________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 20 . . . . January 25, 2013


Face-Off at the Alamo. (Screech Owls).

Roy MacGregor.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2013.
176 pp., pbk. $9.99.
ISBN 978-1-77049-418-3.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Aileen Wortley.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



There are some sounds that are simply unmistakable. Thunder. A train rattling through a crossing. Tires losing traction in the snow. And skin slapping hard on skin.

Startled, Sarah and Travis stopped short. They were near a dressing-room door that was held open slightly by a wedge of hockey tape between door and frame-just enough for them to peek in.

The Cheetah's manager was standing in front of a player. With his hunched stance, the man looked like a hawk staring down his prey.

The player had his helmet off, but both Travis and Sarah knew instantly who he was: the player who had been tossed out of the game for his nasty hit on Nish.

The anger Travis had seen earlier in the manager's eyes was being directed at the youngster. So intense and furious was the stare that it seemed entirely conceivable that the kid might burst into flames.

Travis Lindsay, best friend Nish and other buddies on the Screech Owls' peewee hockey team, from Tamarack, ON, are playing in an invitational tournament in San Antonio, TX. Between games, on sightseeing trips, they are especially thrilled when they visit the Alamo, site of the famous 1836 battle and a patriotic symbol of courage for Americans.

      During the games, Travis, the team captain, provides a detailed account of each of the hockey games in the competition, capturing each tense moment. It is at one of these games, as the Screech Owls play against the Kansas City Cheetahs, that their suspicions are aroused by the mysterious behavior of some of its team members. The aggression of Tanner Brady, one of the Cheetah's top players, and the strangeness of their manager, Jimmy Vim, are decidedly unsporting. It is only when Travis and a couple of his teammates get to sleep over at the Alamo at the end of the tournament that they realize that Jimmy Vim is, in fact, planning to blow up the Alamo. Only the Screech Owls can save the day!

      The characters in this series haven't aged a bit despite the fact that they have been playing peewee hockey together for 17 years! The books retain their appeal partly as a result of the team's uncanny knack of landing smack in the middle of a variety of improbable mysteries, such as acts of terrorism, kidnappings, etc. In addition, hockey fans love them for the detailed recall of every deke, check, dive, face-off and the down to the wire tension present in every game the Owls play.

      While most of the players are merely names rather than fully developed characters and the components are predictably formulaic, nevertheless this title makes for an enjoyable, well-written, fast paced read, with a good sense of humor, an obvious passion for hockey and an introduction to a new and interesting locale.

      Roy MacGregor brings a sense of authenticity to the series with his background as a hockey player, coach, game reporter and as an author of several adult books about hockey. Readers aged 9-13 will enjoy this improbable adventure and the atmosphere of tension and excitement. The combined ingredients of hockey and mystery are great hooks for reluctant readers, especially, but not exclusively, boys. This page-turner will keep readers involved until its finale when they learn that the Screech Owls are as quick-witted off the ice as they are on it and have saved the day yet again.


Aileen Wortley, now retired, was a librarian with the Mississauga Library in Mississauga, ON.

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

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