Elephant brightens a new child's story; Alistair's Elephant, by Marilyn Sadler. Illustrated by Roger Bollen. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. (Pages unnumbered.) $10.95. Ages 4-8.

Alistair is a very busy boy, perhaps about 6, who ''has no time for nonsense.'' He excels at school, has a perfectly tidy bedroom, and is careful to ''choose games that exercise his mind as well as his body.''

Life is indeed very rationally ordered for this half-pint, prematurely aged fellow. Then one Saturday, after his ritual trip to the zoo, an elephant follows Alistair home. Alistair is, of course, derailed from his routine sense of things , but is still in control - if a bit flustered, because he doesn't have time for a pet, even one that is ''most extraordinary.''

Because the zookeeper claims no elephant is missing, Alistair is forced to endure this friendly intrusion, and so we get a glimpse of Alistair's ''human'' side. The big beast needs love and attention, so Alistair tries to teach him how to behave - with some positive results. But eventually Alistair takes him back to the zoo, and feels ''very happy to be going home to his quiet, tidy room where at last he could get some work done.'' But alas, this time he notices something very tall and spotted following him - and once again the incipient demand for love and attention threatens to usurp Alistair's way of life.

Though this classic comedy situation has clear potential, the author doesn't adequately mine it; the reader sees no real softening of Alistair, and feels no real empathy for what the elephant sees in the boy. The whole encounter seems strangely inconsequential. Still, some children may be amused by Alistair's humorless cuteness. Others may find more fun promised than is actually delivered.

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