Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots
Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots

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Annotation: In soaring images and powerful poems, tells the story of the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, marked by racial violence between young white sailors on their way to war, and Mexican-American citizens.
Catalog Number: #159974
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Atheneum
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Illustrator: Gutierrez, Rudy,
Pages: 179 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 1-534-40943-2 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-1031-9
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-534-40943-9 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-1031-2
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2017024247
Dimensions: 22 cm.
Subject Heading:
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Two sisters work in a peach cannery by day and are jazz dancers by night. Their older brother, Nicholas, serves in the war, and their younger brother, Ray, chaperones them at dances in his ostentatiously designed zoot suit. This Mexican American family is making ends meet while doing their part for the war effort, boosting sailor morale by dancing and swinging to catchy rhythms all night. Unfortunately, when the news breaks that an alleged Mexican American teenage gang is responsible for murder, the media spins it with lies, blaming these youth and their fashionable zoot suits, because "nothing sells newspapers as quickly as fear." Engle writes a fast-paced narrative about a chain of reactions escalating into a violent mob that took out their anger on children, teens, and anyone they found in this Mexican American area of Los Angeles. 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.
Kirkus Reviews
Against the backdrop of World War II, a patriotic Mexican-American family proudly contributes to the war effort despite pervasive racism.Every night Marisela, 16, and her sister, Lorena, 14, join other "owls," girls who go out dancing with Navy men at the USO club in LA before they are deployed. Working in a cannery by day and chaperoned by their zoot suit-wearing 12-year-old brother, Ray, by night, the sisters dance their way through the growing racial tensions in the city. Punished for speaking Spanish in school and forbidden from speaking Spanish at work, dancing is a joyous means of self-expression and connection with Latin culture. Everything comes to a head in June 1943 when marauding sailors brutally attack Mexican-Americans in a weeklong series of what are erroneously dubbed "Zoot Suit Riots" by the press. Engle's (Miguel's Brave Knight, 2017, etc.) characteristic free verse is unfortunately not up to tackling the density of the multiple issues and events that led up to this tragedy. In addition, switching between a number of different points of view in the section dedicated to the riots creates an emotional distance between the reader and the unfolding human tragedy. Some of the thoughts put into the mouths of the young people also feel incongruously mature.This worthy effort falls short of creating a riveting narrative. (Novel in verse. 11-18)
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (page 178).
Reading Level: 5.0
Interest Level: 7-12
Lexile: 1300L
Jazz Owls

Excerpted from Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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.

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