I could tell you up front that this is supposed to be a children's book, but that might scare you away. You might think it's a slippery slope - one day you pick up an anthology of kids' stories, and the next you find that you've become one of those creepy middle-aged women wearing a Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt with Beanie Babies lining the dashboard of your car.
You have no need to worry, though, really. McSweeney's "Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out" is the anti-children's book children's book. It won't make you creepy. It will make you happy.
In Lemony Snicket's introduction to the anthology, he hilariously parodies the tired and trite clichés of kids' books. He introduces his arsenal of rapid-fire parodies by saying, "As a courtesy, I have printed a few excerpts from tedious stories, so that the tedious reader does not feel left out." In the "tedious" excerpts that follow, Snicket visits "The King of Teddy Bear Land," enchanted ponies, budding feminists rebelling against "No Girls Allowed" signs, a sad story about little Mark who lives in a "run down shack by the railroad tracks," a talking paperweight and the "Long Division Worm" who wants to show us that math is fun. Rest assured, none of these characters make an encore appearance in the book.
Instead, popular authors - alongside a whole bunch of authors who you may never have heard of but who prove themselves awesome nonetheless - craft imaginative worlds that are completely free of corny-ness. Nick Hornby writes about the land of Champina - a country roughly the size of a football field - and about a bookish young resident who finds himself unwittingly drafted into playing for the national football (soccer) team. Neil Gaiman tells the story of an Epicurean Club whose eccentric members, having run out of endangered species to eat, go on a hunt for a Phoenix (the bird, not the sprawling behemoth up Interstate 10). Jonathan Safran Foer describes how the sixth borough of New York City once was and how it found itself drifting away from the city until it reached the icy hold of Antarctica. (His story comes complete with a full-color fold-out map so the reader can see just how this mysterious sixth borough once nestled right next to Manhattan.) Jon Scieszka tells a story in which nearly all the dialogue is made up of product taglines. ("Got what? says the girl. - The real thing. - Wow. You just did it. You obeyed your thirst.")
My favorite story of the collection is Clement Freud's "Grimble." Grimble is a precocious boy of "about 10," as close as he can figure, because his parents "were very vague and seldom got anything completely right." The tale gives a day-by-day account of the week in Grimble's life in which his
parents mysteriously jet off to Peru, leaving him to fend for himself (and to decipher the cryptic notes and telegrams from his parents that punctuate the story). During Grimble's week alone, he learns to cook up concoctions in neighbors' kitchens (when they aren't around to see the messes he makes) and writes poetry. An example: "The Horse, by Grimble. A horse has got more legs than I but fewer than a centipede. He wears a bridle instead of a tie and is sometimes called a steed. The end."
For my final argument on why this book is most definitely worth your $22, I offer this list of why you need this book now: hotshot authors, an amazing title, merciless jabs at crappy children's stories, awesome amateur poetry, a crossword puzzle that you can finish and feel smart about, and a half-finished Lemony Snicket story on the inside of the dust jacket that you're invited to finish and send-in (the winners get their entries published in a future McSweeney's book). On top of that, all proceeds from the book go to 826NYC, a nonprofit group that helps students develop their writing skills, so you can feel good - not creepy - about venturing into the children's section the next time you're in a bookstore.