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What Happened to You?

Written by James Catchpole

Illustrated by Karen George

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What Happened to You? Review

Family / Home Stories Featured Books for 3+ readers Featured Books for 5+ readers Featured Books for 7+ readers School Stories Personal Social Health Economic (PSHE)

A ground-breaking, funny picture book that helps children understand what it might feel like to be seen as different.

Imagine what it would feel like to always be asked the same question, to only be seen for your disability? Well Joe is very cross about that- he just wants to play pirates and so he ignores the other children and eventually they become curious and eventually they all join in the imaginative game and great fun is had by all. In a letter to parents and careers at the end of the book the author tells us about losing his own leg and so we have no doubt that this reflects an authentic lived experience. He also gives wonderfully straightforward advice about the conversations parents can have with their own children about disability. This is the very opposite of a “worthy” issues-based book. It is a funny and very enjoyable read that will nevertheless perform an urgently needed task and generate very useful discussion at home and school. An absolute essential purchase for all schools and early years settings.

Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.


Joy Court

Other Info

Dear Reader,

What Happened To You? is the story of a disabled child called Joe, who wants to play his game in the playground, but keeps being interrupted by other children asking him The Question. I was Joe, and this was my daily experience. As a disabled adult now, it still sometimes is especially when I take my own children to the playground. But what may be inconvenient as an adult, is often distressing as a child, for whom the interrogation can feel relentless.

As the parent of the child who is staring and pointing and asking questions, it's hard to know what to do. I've been on that side of the equation too. Sometimes, parents come up to me and ask me directly: sorry about that, but what should I do?! And I can understand their confusion. They don't want to shush their child and make them feel uncomfortable around disability. As a disabled person, I don't want that either! So should they do the opposite, and play it cool by encouraging their child to come over to me and ask me why I look different? Plenty do . . .

But here's the rub: pointing and staring isn't good, but asking questions is not the opposite of that. It's not the solution either. But it IS the current consensus. 

'Just ask!' is the message we tell our children, and often adults too. 'Just ask!' and the different looking person you've never met will be only too pleased to tell you everything you want to know. So if the man at the bus stop has one leg, just ask and he'll tell you all about the traumatic injury he suffered. If a child has no hair, just ask and they'll tell you and your friends all about their cancer. Is it any wonder that adults ask disabled people these questions every day, too? Fundamentally, the message of 'Just ask!' is disabled people do not have the right to privacy . And that's what we're teaching our kids . . .

The bestselling picture book about disability at the moment is called and I kid you not Just Ask! This is what happens when someone writes a book about disability for non disabled readers. The aim is to educate non disabled children about different disabilities, and make them feel comfortable around disabled children. But what of disabled children, who may not want to 'just answer'?

Having been a visibly disabled child, I'm in a position to try to tell this story from the inside, and to write a book that centres the disabled child both as protagonist and as reader. This is the book the five year old me would have found helpful. I needed someone to tell me that I didn't have to answer The Question that I could try to find ways round it without surrendering my sense of privacy and that the children interrogating me would eventually get over their curiosity, and accept me. And, of course, by writing from a disabled perspective, for a disabled reader, I’ve realised that I actually have something meaningful to say to non disabled readers and their parents too. All I have to do is to invite them to walk, for a minute, in Joe's shoe.

All best,


What Happened to You? Synopsis

The first ever picture book addressing how a disabled child might want to be spoken to. 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?

A ground-breaking, funny story that helps children understand what it might feel like to be seen as different.

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780571358304
Publication date: 01/04/2021
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9780571358311
Publication date: 01/04/2021
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780571358311
Publication date: 1st April 2021
Author: James Catchpole
Illustrator: Karen George
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 32 pages
Suitable for: 3+ readers, 5+ readers, 7+ readers
Genres: Family / Home Stories, School Stories, Personal Social Health Economic

About James Catchpole

James Catchpole was destined to be either an itinerant singer or an amputee footballer. He managed to get off the substitutes' bench a couple of times for the England Amputee Football Team, and also busked around Provence with a guitar (another profession where it actively helps to have one leg), but reached the limits of his talent in both fields by his mid-twenties, and so joined the family business of children's books. He now runs The Catchpole Agency with his wife Lucy, and represents authors and illustrators of children's picture books, non-fiction and novels, including Polly Dunbar, SF Said, Michelle ...

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