The first children’s book by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is a multicultural tribute to fatherhood.
The Bench is a picture book published on June 8, 2021, by Tundra Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada.
It celebrates the bond between Meghan’s husband Prince Harry and son Archie and fathers and sons in general.
Meghan’s rhyming narrative is complemented by illustrator Christian Robinson’s watercolour images, showing families of backgrounds, from a soldier returning home (Harry served in Afghanistan) to a man in dreadlocks, from a boy carrying a soccer trophy to a boy and his father wearing pink tutus.
Fathers are seen as buddies, teachers, consolers and cheerleaders.
Random House called the book a portrait of “the special relationship between fathers and sons, through a mother’s eyes.” The image of the bench serves as a symbol of stability and comfort, starting with a drawing of Harry holding his baby son on a bench, two dogs nearby.
Meghan’s opening stanza:
This is your bench
Where life will begin
For you and our son
Our baby, our kin
The book jacket describes Meghan as “a mother, wife, feminist, and activist,” committed to “activating compassion in communities across the world. She currently resides in her home state of California with her family, two dogs, and a growing flock of rescue chickens.”
In announcing The Bench in May, she said it began as a Father’s Day poem written a month after Archie’s birth, in 2019.
“That poem became this story,” said Meghan, who dedicated the book to “the man and the boy who made my heart go pump-pump.”
Publication of The Bench comes four days after the birth of the couple’s second child, Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, named in part for Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, whose family nickname is Lilibet, and his late mother, Princess Diana.
Meghan was pregnant with Lilibet while working on the book. The final illustration shows Harry and Archie, now a toddler, at the family’s chicken coop. Meghan is in the garden on the opposite page, wearing a sun hat, holding an infant in a sling.
Her final stanza:
Right there on your bench
The place you’ll call home
With daddy and son
Where you’ll never be ‘lone
The British press so far has offered a mixed verdict on her book. The Telegraph said “The Duchess of Sussex’s semi-literate vanity project” while the Evening Standard called her writing “soothing, loving, although a little schmaltzy in places.”
“The biggest statement to the family the Sussexes have left behind comes from the line ‘You’ll tell him “I love you,” Those words always spoken,'” reviewer Emily Phillips wrote in the Evening Standard.
“While Harry’s father Prince Charles famously once said, ‘whatever in love means’ about his new bride Diana, we’re being told that Harry will be telling their children he loves them a million times a day just like the rest of us.”
Meghan married Prince Harry in 2018. They left their royal duties in 2020 and now live in Los Angeles.
Since ending their royal duties, Harry and Meghan have continued charity work, have signed TV and other media deals and launched a podcast in December 2020.
The Bench is the second book Meghan has worked on.
In 2018, she worked on and wrote the foreword to Together, a cookbook compiling recipes from survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. In the aftermath of the fire, several women came together at the Hubb Community Kitchen to share recipes, find community and restore hope. Meghan became involved in the group, and the cookbook serves as a fundraiser for the kitchen.
Meghan lived in Toronto from 2011 to 2017, while she filmed the TV show Suits.
With files from CBC Books