by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
The Duchess, formerly known as Meghan Markle, brings a load of baggage to “The Bench,” a picture book about fathers and sons (and Bench) as living royal life in exile. I begin with his uncomfortable position. 1 in British newspapers, some of which seemed thrilled on one occasion. rain fresh criticism on that. And she’s an actress, not a writer.
To its credit, “The Bench” is a lovely little story. Dedicated to “the man and the boy that make my heart pump-pump,” it began as a poem Meghan wrote for her husband, Prince Harry, on Father’s Day shortly after the birth of their son Archie. (They have just had their second child, a daughter named Lilibet Diana.) It explores the relationship between fathers and their sons.
bench – or bench; There is an array of them – plays a strong supporting role as a prop, as a table, as a seat. It’s a slightly strange idea that a father spends so much time on or near a bench, like a grandparent who never leaves his rocking chair, or an athlete who gets stuck on the sidelines. But Meghan sees the bench as a place for fathers to raise their children and perhaps to sleep, to put straps on the babies’ skinned knees, to provide comfort and encouragement.
The illustrations, in gentle watercolor, are by the talented and prolific Caldecott and Coretta Scott King venerable Christian Robinson, and they are beautiful. Love pours out of them. Because Meghan wanted to be inclusive, according to the publisher, the book includes a variety of fathers: black fathers and white fathers, a father in a wheelchair, a Sikh father in a turban, a military father returning from a tour of duty. Mother looks back home through the window, tears well up in her eyes). There’s even a father wearing a frilly pink tutu over a manly plaid shirt and brown pants, using the bench as a barre with his equally tutu-ed son.
Whole benches are also democratic, painted in a variety of colors and styles and appearing in suburban backyards, in public parks, on sidewalks, at the beach and, in two cases, indoors.
Meghan’s message is heartfelt: Life is happy and sad, and a father can be there for all of it. But a heavy editing hand would have been a big help. There is no excuse for not getting every syllable in a book less than 200 words. Even a small dissenting remark can turn the whole thing into disarray.
This is even more true with rhyming books. Works about stuffing a foot into a too-small glass sleeper and passing it off as a perfect fit, along with force-feeding words in unlikely configurations to pull out a tortured rhyme. “You’ll love him. / You’ll listen. / You’ll be his supporter. / When life gets messy / You’ll help him find order,” writes Meghan. Not terrible, but not terrible. What she does in the last line of the book, however – contracting “alone” into “lonely” so that it rhymes with “home” – must be illegal.
Still, the humility persists, and the cautious reader will note that many of the illustrations are of the bearded Prince Harry himself with ginger hair and slick simulacra with blue eyes. Harry’s recent complaints about his father’s emotionally distant parenting style poignant to the practice, as if the book was written specifically to help a lost prince heal his mental wounds. .
It’s a pleasure to think of Harry and Archie happily feeding their rescue chickens in California, as they do at the end, while Meghan (seen from behind, but I’m pretty sure it’s her ) tends to the child and does a little gardening but as the book explains, a father’s love is universal, royal or not.