What Happened to You? by James Catchpole

Published: 6 April 2021Goodreads badge
Faber & Faber
Illustrator: Karen George
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

This is the experience of one-legged Joe, a child who just wants to have fun in the playground. Constantly seen first for his disability, Joe is fed up of only ever being asked about his leg. All he wants to do is play Pirates.

But as usual, one after the other, all the children ask him the same question they always ask, “What happened to you?”

Understandably Joe gets increasingly angry until finally the penny drops and the children realise that it’s a question Joe just doesn’t want to answer…and that Joe is playing a rather good game…one that they can join in with if they can stop fixating on his missing leg.

Because children are children, after all.

I really liked this book, more than I thought I would. I picked it up based solely on the front cover and my curiosity of the story, but by the end I was surprised of the story direction. I thought it might have been a simple plotless book about understanding people were different but instead it’s a great story that demonstrates people are different but also have no obligation to tell you about it.

Immediately we’re told of Joe’s discomfort at having to meet other kids. Even as a young kid Joe is tired of people asking about his leg, interrupting his playtime. I loved that we start by seeing Joe playing, using his imagination and enjoying himself then show the trepidation as someone joins him. Catchpole doesn’t let us off easy though as page after page drives home Joe’s discomfort at the intrusive questions by the kids.

The illustrations and the text work well together as you can’t escape the visual of the kids ganging up on Joe, badgering him with questions and demanding an answer to their own curiosity. George keeps them simple but relevant and they are a great expression of Joe’s imagination.

I also liked how Joe turns the kids questions back on them, to ask their opinions. It’s great to show a young kid already have agency to make people understand how rude their questions can be, even if they are only curious. Catchpole also makes a great point of asking the question why people need to know. No one owes you an explanation. Of course everyone learns their lesson at the end, but what was great was that Joe isn’t the one to initiate it. Catchpole has told a great story about being yourself, using your words to push back against conversations you don’t want to have and it’s a great example that could be used in a myriad of other situations and circumstances.

You can purchase What Happened to You? via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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