Cliff the Failed Troll

The new book by Barbara Davis-Pyles (Stubby the Fearless Squid, Grizzly Boy), illustrated by Justin Hillgrove, is Cliff the Failed Troll.

It stars a stocky, young troll named Cliff. Cliff is attending Troll School to become a proper troll. He is a likable enough student, though he is not welcomed with open arms by the other students. He seems to be an easily distracted student and struggles in Troll school.

He fidgets and he fusses.  And he fiddles his fingers into knots. His mind would wander and he sings a lot. When he got his report card, it showed. He got all Fs. Which was fine. Cliff didn’t want to be a troll anyway.  What Cliff really wanted to do was to be a pirate. He decides to leave Troll School and pursue his dream. He said goodbye to the other students and sets out to join Pirate School.

Along the way he meets a like-minded banana slug—named Polly, of course. Polly is a perfect companion for Cliff because she wants to be a pirate, almost as much he does! (Plus, she looks totally squeezable!)

They team up and join Pirate School together. There is so much to learn, but so many opportunities to fail.

And Cliff was already a failed troll, he did not want to be a failed pirate too. He and Polly work hard to learn pirating. Turns out they make a pretty good team. But when grades come out, does he get all Fs again?

Hillgrove’s characters are engaging and likable. He has created a wonderful, lively and brightly colored world that to reflects the Pacific Northwest, which is quietly referenced in the text (and where both he and the author live.) I can’t figure out if the illustrations are digital or traditional or a mix. I’ve been familiar with Hillgrove’s traditional fine art for years, and a fan (and minor collector) the whole time. So I was happy to hear he had been contracted to illustrate Davis-Pyle’s latest book. Holding it in my hands I am NOT disappointed!  A great pairing.

Cliff the Failed Troll is a sweet story about pursuing what one wants. It is about not being squeezed into a lifestyle you have little interest in or are bored with. It is about seeking adventure and pursuing the things and a life you love. And it is about being, well…different.


  1. This looks like a wonderful lesson in different learning styles, too! My fidgety, finger-tying boy needed a little pirate school! Can hardly wait to read this!

  2. Well, well, well…the cover alone made me laugh out loud!

  3. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    This sounds awesome!

  4. This looks great. I loved the cover with “tibi ipsi esto fidelis” on the bridge of trolls.

  5. I was able to interview Justin about his work on the book. In this case, the work was completely digital! He taught himself digital to do this project. You can see the whole interview with Justin and Barbara here:

  6. What a great book.

  7. I can hardly wait to read this. So fun!

  8. A great book for so many students/ children to relate to!

  9. Looks cute! I love the “to thine own self be true” on the bridge on the cover.

  10. Janet Frenck Sheets

    A pirate-loving banana slug? I already love this. (The goat on the cover looks pretty adorable, too.)

  11. Lovely message. Congratulations!

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