In Conversation with Christian Robinson, illustrator behind “The Bench”
Part of the beauty of The Bench, the new children’s book from Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, is the power of the illustrations that bring her words to life. The Duchess selected the talented illustrator Christian Robinson in order to help capture the many ways that love can take shape between fathers and sons from all walks of life.
“Representation was particularly important to me,” The Duchess has said. “And Christian and I worked closely to depict this special bond through an inclusive lens.”
To commemorate the release of The Bench, Robinson is sharing his story with the Archewell community. In this exclusive interview with Archewell.com, he discusses what drew him to this story, his passion for inclusive storytelling in children’s books, and how he activates compassion in the world through his work and life.
Art and making pictures were huge for me as a kid. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing, doodling, and making stuff. Creativity was my way of escaping and processing the world around me and gave me some say in what the world could look like, at least on a piece of paper.
When choosing the books I take on, it always comes down to the manuscript. No matter who the author is, the words have to connect and resonate with me on some level. From the moment I read The Bench, Meghan’s warmth, authenticity, and love for her family radiated through the text, and I was honored to be a part of it.
Oftentimes, stories for children focus on action or going on some magical adventure. Benches are places where we come to sit, to be present, and to make memories with the people we care about. I was drawn to this story because of the way it invites the reader to slow down, to focus less on doing and more on being.
Pictures matter. Pictures are tools designed to communicate. It’s important for me to create images that empower as many young people as possible. Seeing yourself on a page, seeing an experience that reflects your own, where you can point out, “Hey, that looks like my dad, that looks like me,” that is sending the message that you matter, that your story matters.
Another thing that excited me about working on this book with Meghan is that from the get-go, we had a shared vision of making this book as inclusive as possible. What’s really cool is that this story is specific to the author, in terms of her observing the bond between her husband and son. But it’s also so universal. It’s neat that with specificity comes universality. Basically, in telling your story as truthfully and authentically as possible, you end up telling all of our story, one in which everyone can see some part of themselves.
I didn’t grow up with a father figure. My grandmother was my caregiver, and took care of me, my brother, two cousins, and an aunt in a small one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. My nana has always been a foundation for our entire family. Her strength and resilience inspire me, and she taught me that it’s not what you have, it’s what you make with what you have.
Telling stories that are inclusive and show all kinds of children and experiences is what drives my work. I know that when children see themselves, as well as others reflected on the page, they develop empathy, compassion, and understanding for those around them.
When the pandemic began, my calendar opened up quite a bit. I had a little more time to pay attention to the world around me. And I noticed that among all the pain and suffering I was seeing, there were helpers, there were people helping each other out. As Mister Rogers said, which has always stuck with me, “Look for the helpers.” I was noticing our health care workers, our doctors, our first responders, nurses, grocery store workers, and teachers. My partner of seven years is a teacher, and seeing firsthand all of the work teachers were putting in to adjust to distance learning and to provide some sense of normalcy and comfort to students was really powerful and made me ask, “What can I do?”
It occurred to me that creativity was the thing I had to offer. Creativity is what helped me through hardships, especially as a child, so I wanted to offer something to kids. All of us are feeling the stress of lacking control over our circumstances, but creativity is the one place we have some control. This led me to create “Making Space,” a video series on my Instagram and YouTube channel, in which I offer a creative outlet for families.
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