Big Name Kids' Books

ARIEL Books is a small book packager (five full-time employes), located in New York's SoHo, but they have Large Ideas. Like commissioning best-selling adult authors to try their hand at writing children's books for the first time. Spectacle by Ann Beattie and Malachey by William F. Buckley Jr. are the two titles kicking off the new Goblin Tales series due in October -- on Halloween, to be exact.

''We had three guidelines,'' says Ariel's Tom Derwent. ''There had to be a child protagonist, an encounter with the supernatural, and there had to be a positive change as a result. For the supernatural part, it didn't matter whether it was a zombie or a werewolf or just a walk through a haunted house.'' In Beattie's novel a young heroine finds a pair of unusual eyeglasses; Buckley's plot is set at a boys' prep school where a computer hides a weird being.

Workman is Ariel's co-publisher for this intriguing venture, and they've been involved with it since its inception a little over a year ago. Though best known for their successful and energetically promoted trade paper originals, they'll be doing the Goblin Tales books in cloth. And both Ariel's Tom Derwent and Workman editor Sally Kovalchick stress president Peter Workman's enthusiasm for the project. ''Peter is very open to new ideas,'' says Derwent, going on to praise Buckley and Beattie for the same innovative spirit.

''We sent off letters to 45 authors we really admire,'' explains Ariel co-founder Derwent. Among those who said no, thank you, were John Irving, Joan Didion, James Michener and Peter Benchley, although Derwent notes that quite a few seemed to like the idea in principle. ''But they realized that when you sit down to write a kids' book, it's not as easy as it sounds.'' Still, there's now a second pair of Goblin Tales in the works; negotiations are underway with Tom McGuane and playwright David Mamet.

Derwent and partner Armand Eisen started Ariel in 1975, straight out of college. The advance paid for their initial joint venture, an anthology called The Book of Fantasy published by Ballantine in '77, furnished capital for Ariel's next projects. These were a series of re-visualized children's classics, such as The Wind in the Willows, Heidi, The Velveteen Rabbit, and others done by young illustrators like Michael Hague and Michelle Wiggin, and then sold to houses like Knopf, Holt and Bantam.

In '79, Ariel faced the choice of whether or not ''to borrow a couple of million dollars and start our own house,'' Derwent recalls. But he and Eisen decided instead to build on their growing reputation as packagers and spotters of new artistic talent. Thus, what makes the Goblin Tales series so special, aside from the names of the illustrious authors participating, is the fact that they will all be illustrated throughout with full-color paintings by new artists. In the first set, Winslow Pels has been paired with Beattie and John Gurney with Buckley. New Chapters on I Street

A downtown literary bookstore'' is how Robin Diener describes the business she and her partner Terri Merz are opening September 3 at 1613 I Street on the ground floor of the Cafritz Building. With 15 years' experience in Washington bookselling between them (both are longtime employees of what's now known as Olsson's Books and Records), the two know they're bucking ''the conventional wisdom.'' But Diener is optimistic that the store, to be called Chapters, will fill a niche not occupied by Crown, Globe, Trover or any other nearby competitors.

''We'll be, I think, the 'inverse' of Sidney Kramer Books,'' Diener says. By that, she means that she and Merz intend to have only the most major titles in the areas Sidney Kramer specializes in, like economics or public policy. On the other hand, she plans to have large selections of gardening and cookbooks, along with fiction, poetry and belles lettres. Children's titles and volumes on childcare are other categories she will be stocking heavily, on the strength of her feeling that there are lots of professional women working in the area who have children late in life and have money to spend on books. Side Bets

Octogenarians are getting much attention in book publishing circles in this post-Helen Hooven Santmyer era. Just after Avon's release in paperback of Clyde Rice's A Heaven in the Eye, which won the 81-year-old author the 1984 Western States Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, comes this announcement from Miami Fountain of Chapel Hill's Algonquin Books: It seems they have a new author who's another three-barreled Helen -- 86-year-old Helen Hill Miller. A part-time Washington resident (she spends the rest of the year in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina), Miller has written Captains from Devon: The Great Elizabethan Seafarers Who Won the Oceans for England, an Algonquin fall release. Once Washington correspondent for the Economist, Miller took degrees from Bryn Mawr, Oxford and the University of Chicago in the '20s, and worked for a time in the New Deal bureaucracy . . .

Peter's at the top and Pooh's at the bottom -- that is, if one is looking at the list of the 10 all-time kids' best sellers in this country, recently compiled by The Book Publishing Annual, 1985 (R. R. Bowker). That familiar little Frederick Warne edition of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit towers up there at number one, while lower down in the ranks are such favorites as The Real Mother Goose (Rand McNally, #3), Pat the Bunny (Golden, #4) and Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Philomel, #7). Dr. Seuss is the only author with two in the top 10: The Cat in the Hat (Random, #8) and Green Eggs and Ham (Random, #9).