How The Magic School Bus Books Come Alive
Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen have collaborated for twenty years, bringing humor and true kidlike curiosity to science and learning. Booklist heralded Ms. Frizzle as “the wackiest, wisest teacher in picture books.” Two Magic School Bus titles have been named School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, and they have won countless state book awards, from New York to Nebraska.
Each The Magic School Bus book begins with in-depth research. Cole does extensive reading, visits museums, and talks with experts. Once she's collected enough information, the author synthesizes the facts into a dummy book with sketch ideas and text for the story, speech balloons, and school reports "written" by Ms. Frizzle's students. Cole also writes the jokes found in every book. Sometimes, a page in the dummy will have a layer of jokes, all on different colored Post-it™ notes. "Eventually when I go see my editor, if he doesn't laugh at the joke on top, I say, 'Let's see what else there is, and we peel them away until we find one that he laughs at," says Cole.
Once Cole has finished her dummy and it has been reviewed by a specialist, it's time for Degen to work on the illustrations. "I take out the dummy Joanna has prepared, I look at all the research books, I look at all the notes, and then I have a cup of coffee," jokes Degen. Next, Degen prepares series of sketches showing how every page of the book will look. The collaborative process really takes off when Degen meets Cole to discuss the sketches. They talk about the story line and decide whether the art works with the action and science in the story, all the while playing off of each other's imagination.
Degen's favorite part of illustrating The Magic School Bus books is making bold fashion statements with Ms. Frizzle's weird outfits. Fans have come to enjoy the wacky dresses, shoes, and accessories, and they especially look forward to seeing Ms. Frizzle's outfit near the end of the book — it usually gives a clue to the next Magic School Bus adventure! Degen is convinced that a line of Ms. Frizzle clothing could be very popular, "especially the shoes." Degen also loves drawing Ms. Frizzle's students. They are all based on children who lived in his old neighborhood in New York, "although they don't know it."
Joanna Cole finds it a challenge to convey accurate science information and tell a humorous story kids will enjoy. Their latest book is The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. When asked why she wrote it, Cole explained "While I was writing this book, all I could think about was the kids who will read it. I wanted to give them hope. More than that, I wanted to tell them how their own actions as children can help solve the crisis of global warming.”
In this new adventure, Ms. Frizzle and her class help boil all the hoopla about global warming down to scientific facts. Cole and Degen bring a new, improved understanding to climate change, engaging kids and empowering all.