Shared from the 7/17/2020 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition


Joanna Cole, driver of ‘Magic School Bus’


NEW YORK — Joanna Cole, 75, whose Magic School Bus books transported millions of young people on extraordinary and educational adventures, has died.

Scholastic announced that Ms. Cole, of Sioux City, Iowa, died Sunday. The cause was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” Dick Robinson, Scholastic’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement Wednesday. “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 who read her books and watched the award-winning television series.”

The idea for The Magic School Bus came in the mid-1980s. Scholastic senior editorial director Craig Walker was receiving frequent requests from teachers for books about science and thought a combination of storytelling and science would catch on. He brought in Ms. Cole, whose humorous work such as the children’s book Cockroaches he had admired, and illustrator Bruce Degen.

Joanna Cole

With the ever-maddening but inspired Ms. Frizzle leading her students on journeys that explored everything from the solar system to underwater, Magic School Bus books have sold tens of millions of copies and were the basis for a popular animated TV series and a Netflix series. Plans for a live-action movie, with Elizabeth Banks as Ms. Frizzle, were announced last month. Ms. Frizzle was based in part on a fifth-grade teacher of Ms. Cole’s.

“I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How?” Degen said in a statement. “And with The Magic School Bus it was how to explain it so that it is accurate and in a form that a kid can understand and use. And you can actually joke around while you are learning. She had a rare sense of what could be humorous.”

Ms. Cole and Degen recently completed The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, scheduled to come out next spring.

A lifelong fan of science, Ms. Cole was a native of Newark, N.J., and a graduate of City College of New York who worked as a children’s librarian and magazine editor before The Magic School Bus.

She is survived by her husband, Phil; a daughter, Rachel; two grandchildren; and a sister.

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