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'What Happened to You?' teaches kids and parents how to address limb differences

The cover of "What Happened to You?" by James Catchpole. (Courtesy)
The cover of "What Happened to You?" by James Catchpole. (Courtesy)

In the children’s book “What Happened to You?,” a little boy named Joe imagines himself as a pirate who battles sharks — and the occasional crocodile — as he swings and climbs on a playground.

But his fun is continually interrupted by other kids who point out what Joe does not need pointed out: that he only has one leg. They pepper Joe with questions, both serious and silly, until he finally snaps, at which point the kids give up. And then what happens? They realize they can just have fun.

Author James Catchpole. (Courtesy)

Author James Catchpole’s inspiration for the book came from his own experience as a kid on the playground with one leg.

“As a child, I was that kid. I was Joe in the playground,” he says. “And 30 years after that, I’ve got children of my own. So I started going back to playgrounds again and remembering what it’s like being a child who looks different on the playground.”

Catchpole wanted to write a book for children like himself who face a difficult situation. But he wants kids to know something it took him 24 years to figure out: They don’t owe anyone an explanation.

“The problem wasn’t me,” Catchpole says. “The problem was the intrusive questions, the simple rule that you don’t ask personal questions of a stranger, which is somehow not being applied to people with disabilities.”

Book excerpt: ‘What Happened to You?’

By James Catchpole

Excerpted from “What Happened to You?” by James Catchpole and illustrated by Karen George. Copyright © 2023. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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