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Early/Young Readers, Fairy/Folk/Tall Tale, Humor

LIFE OF ZARF: TROLL OVERBOARD by Rob Harrell

I unashamedly enjoy the Life of Zarf books! Troll Overboard is the third in the Life of Zarf series. This time Zarf the Troll and his best friends, Kevin Littlepig (always beset with anxiety) and Chester (a spectacularly UNfunny jester-in-training who relies on awful puns and Knock-Knock jokes), head out to sea with Zarf’s grandfather, taking along the incredibly bratty, selfish Prince Roquefort. Roquefort has begged for this outing but Zarf is suspicious.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Zarf is right to be suspicious. When there is a mutiny Zarf, Kevin, Chester, Roquefort and Gramps are all literally dumped into the waters of misadventure. The story that follows is, by turns, hilarious and exciting. They must find Jack’s magic beans(from Beanstalk fame) and cope with a sea witch, pirates, a mer-pig (yes, you read that correctly) and a deserted island!

Zarf’s world is a brilliant blending of traditional fairytale tropes and characters with modern sensibilities (i.e. cell phones, etc.). I enjoy Zarf’s growth as a character from the first book to this one (the third). He is increasingly able to manage his ‘troll temper,’ while still having it be a defining characteristic of his personality. I delight in his semi-snarky attitude and his good heart. The pacing is perfectly propulsive for young readers.

I also like the fact that the ‘villain’ in Zarf’s stories–the bane of his existence–is Prince Roquefort. The reason I like this construct is that Roquefort’s actions–which often result in misfortune for Zarf and his friends and family– are clearly motivated by a complete preoccupation with his own needs and wants, as opposed to originating in malice toward others. This circumstance allows for the possibility of maturity and growth for Roquefort’s character in the future.

Troll Overboard definitely stands on its own as a complete story, however there are some surprises tied into this plot that will have a much bigger impact if you have already read the first two books: Life of Zarf: The Trouble With Weasels and Life of Zarf: The Troll Who Cried Wolf. Fans of Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate series–or his newest, Max and the Midknights–will truly enjoy Zarf’s rollicking adventures. I wish this series had been around when my kids were in the 6 – 8 year range because I know we would’ve enjoyed these together!

I will say, though, that I probably wouldn’t read these aloud in a classroom. Personally, I don’t find anything inappropriate in them, but Harrell does occasionally ride the line (for some parents) with bathroom humor or comic violence. I would not have any qualms about choosing it as a read-aloud at home with my own kids. [The Life of Zarf books are similar in tone to the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell (another magnificent series!).

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