A genuinely pleasing 1 star review

James, a white man with brown hair and one leg, is sitting down holding his book What Happened to You? and looking down. A screenshot of an Amazon review is over the top. It reads: "Didn't explain anything / I used this thinking it would help explain disabilities to my child and it didn't " 

Genuinely delighted with this review because it makes the point perfectly! Bad reviews can be as useful as good ones. 

I can just about imagine the book this reviewer was hoping for, as read by TV’s Mr Cholmondley-Warner (think 1950s BBC public information film): ‘here we see the Girl In A Wheelchair, merrily rolling along – nothing can stop her! And here’s Boy On Crutches,  hobbling happily – you show ’em, Champ!’ 

Bit harsh? Maybe. The title’s a tease, after all – it’s meant to suck you in with the idea that you might actually find out what happened to Joe, only to point out that you don’t have a right to. It was always going to annoy someone! 

An almost identical photo, but James is looking at the camera and smiling. Our text, typewritten on cream paper over the top, reads "When you get a one star review..."
The same photo again of James smiling. Our text reads: "and it feels like 5 stars"]

And there’s an argument in favour of that sort of educational book (a modern, non-patronising version): if parents could only introduce their kids to all the varieties of disability out there in a neutral way, and understand their medical context, then they’d be readier to accept their disabled peers when they encounter them. Awareness leads to acceptance. 

It’s just…I don’t buy it. 

Because those books aren’t neutral. They’ve been written by non-disabled authors to explain the subject to non-disabled children. They approach disability from the outside. Which may be why they’re happy to catalogue disabled children, like an anthropological textbook. Or in the case of the bestselling modern example – Just Ask! – a guide to garden flowers. And why they imagine those disabled children would be only too delighted to explain themselves to any and every child in the playground. The effect of that approach is ultimately dehumanising. Their readers may be readier to accept their disabled peers…but not as equals. 

So here’s the content warning that reviewer would have found helpful. My book – written from the experience of having been a disabled child – doesn’t explain all about different disabilities. It  really only explains one thing: that disabled children have the same right to privacy as their non-disabled peers. 

Awareness of THAT might just be a start.

– James Catchpole

If you’d like to buy a copy of What Happened to You? it’s available in all the usual places, or through our Bookshop UK or Bookshop US affilate links, where we also have a KidLitCripCrit list of our favourite illustrated books with disabled characters.

The cover image of What Happened to You? An illustrated children's picture book. A one-legged white child with blonde hair stands on a swing, he's winking at the viewer. The names James Catchpole and Karen George (the illustrator) appear at the top.

[Image descriptions:

  1. James, a white man with brown hair and one leg, is sitting down holding his book What Happened to You? and looking down. A screenshot of an Amazon review is over the top. It reads: “Didn’t explain anything / I used this thinking it would help explain disabilities to my child and it didn’t ” 
  2. An almost identical photo, but James is looking at the camera and smiling. Our text, typewritten on cream paper over the top, reads “When you get a one star review…”
  3. The same photo again of James smiling. Our text reads: “and it feels like 5 stars”
  4. The cover image of What Happened to You? An illustrated children’s picture book. A one-legged white child with blonde hair stands on a swing, he’s winking at the viewer. The names James Catchpole and Karen George (the illustrator) appear at the top.]

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