May 28, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Pat Scales, Rainbow Rowell Honored by NCAC


Left to right: Jon Anderson, NCAC co-chair and president and publisher of Simon & Schuster; Rainbow Rowell; Pat Scales; Joan Bertin, NCAC executive director; and artist Aaron Bell. Photo by Luann Toth

SLJ “Scales on Censorship” columnist Pat Scales was honored at the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) annual gala on Tuesday, November 1, for her decades of work as a spokesperson for First Amendment rights relating to children and young adults. The NCAC also recognized Rainbow Rowell, author of books including the Printz Honor title Eleanor and Park (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013), which has been frequently challenged since its publication.

Introducing Scales, NCAC executive director Joan Bertin described Scales as “one of my heroes for as long as I can recall. She’s been the person I’ve turned to for information about books that are challenged.” The former school librarian has “devoted her entire career fighting for kids’ intellectual freedom,” Bertin noted. Scales has also served as an expert witness in censorship trials, including one relating to a challenge to Nancy Garden’s Annie on my Mind (FSG, 1982) in Olathe, KS, and another concerning Alta Schreier’s Vamos a Cuba (Heinemann, 2001) in Miami, FL.

Accepting the award, Scales said, “I entered the free speech community in a very proactive way.”  She had started a program, Communicating through Literature, at her South Carolina school, in which parents read and discussed books their kids were also reading. Scales found that the parents were more open to titles they might otherwise have objected to because of language or content. “I never had a censorship case at my school,” she noted.

After author Judy Blume asked Scales if she could replicate the idea for her own book club, the two appeared on the Today Show. That publicity led to Scales’s first book deal and her involvement with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Intellectual Freedom Committee, where she served as chair, and NCAC, where she is currently on the Council of Advisers. She was also president of ALA’s Association of Library Services to Children, and chair of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Wilder Committees.

Introducing Rowell, her editor, Sara Goodman, editorial director of the St. Martin’s Press imprint Wednesday Books, noted that the two felt an immediate connection when they started working together on Eleanor and Park. Rowell described feeling taken aback by the many challenges to the book, adding that the objections initially made her feel ashamed—and confused, as there are no sex scenes. She learned that some criticism had to do with the book’s portrayal of poverty. Some adults who had grown up poor did not want children to read about it.

Referring to other challengers’ focus on the language in Eleanor and Park, Rowell noted that the profanities in question are directed at protagonist Eleanor, never uttered by her. In an earlier interview with NCAC, Rowell said, “What I’d say to those concerned parents is: Your kids live in a hard world. And they’re doing their best to get through. Just like Park and Eleanor. This book is about two kids who are doing their best to rise above violence, poverty, racism, peer pressure.”

Acknowledging Rowell in her earlier speech, Scales said, “We will keep defending you.”

The NCAC also honored multimedia artist Aaron Bell, introduced by civil rights and civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel. The annual celebration of free speech and its defenders, featuring a silent auction, raises funds for the organization, whose mission is to promote freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression, and oppose censorship in all its forms.

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Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.