BEL MOONEY: The trouble with Meghan Markle's book?

BEL MOONEY: The trouble with Meghan Markle’s book? It isn’t for children – it’s for Prince Harry

Many people believe they have a book within them, and (worse) usually imagine that a children’s book is the easy-peasy option.

After all, you don’t have to write many words do you? Bash ’em out, get some illustrations done and – bingo! Instant karma. Immediate lived experience as a thriving children’s author on a world stage of compassion – and you’re quids in.

Of course, real writers know the truth is very, very different.

Only those with zero knowledge of the art of writing for children think they can knock off a picture book and thus add to their dazzling truth as a human being, a ‘mother, wife, feminist and activist’. Or whatever.

So only those with zero knowledge of how increasingly hard it is nowadays for truly talented authors to get published will be able to read Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex’s contribution without weeping – either with mirth or despair.  

The Bench is written in a sort of tum-ti-tum verse and comes in at only 37 lines long.

Meghan Markle’s The Bench is written in a sort of tum-ti-tum verse and comes in at only 37 lines long. Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex 

An illustration in the book shows Prince Harry sitting on a bench while feeding his rescue chickens with son Archie

Here’s an example: ‘He’ll run and he’ll fall/ And he’ll take it in stride’………That just about sums up the skill-level involved here.

The publishers claim this ‘thoughtful and poetic vision’ of family life revolving around a garden bench ‘beautifully captures the special relationship between fathers and sons through a mother’s eyes’.

It is, apparently, a vision ‘that everyone can relate to’.

Prince Harry is recognisable in two of the simple – childlike, even – drawings and then we’re shown an appealingly varied group of fathers and sons of different ethnicities, including a pair wearing pink tutus and doing ballet stretches at each end of the bench.

Typical family life.

The role of the father is made clear: he’ll watch with pride as the child rides a bike, give comfort when he falls off, listen and ‘be his supporter’ (I think that’s where the tutus come in), glue broken toys, be his ‘giving tree’ (that one puzzled me), give comfort when he’s unhappy, tell him he’s loved, celebrate with him, and he’ll ‘never be ‘lone’ (ouch – it’s hard to make the words fit that pesky ‘poem’ format) on that useful bench.

It’s all a pretty reasonable, harmless, unchallenging recipe for fatherhood – although if anybody wishes 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 marvel is Father And Son by Geraldine McCaughrean.

And this is the trouble.

Meghan Markle also appears to be sketched in a vegetable patch located near her husband and son cradling her daughter, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor

The book, which was 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 stacked with talents such as Julia Donaldson, Michael Morpurgo, Anne Fine, Oliver Jeffers, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Vivian French (and so many others) – they can’t expect a free pass when it comes to judgment. 

There are certain standards – benchmarks, if you like – by which any writer has to be judged.

Naturally good writing is one. A half-decent idea is another.

Some kind of ‘story’ progression is necessary to keep a child’s interest. Brilliant illustrations (as opposed to the rather twee, wishy-washy ones served up here) can help to carry the day.

A picture book for young children can appear to be uncomplicated on the surface, yet the best of them reach right into the elastic, searching mind of a child – and respect it.

The book was 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 is the trouble as far as I am concerned.

The Bench is not for children at all, but for husband Harry.

Throughout these pages the rather bossy narrator is telling Dad (aka My Love) what to do (You’ll tell him ‘I love you’) – and watches with ‘tears of joy’ from the window as he obeys her instructions.

And that is really the full extent of the story. But never mind, I expect the children of the world will be thrilled to see ‘Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex’ on the title page.

Better than an ordinary old writer, eh?

Bel Mooney is the author of more than 30 children’s books, translated into ten languages.

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