Picture Book Review: What Happened to You? by James Catchpole illustrated by Karen George

What Happened to You? by James Catchpole and Karen George

‘What happened to you?’ , ‘Was it a shark?’, ‘ A burglar? A lion?’, ‘Did it fall off?’ Every time Joe goes out, the questions are the same….what happened to his leg? But is this even a question Joe has to answer?

This wonderful pioneering story brings an equally wonderful little boy to life, who wants to be just that – a little boy who plays, has fun, pretends to be a pirate and makes friends. He does not, however, want to be asked constantly why he has only got one leg by all the children playing in the park too. Brilliantly capturing Joe’s frustration with the responses of others to his disability, the story shows how a little boy like Joe might prefer to be treated. Instead of ‘different’ – he wants to be just like any other kid. Because Joe is just like any other kid and he can climb and play and imagine, just like they can. Eventually, the children realise Joe is actually playing a fun game and they forget his leg, and join in.

Gorgeous illustrations bring the heart of the story to life perfectly, showing the active and fun-loving boy Joe is, and how the curiosity of others can be thoughtless. What Happened to You? challenges the sometimes perceived wisdom of it being ‘ok’ to ask questions about someone else’s personal situation. We would probably be quickly irritated if someone kept asking us the same personal question, so being in Joe’s position should not be any different. Why Joe has one leg is no one’s business but his own – until such time as he chooses to share it! At the back of the book, the author offers some sensible, straightforward advice for parents and carers about how best to talk to their children about disability, drawing on his own experiences which are reflected in the story.

Young readers will love Joe and his imaginary play, and I expect, won’t be too bothered by his leg – they’ll be more interested to know whether they can climb ropes and play pirates like he can! Which is the biggest strength of this story – it’s imparting some really important wisdom and empathy without seeming to do so. And the adults reading it will pick up the important message it contains and use it to start a conversation with their child, or the children they teach, at the right moment.

With thanks to Faber for sending me this book to review.

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