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Author accuses Wauwatosa Library of discrimination: 'That's racist'

Author's Coco books are available at the Shorewood Library, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and she hopes one day, the Wauwatosa Public Library.
Posted at 2:31 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 18:19:30-04

WAUWATOSA, Wis. — In our Two Americas series, we show you the side of America you may know, or might not. The topic of racism is one many shy away from. But an author says that is the reason why her children's book was denied by the Wauwatosa Public Library. It is an accusation Wauwatosa's City Attorney said he "vehemently denies."

At the center of it all is the children's book Coco's Courage Meeting the Dentist.


Black author Shon Lewis claims she was mistreated by Wauwatosa Library staff when she presented her children's book for consideration. More than a year later, there is no final resolution.

Lewis says her imagination of an inspired young Black girl named Coco came to life in her published children's book series. "That's it, and to show diversity of how children get along with other cultures and to support each other," Lewis said.

With two of her adult books already accepted into Wauwatosa Library, Lewis says she was caught off guard when her children's book was denied. In an email, Lewis asked why. A staff member replied, "I would strongly recommend an editor."

"What were they talking about?" asked TMJ4 reporter Julia Fello. Lewis replied, "If I spelled a word in an 'urban way.' I was told the wording was awkward. Well, Black people word things a certain way, but it was still understandable and clear enough for a child to understand."

Lewis took her concerns to Wauwatosa's library board. After a second review, her book was denied again. It cited more criteria, including the book's "tone."

"That's racist, because 'tone' of a book is what the purpose of the book is about, and who the character represents. Well, the character represents African American children," said Lewis.

TMJ4 News went to the Wauwatosa Library to talk to the director and City Hall to talk to the city attorney. No one was available for an on-camera interview. Instead, we received a statement from the city's communication manager saying, "We deny that the decision not to include her children's book was racially motivated."

Wauwatosa's communication manager also sent us 96 pages of correspondence between Lewis, city staff and the state's equal rights division. In it, the library's director e-mailed Lewis, "From a customer service standpoint I would agree that [staff member] could have done a better job in conveying this information to you in her second email... I would make any necessary adjustments regarding customer service."

Lewis' discrimination complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's Equal Rights Division last year is currently under appeal.

Her attorney sent a demand letter to the city last month, calling for a diverse library board. Lewis said, "Even if I had an Asian girl on here or a Latino girl, how are they going to feel as a book author safe regarding their decision about the book not being accepted, if ultimately the whole board is one race?"

For now, Lewis' Coco books are available at the Shorewood Library, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and she hopes one day, the Wauwatosa Public Library.

"Give Coco a fair chance and let the children learn the importance of other cultures, because it's the new generation," said Lewis.

You can learn more about the Coco book series by Dr. Shon Shree Lewis by clicking here.

The Wauwatosa Public Library said they have a policy to guide librarians when they select books. Staff for the children's library decided the books did not meet the policy's criteria.

"The librarians’ evaluation identified - among other factors - inaccurate information, repetitive wording, missing quotation marks, incorrect capitalizations, and verb tense changes," writes city spokesperson Eva Ennamorato.

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