Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Book about Different Abilities and More!

Now and then a book moves me in ways beyond what the creator/s may have intended. Today’s featured book is one of those. When I read it, I wanted to talk about it with many people. I knew you would be part of my imaginary conversations!

Picture Book: What Happened to You?

Author: James Catchpole

Illustrator: Karen George 

Summary: This beautiful story is from the point of view of Joe, a young boy who has one leg. Before the story begins, you see Joe tossing aside his crutches. Then he skillfully plays a favorite game on a balance beam - a game that involves imaginary sharks. Next this powerful sentence appears: Sharks were easy compared to kids Joe hadn't met yet. WOW! Spend some time here!

An outspoken and curious young girl, who we later learn is Simone, comes to Joe, declares the obvious, and asks the title question. 
Surprisingly, Joe replies, "What do you think?" Simone guesses and questions more. Other children join in. Joe answers their creative guesses while adeptly climbing. Eventually, you have this: 
Spend some time here also. 

Then Simone finally joins Joe. They say their names and play together imaginatively. Others join in. I wonder what would have happened if Simone had begun their friendship this way. The story ends with Simone asking if Joe "gets bored of that question about your leg, that you don't have." Again, Joe asks what she thinks and if she still needs to know what happened. Simone answers, No!" Joe likes that answer.

Hanna’s Comments: The cover of this book is subtle, then striking so I would begin a reading by allowing your audience to react silently. The power of this book is Joe's deep hurt and frustration. He just wants to play - in amazing ways! Talk about how some people can skillfully hide their hurt and frustration.

I was struck with how Joe's response to the title question parallels the response many Americans who are non-white experience when those in the white majority (I'm in this category), insensitively ask questions or expect explanation & affirmation. I know I have much to learn! It is not the responsibility of my non-white acquaintances and friends to be my teachers.

At the end of the book is a letter from the author to parents about how children want to know all about every disabled person they see. Read this to yourself no matter your parental status. James Catchpole has one leg so his letter is particularly instructive. He explains that people with disabilities don't want to be everyone's teachable moment. 


I have recently discovered a book series called A First Look at.... This series has a similar book titled Don’t Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability by Pat Thomas & Lesley Harker. It is not a story. Instead it explores experiences and poor assumptions people make about people with differing abilities. The book series offers valuable entry points on a large variety of topics. Every few pages, they offer excellent questions for reflection. For a list of books in the series, check the website here. You might choose not to read one of these books aloud but instead allow it to bring you to more a sensitive understanding, design an activity, or help you anticipate issues that might arise.

Original Publisher: Faber & Faber, 2021

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: The self-righteous Pharisee - who judges the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14); Zacchaeus - who was a climber in a tree, feeling very different & alone (Luke 19:1-10); the Syrophoenician woman - who was judged harshly by Jesus, After she challenges him, he commends her and grants her prayer request. (Mark 7:24-30); The Fruits of the Spirit (particularly kindness, gentleness, and self-control) Contrast these to the children's approach to Joe (Galatians 5:22-23). More generally, let Jesus and early Christians be examples of empathically & respectfully approaching a person with differences. This happens with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) and the woman who touched Jesus' clothing (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8).

PBT Applications: Start a small group of parents with young children who choose to read together Oprah & Bruce D. Perry’s recent book of the same name. 

This book for adults was my favorite non-fiction book of 2021. It reorients readers away from the common question: “What’s wrong with you?” I recommend the audio version because it is, like the subtitle says, conversations between Dr. Perry & Oprah. Also, having the text on hand is helpful because of the visual content. 

My PBT application is to let the reading of this picture book start your group’s time together. The title question will become a point of reference and broaden the focus, not just on trauma, but also on disability and other differences. This picture book beautiful shows, “What happened to you?” can be an insensitive and damaging question coming from the wrong person or the wrong kind of relationship. What I have learned, thanks to this little picture book, is that it is a question best held delicately with caution and empathy and perhaps not asked at all.   

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