Lions, snails, wild babies, oh my!; The Lion Upstairs, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Leigh Grant. New York: Atheneum. 40 pp. $10.95.

The Snail's Spell, by Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Lynne Cherry. New York: Frederick Warne & Co. Pages unnumbered. $10.95. The Wild Baby Goes to Sea, by Barbro Lindgren, illustrated by Eva Eriksson. New York: Greenwillow Books. 24 pp. $9.

To the mature adult, a glimpse into a child's imagination can be astonishing, bewildering, and at times, awe-inspiring. But in any case, it is a desirable experience, one that should be encouraged and nurtured through the years.

Among the new picture books published this spring, three stories revolve around the imagination of a child and how he or she has created a private fantasy world separate from the world of home and family. In two of the stories, the child's adventure is a purely fun and pleasurable one, but in one story a neglected child invents an imaginary friend in order to attract the attention of his family.

In The Lion Upstairs, a young boy, Sam, goes on a safari in his living room and captures a lion. No notice is taken of Sam and his big game hunt - his mother is chatting on the phone, his father is taking a nap, and his sister, Abby, is reading a magazine. But the family does take notice when Sam refuses the mow the lawn because the lion likes to prowl in the long grass - and when he refuses to take out the garbage because his lion friend might like a midnight snack.

A family conference is called, and Mom, Dad, and Abby discuss tactics to deal with this new addition to the family. All turns out well in the end, and one morning Sam announces at breakfast that the lion became homesick and was sent back to Africa. ''Understandable,'' said his father. ''Very,'' said his mother. ''Have some toast,'' said Abby. There may yet be more safaris for Sam.

The Snail's Spell, with its delightful drawings, is a simple story of a child imagining what it would be like to be a small snail slithering about in the damp earth of a vegetable garden. Between the eggplant and the mushrooms, the chipmunks and the bunnies, the child and the little gray snail creep through the garden, using their feelers to taste and touch and explore. There are no exciting adventures or pleas for attention here, just a child imagining what it would be like to be. . . .

Exciting adventures with amusing drawings on the high seas do take place in The Wild Baby Goes to Sea by Eva Eriksson. This story was originally in Swedish and was adapted into rhyming verses in English by Jack Prelutsky. Baby Ben takes to the sea in a boat made from a cardboard box and his mother's kitchen apron. He sails with a crew of three - Mouse, Giraffe, and Bunny - and with a week's supply of seaworthy buns. When a storm comes up and the ocean swells, shipwreck seems imminent and the crew is terrified, but Baby Ben relishes the adventure and chuckles as their ship pitches and tosses with the waves. Soon the ocean stills, and when they hear a clock ticking, they realize they have washed up on shore. Adventure over, captain and crew sit down to dinner with Mama. What a little imagination can do to transform an ordinary day into something delightful!

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