James Catchpole: What Happened to You?

Illustrated by Karen George

Published by Faber, Bloomsbury House, 2021

The title of this picture book caught my eye because it reminded of another book by the same title that was written earlier this year by Dr. Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey. Through in-depth conversations, they explore how childhood trauma and difficult experiences can inform and explain the way we behave as adults.

This picture book is written by James Catchpole who is an amputee himself, and there is a great photo of him at the very back of the book holding one of his daughters on a sunny day at the beach. James has one prosthetic leg, and in writing this picture book, he has given us all some sound advice about the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to asking, what happened to you?

In the story, we meet little Joe who has only one leg. He is having a great time imagining himself as a swash-buckling pirate on the high seas fighting off imaginary sharks and crocodiles. Some kids come along to join in the fun and instantly notice Joe’s missing leg.

They all want to know what happened, but for Joe, this is the last thing he wants to talk about, not today and probably not tomorrow either. So, Joe asks them to guess. The kids come up with some imaginative ideas, but not the real reason why Joe only has one leg. And after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter.

The pirate game begins again and before long, the missing leg is not important anymore, and neither is the reason as to why it’s not there.

We never do find out why Joe has one leg, because sometimes we just need to accept that we will not know the answer, that the question is not polite to ask and that maybe that person just does not want to explain it for the one hundredth time.

The illustrations perfectly complement the text, the children are endearing, their emotions are clearly expressed and, in the end, you applaud their maturity and good sense!

I can highly recommend this book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the theme of disability, the sort you can see and the sort you can’t see:

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan Illustrated by Christiane Kromer

Hello, Goodbye Dog
by Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Looking Out for Sarah
by Glenna Lang

Thankyou, Mr Falke
by Patricia Polacco

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

When Charley Met Emma
by Amy Webb
Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

Understanding Sam and Asperger’s Syndrome
by Clarabelle van Niekerk Illustrated by Liezl Venter

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt Illustrated by Sean Qualls
& Selina Alko

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Don’t Call Me Special
by Pat Thomas

The Black Book of Colours
by Menena Cottin
Illustrated by Rosana Faria

The Adventures of Mighty Owen
by Emma Roehrs
Illustrated by Owen Roehrs

The Five of Us by Quentin Blake

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett Illustrated by Adelina Lirius

Leo and the Octopus
by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Chris Nixon

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey Illustrated by Mika Song

Frida Khalo
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Gee Fan Eng

Stevie Wonder
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Melissa Lee Johnson

Boo’s Beard by Rose Mannering Illustrated by Bethany Straker

Waiting for Hugo
by Amanda Niland
Illustrated by Claire Richards

One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly Illustrated by Sally Heinrich

Mama Zooms
by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

And for the adults:

Growing Up Disabled in Australia Edited by Carly Findlay

What Happened to You?
by Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey

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