The Bench, published by Random House Children’s Books, was released on 8 June 2021.
The story is inspired by a poem Meghan wrote for Prince Harry, on his first Father’s Day, just a month after their son Archie was born. Exploring the bond between father and son, from a mother’s perspective, the book reflects on the different ways that love is expressed in a modern family, as well as how their relationship develops as the little boy grows up. And, unsurprisingly, it all revolves around the bench they share together.
Although this is Meghan’s first children’s book, it’s not the first time she’s been published. Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2018, she was involved in Together: Our Community Cookbook, a charity cookbook helping families affected by the fire. As well as supporting The Hubb Community Kitchen and championing the women who set it up, as part of her first solo project since joining the royal family, she wrote the foreword to the recipe book, which raised more than £500,000 for the charity.
The Bench is the latest in a number of new ventures the Sussexes have been involved in since they moved to America, stepping back from royal duties in 2020. But it’s not completely unexpected, with other members of the royal family also trying their hand at writing over the years.
Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York, has made a career of writing children’s books, including Little Red and a series of stories based on the character Budgie the Little Helicopter, which was even turned into a children’s television series in the early Nineties. Perhaps lesser-known, is Prince Charles’ 2017 non-fiction book, Climate Change (A Ladybird Expert Book) explaining climate change in a simplified and accessible way for kids.
Meghan’s The Bench is about as far away as you can get from the Duchess of Cambridge’s photography book, Hold Still. Published in May, the book features 100 images taken by the public during the pandemic, creating a snapshot of Britain in lockdown. Although Hold Still doesn’t feature any of Kate’s own photography, she selected the images and wrote the foreword, similar to Meghan’s charity cookbook.
Here, we take a look at the Duchesses debut work of fiction.
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‘The Bench’ by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, published by Puffin
Buy now £9.89, Amazon.co.uk
Dedicated to “the man and the boy who make my heart go pump-pump”, The Bench is full of personal references to the Sussexes. The opening illustration of a ginger-haired, bearded man cradling a baby, with two dogs at his feet, bears more than a passing resemblance to Prince Harry. The final pages show the same father feeding chickens with his toddler son, while a dark-haired woman, carrying a baby (surely a nod to the newest member of the Sussexes), walks in the garden, which really feels as though you’re getting a glimpse into the family’s idyllic life at their Santa Barbara home.
The press release reads: “The Bench gives readers a window into shared and enduring moments between a diverse group of father and sons – moments of peace and reflection, trust and belief, discovery and learning, and lasting comfort.”
The rhyming story clearly comes from the heart, and with lines including “You’ll love him. You’ll listen. You’ll be his supporter,” it’s likely to pull at the heart strings of parents, grandparents and carers. It’s sentimental and a bit of a tear-jerker for adults, but what’s the verdict from the intended audience?
Amazon lists the book as suitable for ages one- to seven-years-old, but when we read the book with a group of children aged two to eight, there were mixed reviews. While the older children enjoyed The Bench – with one saying it made them “feel happy”, the story failed to grab and keep the attention of the younger kids, notoriously a tricky crowd.
As with any picture book, the illustrations are key, and Meghan worked with award-winning illustrator and artist, Christian Robinson, to bring her story to life.
“Christian 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,” Meghan explained in a press release.
“My hope is that The Bench resonates with every family, no matter the make-up, as much as it does with mine,” she added.
The painterly illustrations give the book a lot of heart, and it’s clear they’ve worked to make the characters in the book as diverse and inclusive as possible, including fathers of different skin colours, religions and a wheelchair user.
All of our little readers loved the pictures and – granted, it may not have been the overall aim – it was the collection of benches in the inside back and front cover that really held their attention. A lot of time was spent debating which bench was the best – turns out it’s a toss-up between the yellow swinging bench and the green, fancy one, in case you’re wondering…
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The verdict: ‘The Bench’
While it’s unlikely to win any literary awards, or go down in history as a children’s classic, Meghan’s debut picture book is a sweet, calming bedtime read – however, the language and sentiment does feel like it’s aimed more at the adults reading, than the children being read to. We think it has “perfect first Father’s Day gift” written all over it, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with Father’s Day in the UK and USA falling on 20 June, just a couple of weeks away.
The Bench is available in hardback and is published in the UK, US and Canada. Meghan has also narrated the audiobook version of the story.
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