A Familiar Question…

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? A question we hear A LOT, and the title of James’s children’s book, published by Faber this August.

A printed front cover of What Happened to You? at an early stage - printed on normal paper..

James has been answering this question since he first learned to speak. And this picture book is about Joe, a young child uncannily similar to child-James, who wants to play but finds himself asked “what happened to you?” instead. A lot.

James’s book isn’t out till August, but we’ve had some wonderful support on Instagram since we mentioned it.

It’s an illustrated picturebook. They’re not long. And it’s a story for young children – it’s funny & (we hope!) charming, not a non-fiction treatise.

But we thought it might be worth outlining the thinking behind it, for anyone interested. Because disabled people talk about this & other questions we’re asked a lot, but society at large still seems pretty confused about it.

Small children learn from us. If they ask someone “why are you so fat?” or “why don’t you have any children?” we help them understand that these are personal questions. Disability is no different.

When it comes from a stranger, “what happened to you?” can be an intrusive and jarring question. Especially when you’re hearing it repeatedly.

As disabled adults, it’s up to us to decide how to negotiate these interactions. But children are in a different position – they’re guided by adults. We don’t think disabled children should be expected to answer this question if they don’t want to. It’s often up to adults to facilitate that.

There’s been a big move recently towards “own voices” books, i.e Black characters written by Black authors, autistic characters written by autistic authors etc. That’s not to say no able-bodied author should ever write a disabled character. But even people with close proximity to disabled people don’t share our experience of life. There’s a need for books that genuinely reflect a disabled person’s perspective, for both disabled & able-bodied readers.

James is putting his thoughts down for a longer piece here which will be up in a couple of weeks.

Lucy Catchpole

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