Books: Fiction

Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots

Book – Historical fiction. By Margarita Engle. 2018. 192 pages. A novel that uses free verse to tell the story of the 1943 Zoot Suit (or Sailor) Riots through a wide range of characters.
Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Themes: Latinx, Racism & Racial Identity, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

World War II is covered in every 20th century U.S. history class. However, the 1943 attack by white sailors on Mexican Americans, Filipinos, and African Americans in Los Angeles, known as the Zoot Suit Riots, gets little mention. Author Margarita Engle uses free verse to bring this history to life through a wide range of characters.

The story centers on a family of cannery workers in Los Angeles. During the Zoot Suit Riots (which Engle refers to as the Sailor Riots) we also hear from reporters, police, and sailors. While all but one are fictionalized, their stories provide a bottom-up history for middle to high school readers, beginning with the Sleepy Lagoon Murder in 1942 and ending with the 1948 Supreme Court ruling about interracial marriage in Perez v. Sharp.

ISBN: 9781534409439 | Published by Simon & Schuster.

Share a story, question, or resource from your classroom.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *