An illustration by Christian Robinson from The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex
An illustration by Christian Robinson from The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex

The Bench review: Our thoughts on Meghan’s new picture book

Prudence Wade reads Meghan’s first children’s book, inspired by the relationships between fathers and sons.

Prudence Wade
Tuesday 08 June 2021 14:36

Publishing days after the birth of Lilibet Diana, the Duchess of Sussex’s first picture book couldn’t have come at a better time.

When news broke of Meghan’s first venture into the world of children’s literature, she said: “The Bench started as a poem I wrote for my husband on Father’s Day, the month after Archie was born.

“That poem became this story. Christian [Robinson the illustrator] layered in beautiful and ethereal watercolour illustrations that capture the warmth, joy and comfort of the relationship between fathers and sons from all walks of life; this representation was particularly important to me, and Christian and I worked closely to depict this special bond through an inclusive lens.

“My hope is that The Bench resonates with every family, no matter the make-up, as much as it does with mine.”

Expectations are high around Meghan’s first children’s book, but what is it actually like? Here’s what we thought…

What’s it about?

An illustration by Christian Robinson from The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex

The concept is simple: it’s a story of the relationship between fathers and sons through a mother’s eyes. The bench acts as an anchor: a place to watch your child grow up, and to share experiences together.

What do we love about it?

An illustration by Christian Robinson from The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex

It’s a very soothing book: Robinson’s watercolour illustrations are gorgeous, and Meghan’s gentle rhyming scheme makes for easy reading. We can already imagine parents reading it out loud to their children at bedtime.

We also have to applaud the diversity of characters, as fathers and sons from all different backgrounds are represented. This means so many children will see themselves reflected in the pages of the book – something that can have a huge impact.

Fans of the Sussexes will no doubt love the nods to Harry and Archie: some figures in the book bear a strong resemblance to Meghan’s husband and son, and the final image even features their beloved chickens and dogs.

Anything else?

An illustration by Christian Robinson from The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex

While there is much to love about the book – we keep going back to the illustrations, Robinson has truly done a stellar job – some things don’t quite work for us.

For a book that’s told through a mother’s eyes, there’s very little of the mother at all – other than the occasional illustration in the background. Though we appreciate one of the drawings breaking away from heteronormative stereotypes with a father and son in tutus – showing ballet is as much for boys as it is for girls – a small part of us wishes it wasn’t just about men. It might have been nice to see more of the mother, the relationship between fathers and daughters, or even representation from family units that aren’t a father, mother and son.

While children will no doubt love the rhyming scheme and bright colours, you can’t help but feel like it’s more for adults than it is kids.

The content is quite deep – it’s certainly an emotional book – but that begs the question: will it keep wriggly children entertained?

The Bench by the Duchess of Sussex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is published in hardback by Puffin, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now