What Happened To You? By James Catchpole

Values: Empathy, Friendship and Resilience (and so many more)!

I only received this book today, but had eagerly anticipated it and had watched the author, James Catchpole talk about it here so knew roughly what to expect. However... it is even more powerful and emotive than I could have hoped for!

This is the story of Joe who loves playing pirates at the park. However, when new children meet Joe for the first time, they cannot help but exclaim that he only has one leg, and go on to ask Joe questions about why this might be. Their reasoning for this become wilder and wilder whilst Joe becomes more downhearted and frustrated. He just wants to play pirates! Eventually, the children understand that Joe doesn't want to be continually asked about why he only has one leg and they all play together.

The way Karen George has illustrated the story adds a depth of empathy that the reader gains by inferring Joe's feelings from his body language and facial expressions. The childlike drawings remind the reader that the protagonist is a child who does not want to be seen for his disability first: he just wants to play games at the park with everyone else! James Catchpole has perfectly captured the way that many children with disabilities feel, I imagine, through drawing upon his own experiences as an #ownvoices author.

This book has been hailed as 'ground-breaking' and I really believe it is. I will use this with every class I teach in the future and will gift a copy to my three nieces too. It explains how frustrating and saddening it might be for children who have a disability to have this pointed out and be always questioned about it. My friend who has young children told me that her children really 'got' the message of the book, and I can completely see why. I am currently writing a dissertation for my MA on portrayals of children with SEND in picturebooks published in the UK and have already cited it as an excellent example of such a book.

There are lots of Values you could explore when using this book. Firstly, empathy. This almost goes without saying, but the book allows children to see Joe's point of view in a way that I haven't seen before. The way he just wants to play eventually dawns on the children and they manage to see past his disability and see him as a friend... but this takes time. Using the book as a platform to discuss how Joe might feel about children constantly looking at him differently - 'othering' him (even inadvertently) - is such a powerful way into a tricky topic that requires empathy.

Secondly, friendship is a Value that can easily be examined in this book. What does it mean to be a friend? Do all of our friends have to look or act the same? How can you tell if you are upsetting a friend, even accidentally? What can do you to change this? I imagine all children will be able to relate to Joe's emotions in the book and, towards the end of the story, how the other children changing their behaviour and language helps Joe feel included once more. I am sure there are lots of real-life scenarios that children will be able to describe too.

A third Value I would use with this book is resilience. You can see that Joe tries to ignore the children's questions and stares at the start of the book. He becomes more irritated and upset by them, but he tries not to blame the other children. Children show resilience in all sorts of ways, but the way James Catchpole has shown Joe's resilience to feeling different to his peers is very powerful. The children accept Joe for the way he is at the end of the book and this is a lovely message, but the (adult?) reader can't help feeling that it would have been better if the children could see Joe for Joe initially rather than focusing on his disability.

There are, of course, lots of other Values you could use in conjunction with this fabulous book: equality, acceptance, pride, self-belief, respect, kindness... the list goes on! I highly recommend every school grab a copy of this book. You can find it on A New Chapter bookshop too, which is where I got my copy. Also check out The Catchpole Agency here!

Other books with the same Values can be found on the blog by clicking these links: