“I could see how we could be more useful to teachers, and I became enamored of just how to enable more kids to read, how to help them understand the world better,” Mr. Robinson said. “It’s about the outreach into the schools and the many, many millions of kids, some of whom can’t read, some of whom are great readers, some of whom have never found a book they connected with. That became a more powerful drive for me than anything I might write.”
“It’s extremely gratifying to see Dick recognized in this way,” David Steinberger, the chairman of the National Book Foundation’s board of directors, said. “From a personal standpoint, I remember as a second-grader waiting for that Scholastic book club catalog. That was the most exciting day of the month at school. It’s almost a universal experience because of Dick.”
Mr. Steinberger also cited Mr. Robinson’s decision to publish the Harry Potter books in the United States as one that “affected an entire generation of young people, in terms of connecting them with reading in a way that will have lifetime implications. It’s hard to think of someone who’s had a bigger impact on expanding the audience for books than Dick Robinson. We owe him tremendous gratitude. To me, this is really what the award was created for.”
Despite his company’s success publishing Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and other blockbuster series, Mr. Robinson said the overall mission was more important than any individual success. “It’s not just one book, it’s the availability of lots and lots of reading and information,” he said. “Different people relate to different things, depending on age, interest, background, what character captures their imagination.”
Nominations for the Literarian Award are made by former National Book Award winners, finalists and judges, as well as other writers and literary professionals. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s board of directors. Mr. Robinson will receive the prize, which comes with $10,000, at the National Book Awards ceremony on Nov. 15.
Mr. Robinson is 80, and the Literarian is a lifetime achievement award, but he is hardly winding down his career. Asked about his work habits, Kyle Goode, Scholastic’s senior vice president of corporate communications, said: “He’s here when I get here in the morning, and when I leave at night, and I put in pretty long days.”