Family, Losing, and Racehorses REVIEWING The True Story of Zippy Chippy

Shortly after I first started this blog, I had signed on with NetGalley to do reviews, but with college, I dropped off of it and deleted my account. I was recently thinking about how much I wanted to get back to blogging and decided to hop back on NetGalley and see what was going on. For those who don't know, NetGalley is a website where authors and publishers can put up ebooks and approve reviewer requests, or offer reviewers their books, in exchange for an honest review. Right now, I'm just trying to get back into the swing of things, so I went straight to the "Read Now" titles, which you can just openly read without requiring publisher approval. I stumbled across something that I thought would be a lot of fun, which brings us to today's review.

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse that Couldn't

Author: Artie Bennett
Illustrator: Dave Szalay
Genre: Children's Fiction
Release Date: February 25, 2020          


A true story about the famed racehorse who lost every race but won everyone's  heart. The love Zippy inspired, even when he lost, resonates with the contemporary message that whether you win or you lose - you are enough!

The bell rings and they're off! Zippy the racehorse -- descended from legends -- is destined for glory, but when the other horses bolt from the gate...Zippy stands still. When people try to pet him...he bites their hats and escapes from his stall. What's an owner to do? Keep on trying! After all, Zippy has become part of Felix's family -- and a close friend of his little daughter. And after 100 straight losses, Zippy shows everyone that -- win, lose, or draw -- it takes guts to compete and that you can lose and lose and still be a winner. 


Honestly, I love horse stories. I have had a bit of a horse (and just a general animal) fascination since I was little. I drew horses, I had books about horses with posters, and fictional horsebooks (Saddleclub and Thoroughbred, anyone?), and I loved movies about horses. I still do. Recently I had been reading a handful of horse-centric picture books, and I was excited to see this as a "Read Now" option. But is it actually any good? 

Let's start with the art. I am lucky enough to get to see a lot of horse art these days. A personal friend of mine earned her degree in art and 99% of her artwork involves horses. So at this point, I've also seen a lot of art with some solid anatomy work, and everyday I get my daily dose of photographs of real horses. I have to say that in general, the artwork is pretty nice. However, there are a couple spreads where the anatomy just doesn't look quite right, based on what I've been seeing from an actual horse owner. I understand that picture books go for cartoony imagery and sometimes exaggerated features or poses, but there are times where proportionally, even in a cartoon way, Zippy just does not look right. There's something about his chest that looks too broad in one panel for the angle, another where the perspective looks odd, and there are some images where Zippy looks like he has toothpicks for legs, without his body looking like it lines up. I don't have an art degree myself, and I may be utterly wrong. After all, Szalay is the Associate Art professor in this situation, not me. I don't draw horses as much as I used to when I was a kid, and I understand that things can be cartoony and be okay, particularly in children's literature. For me though, this small handful of images just does not sit right to my eyes visually for some reason. Otherwise, I like the art and I like how youthful and jovial Zippy is shown as being throughout the book. However, I honestly have to say that illustration wise, there are other books featuring horses, that I would much rather have framed or that I would rather show to my art- and story-loving friends. The artwork is fun, but it isn't really my favorite. After looking at some more of Szalay's work, it seems like there is a pattern of slightly disproportionate rumps and chest to neck ratios on various animal species, so this may just be a stylistic marker of his work. If so, I applaud the consistency.  I do really enjoy the general presentation of Zippy and I am very much impressed with the handling of backgrounds (ex: the racetracks). The backgrounds are visually appealing and detailed with very crisp and clear lines. I think I'm just also very spoiled with the realism and quality of the horse artwork that I see on a regular basis. 

Let's move on to the story now. I have never before heard of Zippy, in my entire life. At first, while I was reading, I thought there was no way this story could be true. However, I kept reading and I did some Internet cruising and sure enough, Zippy is real and so is his atrocious racing record. Zippy really never won a race in his life. Yet, he is in a line of descendants that includes the great Man o' War. Who would've guessed that? Certainly not me. My family and I like to joke that if a sports team is going to be awful, then they need to be the absolute BEST at being awful. Zippy definitely went by that motto and it seems he was the best at being the worst racehorse of all time. There is truly no other way to say it. He lost insanely, but boy, does that horse have some spirit. 

What I think is even more enjoyable about the story, than Zippy's jovial self, is the fact that the man who eventually owned him, Felix Monserrate, decided to continue trying himself. Instead of throwing away Zippy to the highest bidder on the failed thoroughbred market, he kept entering Zippy and kept training him, even when none of his efforts proved fruitful. While this story is about Zippy, I think a lot of credit should also go to Felix. Although there was never really a true payoff as far as a win goes, I think Zippy did win in getting a family who allowed him to be himself, regardless of his failures. I think that is even more important than the cult following that he got over time. I don't necessarily think that continuing to push when you fail is the best option in every case, but I do believe that if you're doing what you love, even if you fail, it works out if you have the right support behind you, to love you anyway. Failure for failure's sake, is just failure. Failure and perseverance, and the ability to love so openly and freely, are what makes it a winning story for me. It isn't that Zippy never gave up, it is that even with how MUCH he continually failed, his family kept housing him, feeding him, and caring for him. Even after retiring to a farm with other retired racehorses, he has a family that cares. It's good to persevere through hardship, but it is always better to have love along the way, because if you succeed and have no one to share that success with, is winning really all that worth it either? 

The only issues I have with the story, is that there didn't seem to be enough of Felix's daughter, Marisa. Marisa, in the book, is one of the main reasons that Zippy's demeanor changes and how Zippy becomes largely accepted into a family. However, she is only in three pictures, and talked about in two-ish pages. After that, the story immediately goes back to full focus on Zippy racing. As fun as it is to hear about a failed racehorse losing every race he is ever in, even against human competitors, I feel like most of the heart of the story was in the interactions Zippy had with people. I think Marisa should've been more involved with the story, if she truly was largely involved in Zippy's life and changing the perceptions of his temperament. 

Overall, I think this is a really fun book. The illustrations are rather solid, despite not being my personal favorite. The story is charming and enjoyable, and there is a lot to learn from it. While there are some edits that I would personally make, that I think would make the story better, I think the story does speak a lot for itself as it is. It is okay in its current form, but I really would have loved to see a little bit more of the human-horse relationship that is so stressed among horse trainers and owners, and which has a glimpse of shine within this book. This is a fun overview of Zippy and his racing career, and it definitely made me want to learn more about Zippy, so that is definitely a good feeling to invoke in a reader when it comes to non-fiction, biographical works like this. With a tiny bit of expansion in the aforementioned area, I could definitely see this book being exceptional and a favorite of horse lovers. In its present form, based on my personal preferences and interpretations, I give this book a Lone Star rating of ✯✯. 

Final Thoughts

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley for providing the service they do, as well as the author and publisher for making this book available as an Advance Reviewer's Copy (ARC). in exchange for an honest review).

This is a very informative and entertaining book and I hope it does well when it is released next February. I think there is plenty of room in libraries for more books about animals and their stories. I for one am a big fan of hearing and reading about them.

Comment Time

In the comments below, share your favorite animal story, whether it be a book you read, a show you saw, or a news story you read! Also, would you consider reading this book when it is officially published?