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Screech Owls: Panic in Pittsburgh

by Roy MacGregor

The latest instalment of veteran sports journalist Roy MacGregor’s Screech Owls series (there are now more than 20) exposes young readers to timely topics such as terrorism, hockey safety, and cultural diversity within the framework of a Scooby Doo–like mystery.

This time around, the well-travelled Screech Owls team is in Pittsburgh for the Outdoor PeeWee Classic. After crashing into the boards during a game, team captain Travis Lindsay is recovering from a concussion in his hotel room when he hears voices next door belonging to thieves who are plotting to steal the Stanley Cup. MacGregor seamlessly slips between the mystery plotline and game-related minutiae, describing plays, goals, passes, saves, and coaching philosophies, which should appeal to hockey nerds who also love a good caper. He also has the team visit a 9/11 memorial in nearby Shanksville, using the book’s setting as an educational opportunity for a readership too young to have experienced the horror of that day first-hand.

With its culturally diverse roster (which includes a Nishikawa, a Yakushev, a Johanssen, and a Noorizadeh), the Screech Owls are in many ways a reflection of multiculturalism, despite the team’s small-town origins of (fictional) Tamarack, Ontario. It’s an optimistic rendering of the changing face of Canada’s game, which is experiencing enrolment challenges as first-generation Canadians and their children have to be won over from sports such as soccer and cricket.

There is also a nod to gender equality, with four girls on the team. While this may not yet be the reality of the sport, it’s healthy for young readers to explore a hockey world in which the girls are just as likely as the boys to feed a perfect “saucer pass” or rip a shot “top shelf.”