James Catchpole & Karen George
What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t been said before? Yesterday, on its North American release date, Instagram was a veritable wall of beautiful book photos of this extremely needed story. Joe is simply trying to defeat some pirates and crocodiles (just a typical day, you see) but he keeps getting asked THAT question. Joe handles the situation with annoyance and resignation, but also sarcasm. By throwing questions back at nosy individuals, Joe pushes back on the ableist narrative that strangers are privy to an individual’s medical history on a whim.
Let’s talk for a moment about the crucial message that is being shared about a disabled experience, written BY an author with the same experience. I’m a broken record when it comes to waxing poetic about own voices books, but by far the smallest quantity of quality own voices stories are disability narratives. The idea that people with visible disabilities and limb differences are supposed to enjoy and welcome questions while buying milk, or launching into a lecture for a teachable moment after buying stamps is toxic. Having books like What Happened to You? is a beautiful and humorous step in the right direction to ensure that we’re really listening to how others want to be addressed and/or questioned instead of making assumptions that make non-disabled folks feel better.
This book was kindly sent by Faber, but all opinions and decision to review are my own!
James started reading for the agency to earn pocket money, shortly after it was founded by his mother in 1995, and graduated to writing editorial notes when he finished school. He bravely struck out on his own to read music at Oxford, followed by an M-Phil in Musicology and Performance and a long, oddly angry thesis on historical vocal technique in classical singing. But all the while he was earning his keep by reading and editing and eventually, perhaps inevitably, the agency claimed him.
He comes to agenting from an editorial perspective, from a love of words and their rhythm, and of the structure and power of narrative. Funnily enough, those musical studies were helpful after all. Singing is the business of unearthing the music latent in language. And studying music is about trying to grasp the workings of narrative in its most abstract form. All this feeds happily back into the editing and the telling of stories, which he now does for a living, polishing up his authors’ stories and gleefully reading them out to editors. (The short ones, anyway.)
Karen George has always loved drawing and painting and as a child it was her absolute favourite thing to do. A graduate of The Royal College of Art, Karen used to paint sets for films but turned her creative attentions to picture book illustration after becoming mum to her two young sons. In 2009 Karen won the inaugural Waterstones’ Picture This competition. She then illustrated Julia Donaldson’s stories, Freddie and the Fairy and Wake up Do, Lydia Lou! She now writes her own stories as well as illustrating, and lives in Bristol with her family and Dr Calamari the cat.