USA TODAY US Edition
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, builds a bond in ‘The Bench’
In her new children’s book, she draws from her life with Archie and Prince Harry.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex’s, children’s book “The Bench,” a syrupy picture book for toddlers based on husband Prince Harry and their firstborn, Archie, 2, was published Tuesday amid jeers in the United Kingdom, and some pretty good initial numbers on Amazon in America.
At one point Tuesday morning, it was No. 40 in the Top 100 in books, and moving up. It was ranked No. 1 in Children’s Black & African American Story Books; No. 5 in Children’s Emotions Books; and No. 7 in Children’s Family Life Books, according to Amazon.
Until a full week of sales data is collected, we won’t know if the book will debut as a USA TODAY bestseller.
The book, which was announced in May to be published in connection with Father’s Day on June 20, is in bookstores four days after Meghan, 39, gave birth to her second child, daughter Lilibet “Lili” Diana, in Santa Barbara, California, where she and Harry, 36, have been living since last summer.
So far, the American reviews aren’t in yet, although the book, illustrated with watercolors by acclaimed artist Christian Robinson, garnered four out of five stars in customer reviews on Amazon. Meghan narrated the book for the audio edition.
“The book is lovely,” wrote a customer called Ramona. “Loved the message, the illustrations and the inclusiveness of different kinds of Dads and kids. I also purchased the audio book. Her voice is so soothing, it made me tear up a bit. Love it!”
Another customer, Portia, called it “nice but unsuitable for children.” The age group for the 40-page, $18.99 book is 3 to 7, according to publisher Penguin Random House.
“The average child won’t appreciate or understand this. It would be a better gift for someone who’s a father rather than gifting this to a child. It’s also very expensive considering the value for money derived. It’s incredibly short,” Portia noted.
Robinson appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday to talk about the book and working with Meghan. Both wanted to make the illustrations in watercolor.
“There’s a gentleness to this story, and I think it complements the gentle nature of watercolor,” Robinson said. “This whole process was just like a ray of light in my life, and I’m just again really glad I got to be part of it.”
In Britain, where the media seize on any news about the ex-pat Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the media have been loudly condemning Harry and Meghan since their shattering interview with Oprah Winfrey in March, when they alleged racism in the royal family and in the media caused them to drop their royal roles and flee to
America in 2020.
Because of time-zone differences, the book landed earlier in Britain and Australia, and reviews there are coming out already. Some are not kind.
The Daily Mail immediately dubbed it “not a bestseller,” compared with sister-in-law Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge’s, pandemic photography book published last month. The latter book, however, is not a children’s book and was published only in Britain.
The Telegraph’s book reviewer, Claire Allfree, called it a “semi-literate vanity project.”
“One wonders how any publisher could have thought fit to publish this grammar-defying set of badly rhyming cod homilies, let alone think any child anywhere would want to read it,” she concluded. “But that’s planet Sussex for you, where even the business of raising a family is all about the brand.”
The Times’ reviewer, Alex O’Connell, said the rhyming story/poem, inspired by a poem Meghan wrote for Harry for Father’s Day after son Archie was born in 2019, lacked “action and jeopardy.”
“Writing good picture books for small children is far harder than it looks. A fact only reinforced after reading ‘The Bench,’ the debut from Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who follows Sarah Ferguson and Queen Victoria in the grand tradition of royals who have given it a go,” O’Connell wrote.
Meghan dedicated the book, in her signature calligraphic handwriting, to “The man and the boy who make my heart go pump-pump.”
The illustrations include figures clearly depicting Harry – the red hair and beard give him away – and little Archie, but also other fathers and sons, sharing different kinds of benches.
The point of the book is to tug at heartstrings by exploring the relationship between fathers and sons through the eyes of mothers. New fathers in the throes of joy and exhaustion – as Harry was when he met reporters at Windsor Castle hours after Archie was born – will recognize the sentiments.
“’The Bench’ started as a poem I wrote for my husband on Father’s Day, the month after Archie was born,” Meghan said in a statement issued by her publisher. “That poem became this story. Christian layered in beautiful and ethereal watercolor 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 makeup, as much as it does with mine.” The opening stanza goes:
“This is your bench
Where life will begin
For you and our son,
Our baby, our kin.”
The concluding illustration shows Harry and Archie on their bench feeding their rescue chickens as their beagle Guy looks on (they have a chicken coop in the back yard of their Montecito, California, mansion, as shown during the Winfrey interview).
Meghan, holding a baby in a sling and wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, walks in a nearby garden with their other dog, black Labrador Pula.
The book was finished and ready for publication before new baby Lili was born on Friday.
Sweet, pretty and precious would not be inaccurate descriptions of the story; the British term treacle, meaning “cloying” like a thick molasses syrup, also would fit.
But when it comes to Meghan Markle, the biracial American ex-actress, her legion of fans are likely to love it and snap it up as quickly as her armies of critics will condemn it.