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Joanna Cole, author of children’s favourite The Magic School Bus, dead at 75

Author Joanna Cole, whose Magic School Bus books transported millions of young people on extraordinary and educational adventures, has died at age 75.

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

“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” Scholastic chairman and CEO Dick Robinson said in a statement Wednesday. “Joanna’s books, packed with equal parts humour 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 Cole, whose humorous work, including the children’s book Cockroaches, he had admired, and illustrator Bruce Degen.

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, which now run in the dozens, have sold tens of millions of copies and were the basis for a popular animated TV series and a Netflix series.

Next book in the series out in 2021

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 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.”

Cole, right, and illustrator Bruce Degen. Cole, whose Magic School Bus series of books featuring Ms. Frizzle and her students transported millions of young people on extraordinary and educational adventures. (Annabelle Helms/Scholastic via AP)

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

Cole was a native of Newark, N.J., and a graduate of the City College of New York who worked as a children’s librarian and magazine editor before The Magic School Bus. A lifelong fan of science, she wrote books for kids about plants, spiders and oxygen, as well as books about friendship, siblings, kids’ games and her creative process.

She is survived by her husband Phil; daughter Rachel Cole and her husband, John Helms; grandchildren, Annabelle and William, and her sister Virginia McBride.

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