The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, by A. Wolf; as told to Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith (Viking/Kestrel, $13.95; all ages). At last it can be told! For the past several years, the powerful pork lobby has quashed all attempts to reveal the truth about the gross miscarriage of justice surrounding the affair of the three little pigs. A simple-hearted predator merely goes over to his porcine neighbors, intending to borrow a cup of sugar for a cake, and through sheer happenstance finds himself playing the heavy in a modern fairy tale classic.

But it was no fairy tale for Mr. A. Wolf: criminal charges, sensationalistic publicity in the gutter press, prison. Yet just take a look at the beast. A milquetoast. He could be a lupine Jimmy Stewart.

Kids who know the sanitized but snappy Disney version of this famous tale (no one gets eaten) and those who prefer the classic original (two pigs and one wolf are devoured) will delight in hearing the alleged villain's side of the story.

But that's not all. Third-graders who want to shine in that all-important first course in "Strategies of Discourse" can here learn about such matters as point of view, folktale variants and unreliable narration. Future lawyers of America may want to consider, too, Mr. Wolf's defense of the apparently indefensible: He ate the first two pigs because they were dead and it seemed a shame to waste good food.

Lane Smith's art is dazzling and unexpected, ranging from close-ups of a wolfish snout to some bizarre perspectives hardly seen outside "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Not surprisingly, this book has already become a children's best seller, though I thought the text just slightly less clever than it might have been. With better counsel, the wolf could certainly have plea-bargained a suspended sentence.

Hey! Get Off Our Train, by John Burningham (Crown, $14.95; ages 5-up). One of the more notable contemporary children's book artists, Burningham here manages to yoke together a world of fantasy with that of nature conservancy. A little boy, happily playing with his toy train, is sent off to bed. There he dreams that he is his locomotive's engineer and his pajama-case dog the stoker; together they chug through a nocturnal landscape. After stopping to play in the fog, they notice an elephant climbing aboard, who pleads mournfully with them: "Please let me come with you on your train. Someone is coming to cut off my tusks and soon there will be none of us left."

Next the boy, dog and elephant stop to romp in the water, only to discover a seal sneaking aboard to escape extinction. And so it goes with a crane, a tiger and a polar bear, until it's time for the child to go back to bed.

All this is depicted in carefully orchestrated artwork: On the left-hand pages, line drawings on a white background depict the train itself; on the right, painterly images in color display the changing landscape. The left pages also sport the text, thus acting as connective tissue to the wild partying -- in mist, rain and wind -- on the right.

At the end of the book the boy announces that he needs to go back home. And so, one expects, another fantasy is over: He will awaken from his dream. But Burningham is too clever for that. On the very last page, the boy's mother stands at the open bedroom door and says to him: "You must get up immediately, or you will be late for school. There are lots of animals in the house. There's an elephant in the hall, a seal in the bathtub, a crane in the laundry, a tiger on the stairs, and a polar bear by the fridge. Does this have anything to do with you?"

A charmer with a serious message.

The Cut-Ups at Camp Custer, by James Marshall (Viking/Kestrel, $12.95; ages 5-up). The Cut-Ups Carry On, by James Marshall (Viking/Kestrel, $12.95; ages 5-up). What could be more American than a pair of lovable rapscallions, the despair of their mothers, the terror of their school? Not really bad kids, just a tad wild. Spud and Joe -- guys with names like that make you think of county fairs and Little Rascal movies. Naturally, their archenemy, the school principal, sports a moniker straight out of silent-film villainy: Lamar J. Spurgle.

In their latest misadventures, the Cut-Ups happily go off to camp, where they discover that their friend, the scientific whizbang Mary Frances Hooley, is also spending the summer. She has, it turns out, unfathomably taken up with the stuck-up nerd Charles Andrew Frothingam. As if this were not enough to cloud the holidays, the camp's director turns out to be none other than Lamar J. Spurgle himself. Before long, pranks and practical jokes start to proliferate; Spurgle blames our heroes; but they know they are innocent. Who, then, is the perpetrator of such dastardly deeds as putting shampoo in the camp wishing well and plastic worms in the breakfast cereal?

Could it be Spurgle himself? He's not above duplicity. Or might it be the too-clever-by-half Mary Frances? Or the despicable Charles Andrew Frothingham? Prepare yourself for shocking revelations: Absolutely no one admitted to this book during the last two pages.

In The Cut-Ups Carry On, Spud and Joe return to school, only to discover that their nefarious mothers have arranged for them to take dancing lessons. With girls, no less. Yechh. All is dismal until the pair realize that a local television station will award a moon-walker, just like the one used by Captain Kideo, to the winners of the annual talent competition.

Spud, making the ultimate sacrifice, dresses up as a girl to be Joe's partner. At the TV studio, the duo dance their hearts out for the big prize. What a pair of troopers! C'mon, folks, let's hear it for these wonderful kids!

James Marshall is one of our best humorists for the 6-10 year-old set; his watercolors are like cartoons; he knows how to work a simple story for all it's worth; and his books are touching, funny and believable. All of the Cut-Ups books are winning, but the first, entitled simply The Cut-Ups, remains the best. Start there and enjoy.

Dinosaur Dig, by Kathryn Lasky; photographs by Christopher G. Knight (Morrow, $12.95; ages 5-up). Just when you were beginning to hope you'd never see a Parasaurolophus again, along comes another dinosaur book. But this one is different. Lasky and Knight, along with their two children, arrange to go on a paleontological dig in the Badlands of Montana, "the very country where five of the world's six Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons {have} been found." This album -- Lasky's words and Knight's sun-beaten photographs -- relates their family's adventures.

Once out in Montana, the book focuses on the rocky, bleak landscape and the paleontologist Keith Rigby Jr., who leads their "expedition." First, Rigby teaches his charges how to "sniff dirt," that is, to search for fossils with their noses only a few inches above the ground. They work in 106-degree temperatures, shoveling soil into burlap sacks and then sifting the contents in a nearby reservoir; in between toting these bales, everyone romps and swims. Later, the group treks over the Elephant's Hide to the Hell Creek Formation, where weathering regularly exposes fossils and bones. Their luck holding, the expedition actually discovers the ribs of a large beast, which for a while Dr. Rigby believes might be from an Ankylosaurus, that armored tank-like monster, even though "only two really complete ankylosaurs . . . have ever been found." It turns out to be a Triceratops.

This is a pleasant, holiday-like book, but may be dangerous to families with serious saurophiles: The kids will start clamoring to spend this year's vacation in eastern Montana.

Black and White, by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95; ages 5-up). David Macaulay has always been interested in, to use the title of his recent best seller, the way things work. He started out with a series of widely admired books about architecture: Cathedral, Castle, Pyramid, City, Underground, Mill. In his texts he explained the social forces that helped shape these structures, while his detailed pictures made clear just how they were constructed. These remain classics of picture-book nonfiction.

From this architectural base, Macaulay gradually started to experiment. In Motel of the Mysteries he alloyed his engineering expertise with some science fictional humor. It would seem that thousands of years in the future archeologists discover a sand-covered remnant of 20th-century civilization. Among the artifacts is an altar supporting a one-eyed god, before whom familial groups would apparently abase themselves for many hours each day. At one point, a curator of Yankology actually dons a Sacred Collar -- which looks exactly like a toilet seat to our primitive 20th-century eyes -- and kneels before its sacred font. Pretty juvenile, yes, but pretty funny too.

Not long ago Macaulay brought out Why the Chicken Crossed the Road, in which can be found the seeds of his latest book, Black and White. In Chicken he constructs an elaborate sequence of interconnected adventures, starting and ending with a hen that causes a cow stampede. In Black and White he further fractures ordinary narrative by juxtaposing four stories: At the top left page is "Seeing Things"; drawn in soft pastels, this is the account of a railway journey by a little boy and what he glimpses from his compartment window. Below it occur the mysterious goings-on in "Problem Parents," depicted in sepia tones, wherein a father and mother arrive home late from work dressed in newspapers. On the top right is "A Waiting Game," which simply shows, in realistic color, a railway station and the reactions of a group of commuters restlessly awaiting a late train. Finally, on the bottom left Macaulay depicts the bizarre Escher-like adventure of a robber and some escaped cows that he entitles "Udder Chaos." Here everything is geometrical and the only colors are black and white.

Four apparently very different stories -- or are they? Even though one could read each separately, most people will go through Black and White in the conventional way, keeping the four storylines separate in their minds. But a funny thing happens: Macaulay subtly starts to tangle the narratives. Isn't that the robber, dressed as an old lady, who sits with the boy on the train? And isn't that his masked face on the television screen in "Problem Parents"? Why does a family dog resemble a black-and-white Holstein cow? As the pages go by, the reader realizes that the cows crossing the track in "Seeing Things" and delaying the train in "A Waiting Game" must be the same cows that escape a page later in "Udder Chaos."

In normal narrative cause leads to effect; here each story presents effects first, only gradually revealing their causes, usually in one or more of the other stories. The boy on the train sees what he takes to be snow; only later do we realize that the commuters in "A Waiting Game" have playfully made hats and confetti out of their newspapers. Which in turn explains both the silly mood and the newspaper costumes of the problem parents.

In every way, this is an entertaining and endlessly tantalizing picture book, one that plays with time, image and narrative, undercutting them all, twisting them into pretzels. It will leave you dizzier than a carnival Tilt-a-Whirl.

Michael Dirda is the children's book editor of Book World.