________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008


The Kindergarten Caper: The Screech Owls Prequel. (Screech Owls).

Roy MacGregor.
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2008.
140 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 978-0-7710-5608-6.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

** /4



"If the glass came down inside, then the window would have been hit from outside, wouldn't it?"

Sarah thought about it some more. "Yes, it would, I guess," she said, nodding. "Are you saying someone broke the window so Sidney could escape?"

"I don't know what I'm saying," Travis admitted. "Just that there's something very odd going on. Nish hasn't been the same since that day, you know."

Sarah laughed. "What's the 'same' about Nish. Every single day he's different. Every single hour is different with him."

"But he's gone very quiet, or haven't you noticed? He hardly talks to us at all, even at hockey, and we never walk to or from school with him anymore."

"Maybe he doesn't like us any longer."

"I think he's got a secret."

Sarah stopped dead this time. "What sort of secret?"

"I don't know. But he's hiding something."


Since 1995, Roy MacGregor, a former national sports columnist for Southam, has authored 21 titles in the popular "Screech Owls" series which feature a co-ed hockey team whose members get involved in solving mysteries, usually while competing at some significant hockey tournament. Timewise, #20 The Screech Owls' Reunion was the series' "omega" volume as it brought the former teammates, now adults, back together again for a charity hockey game. As a prequel, the unnumbered The Kindergarten Caper is, therefore, the "alpha" tome as Travis Lindsay takes readers back to his kindergarten days, the time when he first met Sarah Cuthbertson, Wayne "Nish" Nishikawa, and several other kindergartners who would join him in playing hockey. Chronologically, The Kindergarten Caper follows #21, Peril at the World's Biggest Hockey Tournament, as the Screech Owls have been invited to show the Bell Capital Cup (which they won in #21) to the lower grades at Lord Stanley Public School. As Travis watches and listens to Nish expound to the kindergarten class, "Travis couldn't help but think of the day they had entered this same classroom for the very first time...."

     In his kindergarten recollections, which Travis relates in the present tense, Travis's first impressions of Nish are not positive as the chubby lad comes across to him as a crybaby, and Travis's private name for Nish is Nincompoop. Nish gains immediate unwanted attention on the first day of kindergarten when an unnamed but sensitive part of his anatomy gets caught in his zipper while he's in the classroom bathroom and he has to be rescued by the school's pliers-bearing custodian. On the second day of kindergarten, Nish, while walking to school with Travis and Sarah, deliberately seeks attention by dropping his pants and mooning, with part of his audience being a school bus. When Travis finally gets to join an "official" hockey team, he finds that Nish, initially a nonskater (see the cover illustration), is one of his teammates. Sarah, on the other hand, is much more accepting of Nish, saying, "I kind of like him. He makes things interesting."

      In keeping with the pattern of the other books in the series, The Kindergarten Caper includes a mystery and an important hockey game. The former involves a young screech owl that had been injured and was being cared for by the kindergarten class until it was well enough to be released back into the wild. Although Nish had fainted the first two times he saw the owl, called Sidney by the class, being fed a live rodent, Nish ultimately becomes the bird's surrogate parent and sees to its needs. One night shortly before Sidney was to be released, it appears that he got out of his cage and flew through the classroom window, breaking it. As the excerpt indicates, Travis later realizes that the location of the broken glass is not consistent with that theory. He also notices that Nish's behaviour has changed, and with Sarah's assistance, he identifies Nish as the "thief."

      The book's significant hockey game (actually the book's first and only game) involves the kindergartners' hockey team, which has elected to adopt the Screech Owl name and logo. As part of the events of Hockey Day in Canada, the Screech Owls are to travel to Toronto where they will play a nationally televised five minute game in the intermission between the first and second periods of an NHL game between the Leafs and Penguins. As expected, the Screech Owls win a cliffhanger, with Nish scoring the deciding goal.

      Like collectors of hockey cards, fans of the "Screech Owls" series will want to read The Kindergarten Caper to keep their "set" intact. However, as a stand-alone book, the prequel doesn't fare too well for two of MacGregor's strengths, his ability to create dialogue as well as to write engaging hockey action, are the book's weaknesses because he keeps losing the voice and physical abilities of five-year-olds. Instead, the kindergarteners come across, both verbally and physically (especially when playing hockey), more like the middle schoolers they are in the later books. Even the cover illustration appears to have adolescent faces pasted on five-year-olds' bodies. When the book is reprinted, one important typo needs to be corrected. On p. 7, the first time the screech owl is mentioned, he is called Stanley, but on p. 54, the class holds a vote and the name Sidney wins and is used for the owl throughout the rest of the book.

Recommended with reservations.

Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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