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Book Review: “The Bench”, by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

By Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Duchess formerly known as Meghan Markle brings a load of luggage to ‘The Bench’, a picture book about fathers and sons (and benches), starting with her difficult position as a sort of royal living in exile. There’s also his No.1 Public Enemy status in the British tabloids, some of whom seemed delighted to have the opportunity to shower him with more criticism. And she’s an actress, not a writer.

To its credit, “The Bench” is a sweet little story. Dedicated to ‘the man and the boy who make my heart beat’, it began as a poem Meghan wrote on Father’s Day for her husband, Prince Harry, shortly after the birth of their son. , Archie. (They just had a second child, a daughter named Lilibet Diana.) He explores the bond between fathers and their sons.

The bench – or benches; there is a range of them – plays an important supporting role, as a seat, as a table, as an accessory. It’s a bit of a weird idea for a dad to spend so much time on or near a bench, like a grandparent who never leaves his rocking chair, or an athlete stuck on the sidelines. But Meghan envisioned the bench as a place where fathers can cradle their baby boys and maybe fall asleep, put bandages on toddler’s scratched knees, to provide comfort and encouragement.

The illustrations, in soft watercolors, are by the talented and prolific Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honored Christian Robinson, and they are beautiful. Love pours out of them. Because Meghan wanted to be inclusive, according to the publisher, the book features a variety of fathers: black fathers and white fathers, a father in a wheelchair, a Sikh father in a turban, a military father returning from a period of service. (the mother observes the return from a window, with tears in her eyes). There’s even a dad wearing a frilly pink tutu over a manly plaid shirt and brown pants, using the bench as a bar alongside his tutu son in the same fashion.

Benches everywhere are equally democratic, painted in a variety of colors and styles and appearing in suburban backyards, in public parks, on sidewalks, on the beach and, in two cases, indoors.

Meghan’s message is heartfelt: life is happy and sad, and a father can be there for anything. But a heavier editing hand would have been a big help. There is no excuse, in a book of less than 200 words, that every syllable is not right. Even a small jarring note can turn everything upside down.

This is even more true with rhyme books. Force-feeding words in unlikely configurations just to make a tortured rhyme work as well as stuffing one foot into an undersized glass slipper and passing it off as the perfect fit. ” You’re gonna like it. / You will listen. / You will be his support. / When life is a mess / You will help her restore order, ”writes Meghan. Not great, but not great. What she does in the last line of the book, however – contracting “alone” to “” lonely “to make it rhyme with” house “) should be illegal.

Still, gentleness prevails, and savvy readers will notice that several illustrations are artful mock-ups of a bearded Prince Harry himself, with his red hair and piercing blue eyes. Harry’s recent complaints about his own father’s emotionally distant parenting style make the exercise poignant, as if the book was written specifically to help a lost prince heal his psychic wounds.

It’s heartwarming to think of Harry and Archie happily feeding their rescue chickens together in California, as they do at the end, while Meghan (she’s seen from behind, but I’m pretty sure it’s her) swaddles him. baby and do some gardening. But as the book suggests, a father’s love is universal, royal or not.

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