THE frightening subject of death is one that parents would rather avoid discussing with their children. But sooner or later it has to be faced, and there can be no gentler way of tackling it than turning to Frog and the Birdsong by Max Velthuijs (Red Fox,$52).
Frog is worried when he finds a blackbird lying motionless on its back. Is it sleeping or sick? Duck and Pig are not sure. It is left to Hare to explain the facts about death. A simple ''funeral'' follows, after which the friends rediscover the joys of life. The story is executed exquisitely and beautifully illustrated.
Ms Wiz, the pupils' friend with magical powers, livens up a history lesson in Terence Blacker's Time Flies for Ms Wiz (Young Piper, $51). This involves searching through 500 years for Jack, the boy who meddled with her alarm clock time machine. This racynovel set through the ages allows the imagination to run riot and is full of classroom humour young readers will easily relate to.
Rivalry which turns old friends into enemies is humorously explored in Tom and Sam, by Pat Hutchins (Red Fox, $68). The story, about two brilliant but green-eyed gardeners who spend all their time trying to out-do each other, is set in medieval times. Its moral, though, survives the centuries.
In Jonathan Langley's version of Little Red Riding Hood (Picture Lions, $51), the girl's real name is Brenda and she is a grumpy character. It ends with the wolf having a severe stomach ache after being stuffed with onions. But in between the classic lines are all there, as is the moral of the need to beware of sweet-talking strangers.