INTO THE sweet, pastel world of fairy princesses and handsome knights trudges the ugliest, nastiest storybook star ever imagined. His name is Shrek, and he's sure to please.
"Shrek!" by William Steig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $10.95; ages 4-8) leads off this collection of quick reviews. Steig, whose many books include "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble," the 1970 Caldecott winner, has come up with a character that adults will loathe. Naturally, that means first- and second-graders will adore the horrible Shrek as he goes "slogging along the road, giving off his awful fumes."
Shrek meets up with a witch, and he gives her a few of his rare lice in return for her fortune. Told that he will meet a princess even uglier than he is, Shrek is delighted. He sets off to find her, bullying anyone who crosses his path.
The princess, it turns out, is even more revolting than imagined. They fall madly in love. "And they lived horribly ever after, scaring the socks off all who fell afoul of them."
* Parents will much prefer the comforting message of "Where Does the Brown Bear Go?" by Nicki Weiss (Puffin paperback, $3.95; ages 2-6). This could become a regular at bedtime, along with "Goodnight Moon" and "Ten, Nine, Eight."
The warm illustrations on textured black backgrounds march across the pages, urging listeners to follow along as a cat, a monkey, a camel and others journey home under the stars. On the last page all the animals are safely home, under the covers in a little boy's bed.
* Another bedtime classic has just come out in paperback: "The Sleepy Book," by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrations by Ilse Plume (Harper Trophy, $4.95). Zolotow's simple prose is hypnotic, and the words on the left-hand page are framed by Plume's soft illustrations, as if they were sketches in the margins of a naturalist's notebook.
Each right-hand page is filled with a landscape that includes the different animals, birds and insects as they sleep: "Bears sleep in their dark caves the long winter through," while "The snowy crane sleeps standing on one long leg like a flower on its stem."
* "Hilary & the Lions," story by Frank DeSaix, pictures by Debbi Durland DeSaix (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13.95; ages 4-10) is a bedtime fantasy for older readers. Hilary is visiting New York City with her parents for the first time, and when she gets lost in a crowd, she decides to look for her parents by climbing atop one of the stone lions on guard in front of the New York Public Library.
She eventually dozes off, only to be awakened by the lion's loud purring. Ainsley and his partner, Rollo, come to life and take Hilary on a romp through the streets. The magical illustrations bring to mind the work of Chris Van Allsburg, particularly in DeSaix's use of perspective. On one page we look up to see the lions from a squirrel's eye view. On the next page, the squirrel has scampered up to a roof, and we see the lions as tiny figures on the sidewalk far below. This is a gorgeous book to read again and again.
* Just for fun, check out two of Anthony Browne's books now in paperback: "I Like Books," (Dragonfly Books, $3.95; ages 2-6) and "Piggybook," (Dragonfly Books, $4.95; ages 4-8). Browne, best known for his charming apes, has a chimp starring in "I Like Books." The simple illustrations show the chimp in costumes to match the kind of books he likes to read, and it's sure to inspire reluctant readers.
"Piggybook" will become every mom's favorite. Mr. Piggott and his two sons are perfect male chauvinists, doing nothing at home while Mrs. Piggott cooks all the meals and does all the cleaning -- after she comes home from work, of course.
Well, one day Mrs. Piggott doesn't come home. The lazy father and his sons have to make their own dinner. "It took hours. And it was horrible." Their transformation to pigs is complete as they let dirty dishes pile up in the sink and wear the same filthy clothes, day after day. They've hit rock bottom when Mrs. Piggott comes home to save the day -- on her own terms. It's perfect.