyone if they’ve ever stolen anything. Her dad exclaims, “Never!” though his facial expression says otherwise as it appears he’s about to take a slice of cake from the fridge. Eliza’s mom says she took a magnet once, and even Grandpa George, Nana Iris and her dog James, the sausage thief, admit they’re not completely innocent.

Molly’s hilarious WANTED posters depicting all the guilty family members begin to get crowded with each page turn as Eliza realizes that almost everyone at one time or another has taken something whether it’s as small as a sugar packet or as big in Eliza’s mind as her theft of the stone.

 

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Interior spread from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.

 

The part that will especially please readers is when Eliza returns the stone to her teacher and, rather than chastising her student, tells her she’s brave. Owning up to her misdeed and its possible consequences takes guts. Here Eliza realizes that this one bad thing doesn’t define who she is nor should it. Her unburdening heals her and her “heart started singing again.”

I Am a Thief provides parents, caregivers and teachers an opportunity to explore with children the ramifications of taking things when they don’t belong to you, who ends up hurting the most when something is stolen, and how to right the wrongs we may do. I’m glad this book is out in the universe because it’s going to help a lot of families comfortably and honestly approach this important topic in a really relatable way. In fact, this clever and creative pairing of prose and pictures is likely to get you thinking about the behavior you’re modeling for kids the next time you go to grab a few packets of sugar at the coffee shop.

GUEST POST:

Hi Ronna,
It’s so exciting to be a part of your fantastic blog! Thank you so much for having me!
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I Am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner is my debut as an illustrator as you mentioned above. It came to me from NorthSouth Books via my wonderful agent, Rachel Orr. The second I read it I knew I wanted to jump in.
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One thing that immediately hooked me into the story was actually not the obvious. I have no real memory of ever stealing anything when I was a kidI was much too shy and intimidated by the world to ever step out of line! (Although I probably did steal a crayon or two from a restaurant!) But more so, I’m an identical twin, and the question of identity has always been fascinating to me. For Eliza to impulsively take a sparkling stone to keep for herself, and then to allow that stone, and that act, to redefine how she sees herself, is to me an incredibly interesting bit of human nature. I was hooked, and I decided to illustrate her identity crisis alongside her moral crisis.
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I decided to have the green gemstone transform along with Eliza’s moral transformation. I started by showing it as a separate character (“The stone made me do it”) to a beautiful object (“I knew what I had to do”) to finally a lens in which Eliza could see a faceted world (“Everyone is a lot of things!”) I love crystals, and have held and admired many. It wasn’t too far of a leap for me to imagine that a crystal could encompass a journey.
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Interior artwork from I Am a Thief! written by Abigail Rayner with illustrations by Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books © 2019.
Regarding her identity crisis, I decided to use the imagery of the cat burglar, because this image is an archetype and is immediately recognizable. Eliza’s perception of what a thief looks like would most likely be thisthe Halloween costume version! Besides, it was really fun to draw!
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As I was figuring all this out, I was filling my sketchbooks with notes and drawings. The story is full of characters, some written and some implied, and it was an amazing thing to watch Eliza and her whole extended family, her teacher and her classmates appear on the paper and take on a life of their own.
Abigail Rayner is a brilliant author and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to be her partner in crime!
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BIO:
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Molly Ruttan’s illustration debut, I AM A THIEF! by Abigail Rayner from NorthSouth Books is available September 3, 2019, and has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly’s author-illustrator debut, THE STRAY, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House in May 2020. Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA in graphic design from the Cooper Union School of Art. She lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Find Molly online at www.mollyruttan.com, on Twitter @molly_ruttan and on Instagram @mollyillo
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A HUGE thanks to Molly for stopping by to share her unique I Am a Thief! artistic journey. It’s fascinating to get an inside perspective and I know it will add to everyone’s appreciation of this terrific new picture book.
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  • Review by Ronna Mandel
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Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara
Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul
Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul
Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

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Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann

Of Mouse & Motivation –

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, (NorthSouth Books, $19.95, Ages 4-8) is written and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann, and also includes a foreword by Bob van der Linden, Chairman and Curator of Special Purpose Aircraft, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

lindbergh-mouse-cvr.jpgMaybe you thought that Charles Lindbergh was the first pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean without a stopover when he made history in 1927 flying the Spirit of St. Louis, a single engine aircraft. But even earlier in the 20th century and certainly less well known than the human air travel pioneer, an ambitious mouse whose name may or may not be Lindbergh (although author/illustrator Kuhlmann was clearly inspired by this American hero), reached America from Germany in very much the same way.

While the curious little mouse was holed up somewhere for months on end reading “the great books written by humans,” a new mechanical contraption, the mousetrap, has caused our rodent’s friends to supposedly
flee to safety in a faraway land where a huge statue stood to greet all who journeyed there. We sadly know better than to think they escaped the fate of the traps’ strong springs. The human world, it seems, could also be dangerous. Eager to reach America from his home in Hamburg in order to reunite with all his mice friends, the mouse hatches a plan, part derring-do and part pure brilliance, that involves a lot of moving pieces and a lot more luck.

Kuhlmann’s imaginative picture book, with its evocative detailed illustrations of a bygone era when humans were inventing and experimenting, is told through the small, inquisitive eyes of a well-read mouse who will stop at nothing to travel to the “New World.”

His attempts to leave town via sea are thwarted by harbor cats guarding the ships. In the safety of sewer tunnels, however, the mouse draws inspiration from bats who “looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings.”

Int-spread-Lindbergh-mouse.jpg
Interior spread from Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse written and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann, NorthSouth Books, ©2014.

Since it was the age of invention and innovation, the industrious mouse tries to recreate a winged device to help him fly, but his first attempt flops. His next effort, using steam power, brings him notoriety but that flying machine fails as well. Yet, despite his crash, the mouse still makes headlines, “Hamburg’s Flying Mouse Spotted.” Now the city’s owls are on alert becoming a new menace to avoid as he scavenges for materials to use in the building of his plane.

With the enemy close at hand, little Lindbergh spies the clock tower of a church to use as a runway for his maiden ocean voyage, but can he escape the clutches of the threatening owls long enough to get airborne and stay aloft for the duration of the arduous journey?

Lindbergh is a story I wish I read when I was young,” says Kuhlmann. “Picture books at the time did not deliver a real adventurous thrill. So, I designed Lindbergh to evoke a sense of childlike adventure with a serious undertone. There is detail to discover in every picture and something for everyone on each page.”  I could not have said it any better myself. Please see for yourself by taking flight with Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. With its informative back matter on top of its wondrous artwork and inspirational story, there’s not a better way to fuel your child’s imagination than with this stunning picture book from debut author/illustrator Kuhlmann.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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