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Joanna Cole, Author of Beloved "The Magic School Bus" Series, Dies at 75

Joanna Cole's bestselling series starring the beloved Ms. Frizzle, which sold more than 93 million copies, made science fun for generations of kids.

Joanna Cole, the author of the beloved The Magic School Bus book series which made science fun for generations of kids, died this week of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 75. Through her books, Cole aimed to make science fun for kids as they followed the adventures of a group of schoolchildren taking field trips on their 'magic school bus' everywhere from outer space to the inside the human body — all led by their exuberant, red-haired teacher Ms. Frizzle. In the decades since the first book was published, The Magic School Bus has grown to include a variety of books, an animated TV show, a series of science kits; and, this year, plans for a live-action movie adaptation. "Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story," Scholastic chairman and CEO Dick Robinson said when announcing her death on July 15. "Joanna's books, packed with equal parts humor and information, made science both easy to understand and fun for the hundreds of millions of children around the world."

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1944, Cole grew up with a deep curiosity about science. Her teachers further fostered that interest, including her memorable fifth-grade teacher who Cole said was very much like Ms. Frizzle in spirit. "She loved her subject," she recalled in an interview. "Every week she had a child do an experiment in front of the room and I wanted to be that child every week." Her favorite book was Bugs, Insects, and Such, a gift from an aunt who noticed how much Cole enjoyed watching insects in the backyard. She received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the City College of New York and became a librarian at a Brooklyn elementary school, but before long, she was writing books for children as well as lending them. Her first book, Cockroaches, was published in 1971. She chose the subject because she had observed that no children's books had been written about roaches and, as she told her publisher, "I had ample time to study the creature in my low-budget New York apartment!"

By 1980, Cole was writing for children full-time, and her knack for creating stories at the right emotional level for the age of their readers — and her gift for writing about science — attracted the interest of Scholastic, a children's publisher that had been receiving frequent requests from teachers for more kids' books about science. Scholastic approached Cole and artist Bruce Degen about creating a book series combining science with humorous kid-oriented storytelling.  Cole started writing the first The Magic School Bus book in 1985, but recalled in an interview how nervous she had been about beginning the first one. "I couldn't work at all. I cleaned out closets, answered letters, and went shopping — anything but sit down and write," she reflected. "But eventually I did it, even though I was scared."

When the first book, The Magic School Bus At The Waterworks was released in 1986, it was an immediate hit. Over the next thirteen years, as they released the first ten books in the series, Cole and Degen spent a little over a year working together on each one. By 1994, the books were adapted into The Magic School Bus TV show starring Lily Tomlin as Ms. Frizzle, bringing The Magic School Bus to even more kids. The book series also continued to expand, incorporating leveled readers, early chapter books, and more. Today, the original bestselling series has sold more than 93 million copies in 13 countries.

Cole, who lived in Sioux City, Iowa, was still writing The Magic School Bus books shortly before her death; the next book in the series, The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, is set to release at the end of this year. "I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How?", observes Degen, her long-time collaborator. "Every page was so complicated we had to make decisions: how to make it work. Could it work? And we did. Together.... Everyone who knew her, worked with her, loved her, knows what a loss it is."

Books, Kits, And Costumes For Magic School Bus Fans

Ms. Frizzle Toddler Costume

Ms. Frizzle Toddler Costume

Manufacturer: FUN Costumes
Recommended Age: 2 - 4

Young fans of The Magic School Bus and Ms. Frizzle will love this officially licensed costume from Fun Costumes that lets them look just like their favorite character! This 100% polyester dress has blue satin printed with stars, planets, and rockets, and includes a white collar, cuffs, and waist detail. Older kids can check out this Ms. Frizzle child costume for ages 5 to 12, while teens and adults can get this Ms. Frizzle costume dress.

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
(Unavailable)
Amazon.co.uk
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com.au
A$66.57 (AUD)
Amazon.com
$29.99 (USD)

The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor

The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor

Written by: Joanna Cole
Illustrated by: Bruce Degen
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

With a heat wave in full swing, the kids of Ms. Frizzle's classroom are excited when she says they're going to take a field trip to the ocean — a beach day sounds perfect! But when Ms. Frizzle says the ocean, she means the ocean, and she drives the Magic School Bus straight into the water! With a well-meaning lifeguard who tried to "rescue" them in tow, the kids will now learn all about the ocean floor: everything from the creatures that live there to the hot water vents and coral reefs that make up its landscape. Re-released in honor of the 20th anniversary of the ten original Magic School Bus titles, and featuring updated scientific information, this watery adventure from the best-selling science series ever is sure to inspire kids to wonder what lives beneath the waves!

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
C$8.15 (CAD)
Amazon.co.uk
£7.71 (GBP)
Amazon.com.au
A$19.08 (AUD)
Amazon.com
$5.90 (USD)

The Magic School Bus - The Complete Series

The Magic School Bus - The Complete Series

Recommended Age: 4 and up

Seatbelts, everyone! Hop onto The Magic School Bus with this 6-DVD set that includes the complete series starring everyone's favorite teacher, Ms. Frizzle. This set includes all 52 episodes of the original series, so you can follow along as the class leaps into the human body, goes back into prehistory, and blasts off into space! It's the perfect TV show to spark an interest in science and a sense of curiosity that she'll carry with her her whole life.

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
C$88.51 (CAD)
Amazon.co.uk
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com.au
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com
$48.99 (USD)

The Magic School Bus: Back in Time With the Dinosaurs

The Magic School Bus: Back in Time With the Dinosaurs

Manufacturer: Young Scientist Club
Recommended Age: 5 - 10

Hop on the Magic School Bus and explore the time of the dinosaurs with this fun kit from the Young Scientists Club! As kids follow along with the colorful, detailed manual, they'll simulate a fossil dig, cast and mold fossils and dinosaur teeth, build a dino replica, design a diorama, and create a timeline. The kit includes a wooden dinosaur to assemble and paint, clay for molds, fact sheets, and more — everything except for household items is included! It's sure to keep budding paleontologists happily exploring for hours. For more sets from the Magic School Bus science kit series, check out A Journey Into The Human Body, Jumping Into Electricity, Blasting Off With Erupting Volcanoes, Soaring Into Flight, and more in our Magic School Bus Collection.

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
(Unavailable)
Amazon.co.uk
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com.au
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com
$24.05 (USD)

Ms. Frizzle Child Costume

Ms. Frizzle Child Costume

Manufacturer: FUN Costumes
Recommended Age: 5 - 12

Get ready for a field trip that's out of this world! This officially licensed Ms. Frizzle costume from Fun Costumes features a 100% polyester satin dress that's printed with stars, planets, and more. White cuffs, collar, and belting make it look like it stepped right out of the TV show! Toddlers who love this character can check out this toddler version for ages 2 to 4, while adults can get this Ms. Frizzle Costume Dress.

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
C$54.33 (CAD)
Amazon.co.uk
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com.au
A$49.92 (AUD)
Amazon.com
$54.98 (USD)

Magic School Bus: Chemistry Lab

Magic School Bus: Chemistry Lab

Manufacturer: The Magic School Bus
Recommended Age: 5 and up

Jump on The Magic School Bus Rides Again with Fiona Felicity Frizzle for a hands-on introduction to the principles of chemistry! This bus-shaped science kit includes instructions for 51 experiments, from plating copper to making slime to measuring pH. Aside from common household items, all the supplies necessary are includes, as well as a pair of goggles — safety first! Plus, it includes a data notebook so your little scientist can record the results of their experiments and what she wants to find out more about.

Buy:
Buy:
Amazon.ca
(Unavailable)
Amazon.co.uk
(Unavailable)
Amazon.com.au
A$68.99 (AUD)
Amazon.com
$22.99 (USD)

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