‘The Bench’ Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, gave Prince Harry for Father’s Day : NPR

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The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

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The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

For Prince Harry’s first Father’s Day, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, gave him a couch.

“Like most of us do, you go, what am I going to gift them? And I thought I just wanted something sentimental and a place for him as a bit of a home base with our son,” Meghan says.

And on a plaque on the back of the sofa she wrote a poem about the moments she hoped to share on that sofa.

The couch

Random House Children’s Books House

“This is your couch,” the poem reads, “Where life will begin / For you and our son / Our baby, our kin.”

Now, two years later, Meghan and Harry have added a second child to their family – daughter “>Lilibet Diana was born in early June – and that poem is a children’s book. The Duchess of Sussex spoke to NPR about the book shortly before her daughter’s birth.

The couch is a series of vignettes – fathers and their sons share a couch while drinking apple juice, waiting for the bus, gazing at the stars and putting on their shoes. The couch is where they cry, celebrate and mend their scraped knees and broken hearts.

Meghan says the poem was inspired by watching her husband and their son, Archie, together.

“I often find, and especially in the past year, that many of us realized how much is happening in the silence,” she says. “It was definitely moments like that, watching and watching them from the window [my husband] just, you know, rock it to sleep or wear it or, you know… those lived experiences, of my observation, are the things I’ve poured into this poem.”

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

When it came time to turn the poem into a picture book, Meghan asked Christian Robinson – the recipient of the Caldecott Honor and illustrator behind Milo imagines the world and Last stop on Market Street.

“This was like, one day I got an email asking, ‘Would you like to work with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex?’ And I’m in complete disbelief and excited,” Robinson says. “For me it was a no-brainer.”

It was also a creative challenge – Robinson usually works in acrylic and cut out pieces of paper. But for The couch, he did the illustrations in a different medium.

“I wanted him to try something new and start working with watercolors,” Meghan says. “And that was mainly because I just felt that when you talk about masculinity and you talk about fatherhood, it often doesn’t come across with the same softness that I really wanted for this book. And I just wanted this to be almost ethereal and light and Christian.” was able to use that medium and create the most beautiful images.”

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

Robinson says he was up for the challenge.

“What makes creativity fun is when things get improvised…when you have to explore, play, and experiment a little bit,” he says. “I really think it was just the right note.”

The poem begins and ends with illustrations by the author’s own family. A red-haired father and his toddler sit on a bench, surrounded by their dogs. But the rest of the book shows all kinds of families – something that was important to both the author and the illustrator.

“I think inclusiveness and representing as many different families as we could were at the heart of this book,” Robinson says.

“Growing up, I remember so much how it felt to see yourself not represented,” Meghan says. “Hopefully any child or family can open this book and see themselves in it, whether that’s glasses or freckles or a different body shape or a different ethnicity or religion.”

A representative Meghan says she especially wanted to record in The couch belonged to a military family. Years ago, she was on a USO tour with a Texas sergeant.

“He had told me the story about how he couldn’t teach his son to catch because he was gone,” Meghan says. “And so he and his son sent this baseball back and forth to each other from Texas to Afghanistan and wrote the date on it.”

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

The Bench written by The Duchess of Sussex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson/Random House Children’s Books

In The couch, a mother standing at a window cries with joy, while a father in military uniform greets his son outside. The father has excitedly thrown off his backpack and the boy has tossed his popsicle to jump into his father’s arms.

“That page is true for him and his family,” Meghan says. “There are a lot of those little moments that were personal memories or anecdotes that I wanted to put into it,” Meghan says.

Such as her favorite flower, her mother-in-law’s favorite flower and of course the family’s rescue chickens.

“I needed my girls there,” Meghan says.

But even though The couch is a very personal, intimate poem Meghan wrote for her husband, she says she hopes readers will find the message universal.

“It’s a love story,” she says. “It’s really just about growing with someone and having this deep connection and this trust so that, in good times or bad, you know you had this person,” she says. “I really hope people can see this as a love story that transcends my family’s story.”

Samantha Balaban and Melissa Gray produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.

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