NEW YORK – The first children's book by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is a multicultural tribute to fatherhood.
“The Bench,” a picture story published Tuesday by Random House Children's Books, celebrates the bond between Meghan's husband Prince Harry and son Archie and fathers and sons in general. Markle's rhyming narrative is complemented by illustrator Christian Robinson's watercolor images, showing families of different skin colors and backgrounds, from a light-skinned soldier returning home (Harry served in Afghanistan) to a dark-skinned 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 calls 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.
Markle's opening stanza:
"This is your bench
Where life will begin
For you and our son
Our baby, our kin"
The book's jacket describes Meghan, the actor formerly known as Meghan Markle, 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” last month, 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 and 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"
Meghan and Harry announced last year they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, their reasons including the racist attitudes of the British media. In a TV interview in March with Oprah Winfrey, they described unnervering comments about how dark Archie’s skin might be before his birth and Meghan talked about isolation so intense she contemplated suicide.
The British press so far has offered a mixed verdict on her book. The Telegraph labeled it “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 writes 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.”