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Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots, by Margarita Engle


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 calls them to dance with the local Mexican American girls, who jitterbug all night before working all day in the canneries. Proud to do their part for the war effort, these Jazz Owl girls are happy to dance with the sailors—until the blazing summer night when racial violence leads to murder.

Suddenly the young white sailors are attacking these girls’ brothers and boyfriends. The cool, loose zoot suits they wear are supposedly the reason for the violence—when in reality these boys are viciously beaten and arrested simply because of the color of their skin.






In soaring images and powerful poems, this is the breathtaking story of what became known as the Zoot Suit Riots as only Margarita Engle could tell it.

“A riveting, wonderfully researched novel.” (Matt de la Peña, Newbery Winner)

*“Readers will be cheering for the jazz owls to be able to not only dance, but to overcome racism. A quick read perfect for history buffs, dance enthusiasts, poets, and just about anyone looking for a great story.” (School Library Journal, Starred Review)

“A fast-paced narrative . . . Engle pieces together a volatile episode in history, filled with love, loss, and coming-of-age stories within a Mexican American family at a time of racial strife.” (Booklist)

* “A beautifully written work of historical fiction. Engle incorporates evocative poetry and multiple viewpoints to create a well-rounded narrative. She seamlessly weaves themes of culture, race relations, and working conditions together.” (VOYA, Starred Review)

“Offers a look at a seldom-represented moment in U.S. history. . . . The free verse brings us inside the characters’ heads, allowing us to feel Ray’s indignation at racial violence and to understand Lorena’s politicization as she connects her experiences of injustice to organizing for better working conditions.” (The Horn Book)

“Voices of the siblings and their elders are convincingly realized . . . Gutierrez’s black and white artwork graces chapter breaks with elegantly fluid interpretations of events.” (BCCB)

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