Almost every youngster either has or wants a pet. To delight pint-size animal owners, as well as kids who yearn for a pet of their own, here's a menagerie of new books. Why not pick one up and give it a good home?
PREPOSTEROUS PETS, compiled by Laura Cecil, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Greenwillow Books, 80 pp., $19, ages 3 and up). This anthology will entertain all animal lovers. Watercolor pictures, brimming with life and exuberance, fit comfortably with 13 humorous poems and stories by such notable authors as Ogden Nash, T.S. Eliot, and Jack Prelutsky.
Animals starring in this collection are more fabulous than realistic. For instance, readers will find a six-footed beastie, a whale dressed in a nightie, a dragon, a flying pig, and a litter of cat-like devils.
THE TALE OF CUSTARD THE DRAGON, by Ogden Nash, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Little, Brown & Co., unpaged, $14.95, ages 4 to 8). Originally published in 1936, this whimsical poem (which is also featured in ''Preposterous Pets'') is being showcased in a picture book all its own. Bouncy verse tells of Belinda's house full of pets, including a cowardly dragon, Custard, who turns out to be brave when it counts. Custard is so endearingly portrayed that readers will wish dragons were real. Then every kid could have a pet like Custard.
THREE STORIES YOU CAN READ TO YOUR DOG, by Sara Swan Miller, illustrated by True Kelley (Houghton Mifflin, unpaged, $13.95, ages 7 to 10). It's hard to know who will enjoy this read-aloud more: kids or canines. Both can share the fun of these stories written from a dog's perspective. Whether scaring away a ''burglar,'' losing a bone, or escaping from home, the lovable mutt in this book is perfectly illustrated with tail-wagging energy and enthusiasm. Readers are reminded to pet their pooches while reading, because dogs like that attention ''almost as much as hearing stories.''
I LOVE GUINEA PIGS, by Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Anita Jeram (Candlewick Press, unpaged, $14.95, ages 4 and up). This charming book will make any reader a guinea-pig lover. The chatty text is full of affection for these little critters. This book, part of Candlewick's nonfiction ''Read and Wonder'' series, teaches history, supplies scientific facts, and prescribes correct care of guinea pigs. Engaging illustrations of chunky little guinea pigs make this book irresistible. A fine addition to any school or home library.
CAN I HAVE A STEGOSAURUS, MOM? CAN I? PLEASE!?, by Lois G. Grambling, illustrated by H.B. Lewis (BridgeWater Books, unpaged, $14.95, ages 3 to 6). For kids and adults who've had an ''It followed me home, can I keep it?'' discussion, this book will be a delight. Here's an imaginative story with amusing illustrations about a boy who tells his mother all the advantages of having a pet Stegosaurus. It'll eat yucky vegetables off his plate, double as a school bus, and serve as a mascot for his peewee football team. This book will be a special treat for dino-lovers, but a surprise ending makes it bound to be a favorite for any youngster.
PETS: A COMPREHENSIVE HANDBOOK FOR KIDS, Fourth Revised Edition, by Frances N. Chrystie, revised and updated by Margery Facklam, illustrated by Gillett Good Griffin (Little, Brown & Co., 304 pp., $7.95 paper, ages 10 and up). Here's a pet guide that's been a standard for more than 40 years. This recently updated fourth version, which will be out in May, is truly comprehensive. It covers the care of fish, birds, reptiles, barnyard animals, and horses, as well as cats, dogs, and many other pets. It provides detailed information about health, diet, illness, and first aid. But more importantly, it teaches children to be respectful and caring about animals.
MY NEW KITTEN, by Joanna Cole, photographs by Margaret Miller (Morrow Junior Books, unpaged, $15, ages 3 and up). Parents be warned: Here's a picture book that's guaranteed to make your little one long for a kitty. Bright, clear, color photographs -- this book's standout feature -- capture the smile-inducing antics of little kittens. In pictures handled very discreetly, a young girl watches a Maine Coon cat give birth to a litter of kittens. Returning for weekly visits, she observes how the kittens grow and develop until old enough for her to take one home.