Skip Skwarek, whose long tenure at Dial Books for Young Readers included roles as managing editor and associate publisher, died of pneumonia on January 15 in New York. He was 70.
Skwarek began his children’s book career at Dial in 1982 working for Phyllis Fogelman and rose to associate publisher before leaving the company in 1998. Matthew Van Fleet, creator of a number of bestselling and critically acclaimed novelty concept books, has worked closely with Skwarek since his first book, One Yellow Lion, was published by Dial in 1992. The two met when Van Fleet was working in the art department at Grosset & Dunlap, and Skwarek played a key role in editing and art directing all of Van Fleet’s subsequent titles. The pair has published Van Fleet’s books with longtime editor Paula Wiseman (whom Van Fleet also met at Dial), and Wiseman’s eponymous imprint at Simon & Schuster is Van Fleet’s current publishing home.
Wiseman offered this reflection: “I learned so much from Skip and Phyllis in our days together at Dial. Skip was a great friend and editor.”
And Van Fleet reminisced about collaborating with Skwarek over the years. “One of the things that was so special about Skip is that he took novelty books seriously when everyone else treated them as disposable junk. Face it, once you put a piece of fur on something, you’re not going to win the Caldecott. What we were doing was more like a high-quality picture book with novelty elements. He forced me to make the books better, to redraw or rethink things. He knew how we could make a really good book but also in the grand scheme, laugh about it and not get so caught up in it that it wouldn’t cost out or not get done.”
Van Fleet paid tribute to Skwarek on his website with a favorite drawing he did for him years ago. “That’s how I remember him, chain-smoking at his desk.” Van Fleet said. “Sometimes he would take forever to go over a manuscript and I’d ask him, ‘Are you using it as a coaster?’ We had a lot of laughs.”
Skwarek is survived by his husband, Dick Donahue, a former PW editor.