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Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  291 ratings  ·  78 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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3.92  · 
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 ·  291 ratings  ·  78 reviews

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Ms. Galván
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!
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.
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.
Alex (not a dude) Baugh
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
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
The Reading Countess
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, middle-grade, poetry, ya
Thanks to #partner @simonschuster for this advanced peek at an important and timely poetic narrative. Although this is set during WWII, we are STILL dealing with race, inequality and prejudice both in society as well as in our journalists' writing. Margarita Engle tells a well-rounded, little known story about a clash between sailors and zoot suiters; the sprinkling of Spanish on each page lends authenticity to the voices. Rudy Gutierrez's art tells a part of the story, too, especially his last ...more
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.
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.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An amazing and important work. Full review to come.
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
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.
Melissa Lynn
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended for all young readers.
Ms. Jackson
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
A possible theme is stand up for what you believe.
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.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A code-switching novel in verse about Latinx people in California during WWII.

I had no idea about Navy sailors attacking Latinx kids due to whipped up racial fears about brown skinned youths. There's a lot of bad, true history here but there's also so much lively writing about dance. This ought to be a high school reading staple. Wow!
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.
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
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
Becky B
Through multiple voices in free verse, but primarily 3 teeange Mexican American siblings, Engle tells the story of the Zoot Suit Riots in LA in 1943, what led up to them, and the fallout from them.

I didn't know anything about the Zoot Suit Riots before reading this book. Basically, a bunch of US soldiers about to be shipped off to WWII front lines started race riots by beating up first young men of Mexican descent (many who wore Zoot Suits) but it then spread to African Americans too. The police
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well done! I was a little taken aback to discover I had a verse novel, but the format actually worked well because it allowed many voices. I was only vaguely familiar with the Zoot Suit Riots and the multiple perspectives allowed a lot more insight and connection on a personal level than nonfiction would have. Still, there is a LOT going on-- not just related to the specific incidents in the riots, but unions, racism, laws against intermarriage, police brutality, and how these all intersected wi ...more
Liz Friend
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
The story: Latino girls during World War II worked at the cannery all day and danced with soldiers all night, doing their bit to cheer up the boys before they headed off to war in the Pacific. But all their good efforts can't overcome the racism and prejudice that comes their way, and when a riot breaks out, the people who run things are able to spin it so it's the Zoot Suit kids' fault.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; Violence PG-13; Sexual content PG; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic &
Stephanie Tournas
Engle succeeds once again in presenting a complex social/political event in the form of a novel in verse. And once again, I think I can't possibly be sucked in and I am. The Zoot Suit Riots took place in a Los Angeles night club in 1943. Zoot suit-wearing minority teens enjoying the late night salsa club scene clashed with police and mobs of U.S. servicemen. A young man was killed. Although portrayed in the press of the time as provocative and violent, the teens were in fact the victims of a mob ...more
Lonna Pierce
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
This novel in verse highlights the different voices in one Latino family living in Los Angeles during WWII. Mexicanos, Papi, Mami, Marisela, Lorena, and Ray try to make a meager living in the canneries while their brother, Nicolas is fighting in the war. Several white reporters, who disturbingly slant the news to sell papers, set up rage and resentment between races, resulting in riots. Engle incorporates Spanish language, culture, and dance with rich metaphors and evocative language. Her work b ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
I learned about a part of history that I'd never heard of ... well, except for the title of a Cherry Poppin' Daddies song ... which Wikipedia tells me was indeed about the historical event, but I didn't realize at the time. Things that made me mad:

- Workers getting in trouble for working too quickly, because it would mean more pay
- The reporters' parts, which ring true today (e.g., "Nothing sells newspapers as quickly as fear" and "Why wait for real-life drama when I can just go ahead and specu
Roben Closs
Told from many different points of view, Engle explores a not very well known (but very important) piece of American history - a time when white sailors decided it was OK to gang up on other Americans and beat them up - simply because their skin color was different. Police looked the other way and reporters did their best to throw more fuel on the fire - because that was what sold papers even though they knew what they were writing wasn't true. This all happened in the midst of World War 2 in Lo ...more
Linda Mitchell
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved Jazz Owls. I am a middle school librarian and look for texts to share about how it feels to be in different places/times/situations. Jazz Owls really does that. Margarita Engle masterfully weaves together a cast of fictional characters of the time to give those of us today an idea of what it was like to live in LA during World War II when feeling alive and ready to serve the United States was experienced so differently by Mexican American men and women and teens, navy recruits, newspaper ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
This was a disappointment and about the only book I almost abandoned for a 2018 book. This was not due to the author- but the editor of this book. The poetry was fine but this topic needed pictures, captions, and links. A nonfiction book on this topic would have been a much better choice- perhaps partnering with a nonfiction writer and interspersing the poetry would help students to visualize this chapter of history and appreciate the poetry. After a quick internet search- real pictures of this ...more
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A very quick read. Historical fiction following a Mexican family living and working in East L.A during WW II. The older brother is already a missing in action soldier, the 2 girls are workers by day in a canning factory and jazz owls at night in the dance clubs and the younger brother is in school and the girls escort. Racial tension was just as prevalent then as it is now, and the boy is caught up in the Zoot Suit Riots in which the military men stormed all over LA looking for Mexicans to beat ...more
Mary Sanchez
This little known American history of the "Mexican problem" in California is told through verse in the voices of different people who lived the story.

Mexican Americans sent their sons to war in WWII, their daughters worked in the canneries and factories by day, and lightened the mood of the the sailors about to be deployed by dancing with them in the evenings at the USOs. But woe to the Mexican Americans who decided to dress in Zoot suit attire. The sailors beat them up and the Mexican American
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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.