Joanna Cole photo_Photo credit Annabelle Helms
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Photo by Annabelle Helms

Magic School Bus author Joanna Cole dies at 75

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Jul 15, 2020

Joanna Cole, author of the massively popular The Magic School Bus book series, died Sunday, her publisher Scholastic confirmed. She was 75. The Associated Press is citing Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis as the cause of death.

Cole created The Magic School Bus series with illustrator Bruce Degen in 1986 after the two were introduced by Scholastic senior editorial director Craig Walker in 1984. The Magic School Bus series centers on an elementary school teacher named Ms. Frizzle, who teaches her students about science while transporting them on fantastic field trips to such times and places as the Cretaceous Period, outer space, and inside the human body via a magic school bus. 

“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.”

Bruce Degen & Joanna Cole at the Scholastic Store (Courtesy of Scholastic)

 

The Magic School Bus books published by Scholastic sold 93 million copies worldwide and spawned an enormously popular animated series on PBS that later got revived on Netflix (as The Magic School Bus: Rides Again), video games, and is now headed for the big screen.  

“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” Scholastic Chairman and CEO Dick Robinson said in a statement. “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."

Born August 11, 1944 in Newark, New Jersey, Cole had a fifth grade teacher that inspired in her a passion for science and learning, and also served as the basis for Ms. Frizzle. Cole attended the University of Massachusetts and Indiana University, before graduating from the City College of New York with a BA in psychology. After graduating, she worked as school librarian and answered letters for Newsweek. She eventually worked as a magazine and children's book editor before becoming a full-time writer.

In 1971, she published her book, Cockroaches. Other works by Cole include Bony-Legs, The Clown Arounds, and Best Loved Folktales of the World

The Magic School Bus: Rides Again (Credit: Netflix)

 

"What Joanna has meant to the world, what there is in the world because of her, is well known. What she meant to me I can’t describe,” Degan added. “Everyone who knew her, worked with her, loved her, knows what a loss it is.”

Cole and Degen finished one more Magic School Bus book, The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, which will be published in the spring of 2021. 

"In my science books, including The Magic School Bus books, I write about ideas, rather than just the facts," Cole once wrote about her work. "I try to ask a question, such as how do scientists guess what dinosaurs were like? Then I try to answer the question as I write the book."

Cole is survived by her husband Phil, daughter Rachel Cole, son-in-law John Helms, grandchildren Annabelle and William, and sister Virginia McBride.

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