Many people think they have a book in them, and (worse) usually imagine that a children’s book is the easiest option.
After all, you don’t have to write a lot of words, right? Bash ’em out, make some artwork and – bingo! Direct Karma. Immediate experience as a thriving children’s author on a global stage of compassion – and you’re in.
Of course, real writers know that the truth is very, very different.
Only those without any knowledge of the art of writing for children think they can turn down a picture book and add to their staggering truth as human, “mother, wife, feminist and activist.” Or whatever.
So only those who are completely unaware of how difficult it is getting for truly talented authors to get published these days will be able to read the contribution of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, without crying – with glee or despair.
The Bench is written in a kind of tum-ti-tum verse and is only 37 lines long.
Meghan Markle’s The Bench is written in a kind of tum-ti-tum couplet and is only 37 lines long. Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
An illustration in the book shows Prince Harry sitting on a bench feeding his rescue chickens with son Archie
Here’s an example: ‘He’ll run and he’ll fall/ And he’ll take it on’……… That pretty much sums up the skill level involved here.
The publishers claim that this “thoughtful and poetic vision” of family life around a garden bench “beautifully portrays the special relationship between fathers and sons through the eyes of a mother.”
Apparently it is a vision ‘that everyone can agree with’.
Prince Harry is recognizable in two of the simple – childish, even – drawings and then we get to see an attractively diverse group of fathers and sons of different ethnicities, including a couple wearing pink tutus and doing ballet exercises at each end of the couch. .
Typical family life.
The role of the father is made clear: he will watch with pride as the child cycles, offer comfort if he falls off, listen and ‘be his supporter’ (I think that’s where the tutus come in), glue broken toys, be his ‘giving tree’ (the one that surprised me), comfort when he’s unhappy, tell him he’s loved, celebrate with him and he’ll ‘never be ‘lonely’ (ouch – it’s hard to fit the words to that annoying ‘poem’ format) on that handy bench.
It’s all a reasonable, innocent, unquestionable recipe for fatherhood – although if anyone wants to read a real book on the subject, I heartily recommend the profound and exquisite Farther by the brilliant illustrator and writer Grahame Baker-Smith.
Another miracle is Geraldine McCaughrean’s Father And Son.
And this is the problem.
Meghan Markle also appears to have been sketched in a vegetable garden near her husband and son cradling her daughter, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor
The book, published by Random House Children’s Books, is illustrated by bestselling Californian artist Christian Robinson
When a celebrity decides to dip his or her toe into the wonderfully rich world of children’s books – a genre brimming with talents such as Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine, Oliver Jeffers, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Vivian French (and so many others) – they cannot expect free passage when it comes to judgment.
There are certain standards — benchmarks, if you will — by which every writer should be judged.
Of course, good writing is one. A half decent idea is another.
Some sort of “story” progression is needed to hold a child’s interest. Brilliant illustrations (as opposed to the rather two, mushy ones served here) can help carry the day.
A picture book for young children may seem uncomplicated at first glance, but the best ones reach right into a child’s elastic, inquiring mind – and respect it.
The book is inspired by a poem the Duchess of Susssex, 39, wrote for Prince Harry’s first Father’s Day the month after Archie was born.
Apparently the Duchess of Sussex based this, her first children’s book, on a poem she wrote for her husband. And – oh dear – that’s the problem as far as I’m concerned.
The Bench is not for children at all, but for husband Harry.
In these pages, the rather bossy narrator tells Dad (aka My Love) what to do (You tell him ‘I love you’) – and watches from the window with ‘tears of joy’ as he follows her instructions.
And that’s really the full scope of the story. But never mind, I expect the kids of the world will be overjoyed to see “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex” on the title page.
Better than a regular old writer, huh?
Bel Mooney is the author of over 30 children’s books, translated into ten languages.