Today sees the publication of Meghan Markle’s children’s book, The Bench, billed as celebrating the special relationship between fathers and sons, and inspired by a poem she wrote for Prince Harry when their son Archie was born. While this is the first literary venture from the Duchess of Sussex, her illustrator, Christian Robinson, is already an established talent – but also shares both personal experiences and aims with Meghan.
For the 34-year-old Robinson, who grew up in LA and is now based in Sacramento, it’s the latest stage of an extraordinary journey from poverty to award-winning stardom. Late one night, when he was just five months old, his father left Robinson and his four-year-old brother at their grandmother Mary Lee’s one-bedroom apartment. She told the American Today show that it was “raining, pouring rain. And Christian was dressed in a diaper and his brother had a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.”
The boys moved in with Mary Lee, and shared the small apartment with their aunt and two cousins. “We had limited space, limited means,” said Robinson. “But I like to say that where I found space was in creativity. Was in making pictures. Was in being able to imagine the kind of world that I wanted to see.”
Robinson’s mother, who was dealing with both addiction and mental health problems, was in prison for most of his childhood. He recalled that it was “very painful” seeing his mother falling into trouble and being taken away. “It always felt like a punishment. When someone you love is serving time, it feels like you’re also serving time. You’re also being punished.”
Robinson later channelled those feelings into Milo Imagines the World, a book he created with Matt de la Peña about a boy who likewise visits his mother in prison. That was “a healing experience”, added Robinson. However, he doesn’t have contact with his mother now; last the family heard, she was living on the streets, in LA’s Skid Row. While the circumstances are different, he must be able to sympathise with Meghan’s similarly strained relationship with her father.