Children's publishers have paid tribute to "visionary" Scholastic c.e.o. Dick Robinson, who passed away unexpectedly at the weekend, aged 84.
News of his death was announced this week by Scholastic, who said he had been in excellent health overseeing Scholastic’s long-term strategic direction and day-to-day operations before he died on 5th June.
Peter Usborne, founder and m.d. of Usborne, counted Robinson as a personal friend and told The Bookseller he was "extremely sad to have lost him". He added: "Dick had an astonishing instinct for children’s books. I will miss very much our many years of conversations, his enthusiasm and his boundless support.
"He was endlessly encouraging, and never critical. My fondest memory of him is being invited out to restaurants in New York which he proudly told me he had co-financed, and on one occasion shyly explaining to me that he had earned a summa cum laude degree from Harvard, and that figures ‘were always very easy’. He was clever, very kind and generous, and I will miss him greatly."
Nicola Usborne, deputy m.d. at Usborne, worked for Robinson at Scholastic and said: "He believed passionately in the importance of what children’s publishing does: to develop and encourage literacy, to teach children to explore the world around them, to make them laugh and question and empathise. It’s a huge loss that we no longer have him working alongside us.
"Dick was relentlessly curious and innovative. He took bold, sometimes risky steps into technology and gaming (and I was lucky to work with him on these), and realised the potential these then-new sectors could have to educate and inspire children far earlier than most. He ran an enormous global company, but loved more than anything to delve deep into editorial detail. His background as a writer and as a teacher was always evident.
"Most of all Dick was very kind. He knew everyone’s name and he knew everyone’s children’s names. He always had time to ask you how you were, and somehow seemed to understand and appreciate what each of his employees did, and to make them feel important. It always took a very long time to go around a book fair with him, as he knew everyone. He was very proud that Scholastic was a family business, and loved that Usborne is one too. We are so sorry to have lost him."
In a tribute online, Kate Wilson, m.d. of Nosy Crow, said: "No-one has ever been more powerful and wielded that power more benevolently, in the world of children’s books. Dick was many things. He was a visionary, combining strong business sense and prudence with an unfailing commitment to the idea of children’s literacy, particularly that kind of joyful literacy achieved through children’s reading for pleasure. Making reading accessible to children was his life’s work, and he was particularly engaged with making books accessible to children whose access was challenged by opportunity, geography or money, whether through giving books to schools running the book clubs and fairs, through publishing extraordinary books that shape children’s imaginations—like Harry Potter, Captain Underpants and The Hunger Games—or through innovative digital literacy catch-up programmes."
Richard Charkin, founder of Mensch Publishing, described Scholastic at BolognaBookPlus this week as "almost certainly, the biggest and most important children's book publisher", adding Robinson was "just a terrifically decent person and we will miss him like mad, as well as his company."
In a joint statement, Hedwige Pasquet and Christine Baker, publishers at Paris-based press Editions Gallimard Jeunesse, said: "He was truly a man of the world, a world without frontiers. There is so much that he did to support reading, culture, education, children’s books, freedom of thought, connection between Americans, and connections beyond America. Yet, his elegant modesty and discretion, and the fact that it was all children and children’s books, might obscure what a giant he has been, towering at the top of contemporary publishing. This did not bother him. Everyone who knew him, knew him for the great and good man he was. We hope that proper credit will be given worldwide, for the greatness of his achievements, engagement and leadership, for his generosity."
Authors including J K Rowling, Dav Pilkey, Kacen Callender and Peter Reynolds are among those to pay to tribute to Robinson. Julia Donaldson said: “I met Dick Robinson on several occasions when doing US book tours, and liked him hugely. He struck me as a committed, inspiring, unpretentious and approachable man who really cared about children and reading”
Liz Pichon added: “I was lucky enough to have met Dick. He was utterly charming, knowledgeable, interesting, and passionate about books and children's literature. He was a real inspiration to so many people.”
Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games series, said: "Dick will be remembered for being a remarkable force in children's books, but I will remember him as the kind, supportive and protective parent of my literary home. I feel very lucky to have been one of the authors who had the benefit of his vision and passion, which define the heart and soul of Scholastic."
Pilkey commented: "Dick Robinson was more than just a visionary and a publisher. He was a brave explorer who didn't worry about risks. He opened the door for us to dream big. He was a writer and artist himself and fought for the equality and acceptance of all people. I will miss his sharp wit, forward vision, and the overwhelming love he gave to me and my family.”
Independent director James Barge, chief strategy officer Iole Lucchese, general counsel and secretary Andrew Hedden and chief finance officer Kenneth Cleary are running Scholastic's day-to-day operations from the US.
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