Warden McKay nodded. “That’s right, Tyler. Cougars hunt at dusk and at dawn, so those are the most dangerous times for you to be out. We should also keep pets indoors and make sure garages and shed doors are closed.”
A first-grade student in the front row put up her hand. “Did you see the cougar, Warden McKay?”
He shook his head. “No, Maddy. Cougars are very shy and don’t usually like to be around people. I didn’t see this cougar but there is evidence that he has been here, and he may come back.”
“You were right,” Shilo whispered.
“So for the next couple of days, it is important that you stay safe. Principle Singh has canceled school for the rest of the week, until we know there is no danger.”
The students cheered in surprise. Principal Singh never canceled school – not even for a snow day. A cougar was a really big deal
Cricket and her father, Warden McKay, live in a small village inside of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. The story begins when Cricket and her friend, Shilo, stumble across a dear carcass, or “somebody’s dinner”, hidden under a bush on their way to school. The villagers quickly begin to suspect a cougar has come into town and is spooking the horses at Mr. Garrin’s stables. Cougars are typically shy creatures, but this one appears to be anything but shy, leaving behind evidence of behaviours not-so typical of a cougar, making the villagers and the Warden very nervous for their safety. This situation leads the principal to cancel school until this mystery is solved.
As more and more villagers turn to Elvis, a known cougar in the area and one that wears a tracking collar, as being the culprit, Cricket decides to search for more clues. She’s not sure that it is a cougar after all, and she doesn’t want Elvis to take the blame for something that he didn’t do. She also wants the villagers to be prepared in case it was really another animal, perhaps something even more dangerous.
Cricket discovers large tracks without claws, indicating the animal is more like a dog or a wolf than a cougar. She also finds scat nearby, but, because cougars are cats, they typically cover their scat. A fence was knocked over, but why wouldn’t a cougar have just jumped over it? Teeth marks have damaged garbage cans, but the indentations couldn’t be made by a bear since they’re all hibernating for the winter. If not a cougar, then what?
The mystery continues with plot turns at every chapter, leaving just enough hints for readers to make their own hypothesis along the way. When an animal gets caught in a trap, a signal is sent to the Warden, and Cricket and Shilo go along for the investigation. They find the biggest dog they have ever seen in the trap. It is also very skinny and looks hungry – no wonder it was attacking animals at every opportunity and leaving a mess behind. Shortly after, Elvis’ tracking collar indicated that he had left town a couple of days earlier, and so it couldn’t have been him at all.
Cougar Frenzy is the fourth book by Pamela McDowell that features Cricket McKay. Like the earlier books, McDowell packs this text for early independent readers with facts about wildlife through Cricket’s lens as an animal activist. This short read contains only nine chapters plus an epilogue with facts about cougars in Alberta. There are 17 full or half-page black and white illustrations throughout by Kasia Charko. The illustrations effectively break up the text into more manageable portions for young readers while helping to provide further clues in this whodunit mystery, such as animal tracks, a park map, and a visual of the tracking collar used to track the area’s known cougars.
Each chapter in Cougar Frenzy is just as entertaining as the last, and the language is very accessible for young readers. New curriculum concepts, such as animal track identification, scat, habitats, and animal behaviours, are introduced. Cricket’s engagement will encourage animal lovers to take a stand and empower them to become animal activists themselves.
Mallory Dawson, the Community Engagement Librarian at Whitby (Ontario) Public Library, loves reading with her two boys.