Meghan Markle's new children's book The Bench won't be on our three-year-old's reading list – Aidan Smith

As a father of four, the eldest 14 and the youngest three, I sometimes feel as if I’ve been stepping on stray pieces of Lego forever.
Meghan Markle is debuting as a children's author with a book inspired by a poem she wrote about Prince Harry and their son Archie (Picture: Toby Melville/pool/Getty Images)Meghan Markle is debuting as a children's author with a book inspired by a poem she wrote about Prince Harry and their son Archie (Picture: Toby Melville/pool/Getty Images)
Meghan Markle is debuting as a children's author with a book inspired by a poem she wrote about Prince Harry and their son Archie (Picture: Toby Melville/pool/Getty Images)

That my social calendar has never expanded beyond the dizzying whirl of Tumble Tots, Water Babies and Monkey Music. That the house has been enveloped in a permanent miasma of fish fingers, Play-Doh, Calpol, pureed fruit and, well, you can probably guess what else.

Still, mustn’t grumble, for on the flipside, even if I say so myself, I’ve become a leading authority on children’s books.

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For me, bedtime stories have continued beyond the point when friends no longer producing kids have been able to crack open the wine and, unlikely to suffer from any more broken sleep, returned to reading material of their own choosing with unforgivingly downbeat endings – although the wolf being boiled to death in The Three Little Pigs probably qualifies as that.

But I think I can safely say that as long as Hector, our three-year-old, wants a book to round off a busy day of being fixer/referee/commentator for yet another world-title decider between diggers and dinosaurs, it will never be The Bench by Meghan Markle

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For one thing, he’s too smart. For another, I won’t allow celebrity kids’ authors in the house.

All parents think their children are smart. Perceptive enough to spot doggerel? I reckon that many, without knowing the meaning of the word, would be underwhelmed by this: “Looking at my love/ And our beautiful boy/ And here in the window/ I’ll have tears of great joy.”

That’s from a poem written by the Duchess of Sussex. It was inspired by watching Prince Harry play with their son and in turn it has inspired the book. The extract has been released by her publishers to get us revving up Amazon and presumably it’s among the best lines or at the very least is typical of them.

Hector may not actually be bang in the midst of a PhD entitled “The Great Pop Poets” but I think he’s heard me quote Roger McGough, Jake Thackray, Vivian Stanshall and John Cooper Clarke often enough to surmise that the Duchess’s verse, in finished form when the book hits the shelves next month, won’t be of the same quality. And he’s bound to conclude: “The central thesis, Dad – it’s fundamentally flawed. A book called The Bench is just going to be… poo!”

Come on: it’s not Meghan-bashing to argue that Clinton Cards do better inscriptions. Where are the diggers? And where the heck are the dinosaurs? There’s zero evidence this is going to be anything other than a soppy tale of the kind any first-time parent might scribble next to a photo, a lock or hair and a record of first words spoken.

By the way, I include myself among those dreamy drivel-merchants, the difference being I would never inflict my drivel on anyone else.

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That wouldn’t happen of course because I’m not a celebrity. Why do celebs who become parents feel compelled to mark the event by writing a children’s book? And why does the industry publish so many of them?

The rationale seems to go like this: anything that gets children interested in stories and ultimately reading is good. But what if the books are bad? And what if – this is not in doubt, by the way – they suck up the big advances and make it difficult for kids’ authors with real talent to earn a decent living or get published at all?

I’ll be honest: I’ve never sat down with one of my four and read the children’s books by Frank Lampard, Dermot O’Leary, Ben Fogle or George Galloway. And, come to think of it, the words of Simon Cowell, Coleen Rooney, Fearne Cotton or Jamie Lee Curtis have also passed us by as well.

Admittedly the fact there are books for kids out there written by Keith Richards is mildly gobsmacking but how do we think a smarmy TV host or a squabbling WAG or a politician can entertain and enlighten, not least a politico who smokes cigars on gym treadmills, dons scarlet leotards for robot dancing and pretends to be a cat lapping milk from Rula Lenska’s hands, then purrs words into the actress’s ear which, she confesses later, make her “bottom jump and tighten excitedly”? (Actually, George’s book could be intriguing, too, but might require a parental guidance sticker).

I fail to see, though, how they could better the favourite books in our house and would hate to think that anything by Shirley Hughes, especially the Alfie tales and Dogger, has been shunted out of view by a groaning display of celebrity titles – or that David Mackintosh’s The Frank Show has been overlooked, or My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson or the toppermost of the poppermost and destined to be read by my children to their own – Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck.

It is depressing that celebs keen to have “children’s author” added to their brand can persuade publishing houses to lap from their hands and, in Markle’s case, you have to wonder what insight she can bring to the father-son relationship when the one with her own father is virtually non-existent.

Now I’m reminded of a favourite book of my daughters, The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton, about a titled, and entitled, little girl very keen on the palace lifestyle until the training is marked out: “You’ve got 54 speeches to learn off by heart/ Then there’s three hours of waving to please all your fans/ And lessons in smiling and shaking of hands.”

At this she whimpers: “I thought living here would be oodles of fun/ But this is a nightmare! Oh what have I done?” Then runs screaming from the gates.

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