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Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  448 ratings  ·  133 reviews
From the Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle comes a searing novel in verse about the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.

Thousands of young Navy sailors are pouring into Los Angeles on their way to the front lines of World War II. They are teenagers, scared, longing to feel alive before they have to face the horrors of battle. Hot jazz music spiced with cool salsa rhythms ca
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  448 ratings  ·  133 reviews

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Ms. Lawler
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful! Jazz Owls is the story of the Zoot Suit Riots in LA during the 40's, when war has broken out all over the world and Mexican-American families wage war against racism at home. The story is narrated through the eyes of a "victory family" in LA. Mami, Papa, Marisela, Lorena, and Ray dictate their experiences working in the cannery, fighting for their lives, and dancing their troubles away with hearts full of Jazz. I recommend Jazz Owls to everyone who can read!
Rachel Verhagen
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful representation of the Latinx life in LA during the 1940s. I enjoyed all of the poems and I thought they were beautifully written. I devoured this book in less than 2 hours and it was a great read.
I ended up really enjoying this because of the interesting history and the under-heard voices. However, it took me a REALLY long time to get into this. The poetry hindered my point of entry, and until I was hooked by the subject, I wasn't a fan. This will probably be a hard sell, which is sad, because it's a great story.
Brenda Kahn
I love Margarita Engle for shining a light on little known (at least to me) history. This was a dark moment in our history. Unfortunately, the reflected behavior is eerily contemporary and familiar.
Ms Threlkeld
Beautifully written and often heartbreaking account of an event I knew nothing about. I’m a better person for having read this book.
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't read much poetry, but I could not put this down and devoured it in a matter of hours.
Alex  Baugh
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's 1942 in Los Angeles, California. America hasn't been in World War II very long, but already the country is doing maximum war effort work. And that includes Mexican American sisters Marisela, 16, and Lorena, 14, who work long, exhausting days in a cannery, canning fruits and vegetables that will be sent to the armed forces overseas. But when night comes, the sisters are escorted to the local USO by their younger brother Ray, 12, to dance the night away with navy recruits on leave before they ...more
Nikki S
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was very good! I'm not a fan of historical fiction OR novels in verse, but I'm glad I still picked this one up. Heartbreaking and beautiful! Real review to come!

**EDIT 01/05/19**

You can find more of my reviews here at my blog: Take Me Away...

The first thing that caught my eye about this one was the cover. And then I found out it was historical fiction AND in verse and I almost changed my mind. Y'all KNOW both of those are not my forte. But this one really ended up working for me.
Navy sai
Sarah Rosenberger
Ray is only 12, but that doesn't stop him from dressing up in his zoot suit and dancing all night. It also doesn't keep him safe from attacks by white police and soldiers...

Marisela dances too, spinning and jitterbugging with soldiers who need one last hurrah before shipping out. But when racial tensions in the city boil over, those same soldiers, wielding baseball bats, come for her brother and the cubano musician she loves...

Lorena goes to the dance halls with her brother and sister, but spend
Mary Rose
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Margarita Engle’s quick-read, Jazz Owls, provides a dense discussion of the social misconduct of the 1950’s Zoot Suit Riots. The text takes the perspective of multiple members of the Latino community as they struggled to navigate the racist world of the time. Engle provides Latino/a mothers, daughters, sons, and lovers with eye-opening voices roughly half a century after they ebbed through silenced, challenged and beaten lives. Hearing from the marginalized showcases their innocent and exuberant ...more
Liz B
This is an example of a novel in verse that takes advantage of its form--the poetry matters in this one. It's still more about moving the narrative forward, but the poems (from multiple points of view) are in very different voices for different characters, and the language matters.

I'm not a bit surprised that I had never heard of the Zoot Suit riots in L.A., but this story should be taught as part of American history class. Engle does a very nice job of showing how politics and journalism fanned
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a fantastic and quick read about a little-known historic period: the zoot suit riots and the treatment of Mexican Americans during WWII. Spoiler alert: it's pretty much on par with how Mexicans are treated now (read: awful). I loved the varying perspectives and the auténtico Spanish that litters the text without deterring English speakers. It's a delicate balance and she nails it. I think all WWII junkies should read this because it is such a unique perspective. And so freaking tragic in ...more
Kathryn G.
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Fascinating, covering a piece of history I didn't even know existed. But it was written in poetry style, meaning there was no chance to get to know the characters or become invested in the "plot." It was interesting, but not amazing by any means.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A powerful read about race and the Zoot Suit Riots in 1942 - 1943 told in verse and poetry with Spanish words sprinkled throughout. Quick read that pulls you in from the beginning.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing and important work. Full review to come.
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended for all young readers.
Jamie Ruppert
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a good quick read for those who love to read books in verse and historical fiction.
Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens
A quick summer read perfect for history buffs, dance enthusiasts, and poets.
Josephine Sorrell
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery-2019
I liked the information afforded in the book but didn’t enjoy the writing style.
This is a historical novel written in free verse.
Ms. Jackson
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
A possible theme is stand up for what you believe.
Raven Black
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Amazing look at piece of history that might be lesser known. However, it's repeating itself now. Emotional. Well written. Easy to read, but hard to process due to context/that emotional punch
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Personal Notes:

WOW THIS HIT HARD. Okay context is everything and watching the PBS documentary on zoot suits made the world's difference.

Setting: World War II, US. Bc of Bracero program, there are Mexicans sent to fill in for some jobs that US men would have otherwise had if not for the war (men -> soldiers). Really it should be a win-win situation, but things take a turn with racism.

Ever since Pearl Harbor and the incarceration of Japanese-Americans, US has been wary of Mexicans too. Even said
Trinika Abraham
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jazz Owls by Rudy Gutierrez is a fictional novel that tells the story of a Mexican-American family’s experiences during the Zoot Suit Riots of Los Angeles.

16-year-old, Marisela and 14-year-old, Lorena are sisters who work in the same cannery as their father doing women’s work; peeling, slicing, and dicing during the day, and swinging to jazz at night. Their younger brother, 12-year-old, Ray plays the role of escort in his cool zoot suit drapes while their older brother, Nicolas is in Germany fig
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle is a fantastic historical novel with unique formatting. The format is the first thing that stands out when you pick up this book—a collection of poems written from the point of view of Chicanx children. It is an easy and clean format to read, and a great way to learn about lesser-known historical American events. I don't know any high schools that teach any kind of Chicanx history, like the Zoot Suit Riots and the Sleepy Lagoon Murder ...more
Alexandra Venitelli
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jazz Owls: A novel of the Zoot Suit Riots was a very surprising read. At first, I had not idea that the novel was written in prose; a positive for a poetry lover like me. Although it took a few pages to figure out the context of the story such as setting ans main characters, I could see using that as a potential exercise for students in an English classroom. The novel is full or rich, beautify verse that bis perfect for first introducing students to a unit poetry. Presenting it in this form, an ...more
Marge Shaffer
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Show an episode of WWII of which I was unaware. I never understand how we can treat each other so poorly.
Stephanie Bange
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Once again, Young People's Poet Laureate Margarita Engle shines a light on a little-known historical event, making it palpable for young people. This time she tackles a racism event that occurred in Southern California in the early 1940s.

It was the start of a hot summer in Los Angeles in June 1943. Hundreds of thousands of young sailors and marines from across the U.S. were preparing to ship out to fight against the Japanese during World War II and were temporarily stationed in the area. Meanwhi
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Jazz Owls by Margarita Engle is a bold response to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. It is a book of poetry, with different characters taking turns in writing their poems. The book format ultimately is placed in an order that allows the events to gradually unfold to the reader. I found the poetry to be well thought out. However, the drawbacks of such a set-up seem to include a lack of connection with the characters. Still, there are other literary advantages that can be observed. For instance, allite ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Though Jazz Owls uses an interesting way to tell each of the character’s story, I can’t say that I was a fan of it. I would have rathered to hear each of the character’s stories in the form of a story. Having said that, I still enjoyed the read.
I liked the way Engle tells us about the difficulties of being latino during this time period. Children would have their mouths washed out with soap and factory workers would lose their job if they were caught speaking Spanish. This reminds me of the same
Victoria Evola
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book reminded me of "Their Eyes were Watching Good" by Zora Neale Hurston and the way the narrative is laid out. Jazz Owls is a novel written in verse and each character speaking related to the next. You are able to receive one narrative from multiple different perspectives to see how everything is laid out. I throughly enjoyed this book and the story of the zoot suit riots in California. This book delivers race and other perspectives from Mexicans and how they are looked poorly upon in soc ...more
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Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.

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