Children’s book author accuses Wauwatosa Library of racism and discrimination

The author’s Coco books are available at the Shorewood Library, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and she hopes one day, the Wauwatosa Public Library.

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Despite the strides America has made on the issue of race, racism and race relations over the past half-century, it is still seen as the “third rail” in the nation that demands equality, freedom and justice for all.

Many people and institutions in this country are still hesitant on the subject; denying being racist even though their actions and words contradict their claims.

Racism is the alleged reason why a black children’s book author says his children book, “Coco’s Courage Meeting the Dentist”, was rejected by the Wauwatosa Public Library. But the Wauwatosa City Attorney “vehemently denies” the allegation.

Black author Shon Lewis claims she was abused by Wauwatosa Library staff when she submitted her children’s book for review. 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 series of published children’s books. “That’s it, and to show the diversity of how kids get along with other cultures and support each other,” Lewis said.

With two of her adult books already accepted into the Wauwatosa Library, Lewis says she was caught off guard when her children’s book was turned down. In an email, Lewis asked why. A staff member replied, “I would highly recommend an editor.”

“If I spelled a word in an ‘urban’ way. I was told the wording was clumsy. Well, black people put things a certain way, but it was still understandable and clear enough for a kid to understand.

Lewis took his concerns to the Wauwatosa Library Board. After a second review, his book was again rejected. He cited more criteria, including the “tone” of the book.

“It’s racist, because the ‘tone’ of a book is the purpose of the book and who the character represents. Well, the character represents African American children,” Lewis said.

While covering the story on their newscast, a reporter from TMJ4 News reportedly went to the Wauwatosa Library to speak to the manager and to City Hall to speak to the city attorney. No one was available for an on-camera interview.

Instead, TMJ4 received a statement from the city’s communications manager saying, “We deny that the decision not to include her children’s book was racially motivated.”

Wauwatosa’s communications manager also sent the news station 96 pages of correspondence between Lewis, city staff and the state’s Equal Rights Division. In it, the library manager emailed Lewis: “From a customer service perspective, I agree that [staff member] could have done a better job getting this information to you in his second email…I will make the necessary adjustments regarding customer service.

Lewis’ discrimination complaint to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division last year is currently on appeal.

His 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 here or a Latino girl, how safe are they going to feel as a book author about their decision not to accept the book, if ultimately the whole board admin is a single race?”

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

“Give Coco a fair chance and let the kids learn the importance of other cultures, because this is the next generation,” Lewis said.

The Wauwatosa Public Library said it has a policy to guide librarians when selecting books. Children’s library staff decided that the books did not meet the policy criteria.

“The librarians’ assessment identified — among other factors — inaccurate information, repetitive wording, missing quotation marks, incorrect capitalization, and verb tense shifts,” writes city spokeswoman Eva Ennamorato.

Grover Z. Barnes