Remembering Dick Robinson

June 8, 2021

By Isabel Geffner, Advancement Director

Over this past weekend, the world lost a beacon of light for children’s literacy. M. Richard “Dick” Robinson, chairman, president, and CEO of Scholastic, died unexpectedly at the age of 84 in New York.

There are many things that could be said about Dick. His father founded Scholastic in 1926 as a youth magazine publisher, but Dick took the company into the business of books in schools. No doubt, anyone reading this will remember going to the “Scholastic Book Fair” in your elementary school and shopping like a grown up for what would become your favorite book – at a really low price. Today there are 120,000 school-based book sale events every year.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan – or you’ve read one of the dozens of Baby-Sitters Club, Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, or Captain Underpants books – you have Dick to thank for bringing these enduring favorites into the homes of kids and into libraries everywhere. Under Dick’s visionary leadership, Scholastic has become a publishing powerhouse.

But here’s what you might not know about Dick Robinson. He considered reading a civil right—and Scholastic has become one of its boldest champions. “We have been banned in schools in the ’30s and ’50s for being too soft on communism; in the ’40s and the ’60s for promoting liberal views on race, civil rights, and the Vietnam War; in the ’70s for articles on student rights—not a popular subject in schools; in the ’80s and ’90s for climate change; and in the 2000s for the Iraq war. Despite these controversies and temporary bans, schools have relied on our balanced approach to help the young gain basic knowledge about their world, with the larger goal of helping kids know how to build and maintain a fragile democracy.”

Many years before my association here at Book Harvest, I spend two decades in New York City in the book publishing industry. I never had the good fortune to work closely with Dick, but I always had the privilege to witness his keen publishing decisions, his business acumen, and the gracious, wise tutelage he provided to some of my closest publishing colleagues.

Dick has been a dear and cherished friend to Book Harvest. When we shared our 2020 Impact Report with him this year, Dick acknowledged “our shared universe of early language development and literacy,” and he went on to say, “Congratulations on the distribution of 180,000 books in 2020, the pandemic year when books were more valuable than ever. We are so proud of our association with you and Book Harvest of North Carolina.”

The world of children’s books and childhood literacy lost one of our heroes this weekend. May Dick Robinson’s legacy be our continued commitment together to a world where every child grows up surrounded by books and bedtime stories.

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