The award-winning illustrator of a new children's book released Tuesday by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is sharing more about the poignant book about fathers and sons and how his collaboration with the duchess came about.
Christian Robinson spoke with Natalie Morales in an interview that aired Tuesday on TODAY about working closely with the former Meghan Markle on her first children's book, titled "The Bench." The artist, who began drawing at a young age as a way of expression, has colorful mosaic work that caught her attention. She reached out to him to help bring her book to life.
"I connected with the manuscript, and I fell in love with the story," Robinson said. "Zoom is how we connected, and it was really surreal and exciting, and we were totally vibing on that first Zoom."
The new book hits stores on the heels of a new baby arriving for Meghan and husband Prince Harry, who announced Sunday that they had welcomed their daughter, Lilibet "Lili" Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California.
"The Bench" was inspired by their first child, Archie, 2, and his touching bond with Harry.
"'The Bench' started as a poem I wrote for my husband on Father’s Day, the month after Archie was born," Meghan said in a news release in May. “That poem became this story. Christian layered in beautiful and ethereal watercolor illustrations that capture the warmth, joy and comfort of the relationship between fathers and sons from all walks of life; this representation was particularly important to me, and Christian and I worked closely to depict this special bond through an inclusive lens.
"My hope is that 'The Bench' resonates with every family, no matter the makeup, as much as it does with mine."
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While the story flowed from the relationship between Harry and Archie, Robinson said he and Meghan wanted to expand the different types of fathers and sons portrayed in it.
"The origin is in a specific bench that Meghan watched Harry and Archie bond on, but it was important for us both to make sure that this story connects with as many readers as possible," Robinson said. "So there's also diversity in the types of benches that we see in this book."
The book shows fathers and sons of different races and abilities spending time together.
"What I'm really passionate about is telling those stories that are inclusive that represent as many different kinds of kids as possible," he said. "It's a privilege, and I don't take it for granted."
Robinson did not have that bond with his own father, as he was raised by his grandmother in Meghan's hometown of Los Angeles.
"I personally didn't have that father figure growing up," he said. "And I'm not yet a father myself, my grandmother was my caregiver, but I always look for those reference points when I'm telling a story."
Robinson then shared his favorite passage from the book, one that captures their goal of portraying all types of parents and children.
"It's this moment where we see a dad and a son, and they're on the bench together, and they're stretching and they're wearing pink tutus," Robinson said. "I love this idea that a father of course is going to be supportive, no matter what their child's, son's, hobbies and interests are."
It was an image that Meghan championed from the outset.
"She immediately connected with it and loved the idea as well and said go for it," he said.
Robinson and Meghan decided together that the illustrations would be in watercolor.
"There's a gentleness to this story, and I think it complements the gentle nature of watercolor," he said. "I did some little drawing of a soldier in their uniform, and she was like, but let's make sure that we actually put the patches where they're supposed to be, so it's about really capturing that stuff authentically."
Robinson also takes pride in how the finished product was received.
"I got a message back, that she was effusive over a lot of the images and illustrations," he said. "I had to Google what 'effusive' meant, but it means really excited and appreciative, and that meant everything to me.
"This whole process was just like a ray of light in my life, and I'm just again really glad I got to be part of it."