Meghan Markle isn’t one to think small. In a statement on her Archewell website to thank those who put her book, The Bench, at the top of the New York Times' children’s picture book list, she wrote:
'While this poem began as a love letter to my husband and son, I’m encouraged to see that its universal themes of love, representation and inclusivity are resonating with communities everywhere. In many ways, pursuing a more compassionate and equitable world begins with these core values’.
You’d never, think, would you, that this is a picture book for children. And one of the reasons why any sensible tot will hurl it from the cot is that it has an elephantine agenda. As in:
'To depict another side of masculinity — one grounded in connection, emotion, and softness — is to model a world that so many would like to see for their sons and daughters alike.'
A child wants a story, even a small child; he doesn’t get one. Instead he gets a sermon on empathy. Rhyming books are fine, but not if it’s the type of rhymes you get here. As in:
‘Right there on your bench/The place you’ll call home…/With daddy and son…/Where you’ll never be ’lone.’
This book should be kept well away from the little folks in case they pick up bad habits and assume you can get any word to rhyme with any other by lopping off a vowel. Or how about:
‘He’ll learn to ride a bike/As you watch on with pride./He’ll run and he’ll fall/And he’ll take it in stride’?
That gets the line to scan by dropping the possessive, but it doesn’t work.
Children do like picture books – come to that, I like picture books – but pictures are one thing, propaganda is another – and frankly, the illustrator is no Eric Carle.
The bright side is that The Bench didn’t get into the UK top fifty, beaten by the kiddie self-help book by footballer Marcus Rashford. On the downside, there were at least 3,212 people who actually bought it (at nearly £13) – or, worse, possibly bought it with other people's money on behalf of a school library.
If you have money to chuck around, do not, I beg you, go near The Bench; instead I recommend an improving little book called The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont which has an important moral (say please) and is fabulous to read aloud and is actually funny.