A clumsy young inventor must complete a task for a grumpy monster to win a girl’s heart in this illustrated, rhyming debut book.
In the Forest of Ho, near the Village of Hay, there’s a creature called the Grumpface, known for capturing innocent travelers and only freeing them if they can fulfill one of his three tasks. Once a cranky old man, the Grumpface was cursed by a wizard to spread his grouchiness because he could never smile. In the Village of Hay, Dafty Dan, an inventor whose contraptions never quite work, loves a flower seller named Bella. Too afraid to talk to her, he hatches a plan to find her a rose—the one flower she can’t track down for her store. This takes him to the Forest of Ho, where he is caught by the Grumpface, who is determined to show Dan that life is miserable. With Dan’s unrequited love in his heart, he insists he will accomplish one of the tasks. But his inventions ultimately fail to help him, including his “launcher.” The bird he was supposed to snare swallows his lamp. His sticky shoes adhere to a log bridge, but his loud singing causes a mishap. His light rod actually works—until he drops it and loses the object of his quest in a dark cave. Luckily for Dan, his antics make the Grumpface laugh, breaking the curse and setting the old man—and all the villagers he’s trapped—free. The old man even shows Dan where to find a rose, allowing him to gain the affections of his crush. All of Dan’s interactions with the Grumpface are delightful, and Fegan’s competent and clever rhymes scan well (“Each day he would see her standing for hours, / Across from his shop, selling her flowers”). But the tale is marred by the tired trope of a hero too afraid to talk to the girl he likes, treating her as an object to be won rather than someone who could be a friend. Frongia’s (Possessions of the Human Kind, 2017, etc.) cheerful illustrations of the green monster and the Caucasian characters are comical, especially Dan’s and the Grumpface’s expressive faces, and well-suited to the misadventure.
A skillful fairy tale about a hero and the flower seller he loves, though it’s hampered by an outdated literary device.