12 Magical Facts About The Magic School Bus

Ms. Frizzles adventures were no ordinary field trips.
Ms. Frizzles adventures were no ordinary field trips.
PBS

Who wouldn’t want a teacher like Ms. Frizzle? Brought to life by children’s author Joanna Cole—who died July 12, 2020, at 75 years old—and illustrator Bruce Degen, Ms. Frizzle and her trusty vehicle transported kids and kids-at-heart alike into the wonderful world of science. Take a ride down memory lane with these 12 facts about The Magic School Bus.

1. An editor’s love of field trips inspired the premise of The Magic School Bus.

By the 1980s, educational children’s books had come a long way. Whimsical wordsmiths like Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary had produced energized page-turners kids actually wanted to read.

Still, certain subjects remained largely ignored. The Cat in the Hat and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 were a helpful for English teachers, but science teachers were still left without entertaining reads for their students. Eventually, masses of educators started asking publishers to fill the void.

“We kept getting requests from teachers who were interested in seeing more [picture] books in the science category,” Craig Walker, the late former vice president of Scholastic, Inc., told Publisher’s Weekly in 2006. “So we had the breakthrough idea of putting curriculum science inside a story.”

One day, inspiration struck when Walker remembered how much he’d enjoyed school trips as a boy. “I thought about doing books about kids going on field trips to places they really couldn’t: through a water system, to the bottom of the ocean, inside the Earth.”

2. The Magic School Bus’s teacher, Ms. Frizzle, is a composite of several real-life people.

To helm his new franchise, Walker hired offbeat illustrator Bruce Degen and science/humor writer Joanna Cole. Their first installment, The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, was released in 1986. Readers from around the world fell in love with both the book and its red-headed protagonist.

Walker modeled Ms. Frizzle after a beloved, eccentric second-grade teacher from her childhood school. Degen and Cole have also each cited a teacher from their respective childhoods as inspiring some of Ms. Frizzle’s numerous quirks. The name Frizzle itself was a portmanteau of frizz and drizzle, which Cole came up with on a rainy day. “At the time, I had a perm,” Cole said. “She’s also based on me, because you know Ms. Frizzle loves to explain things and that’s what I do when I write my books,” the author added.

3. Joanna Cole procrastinated before writing the first Magic School Bus book.

The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks was a difficult juggling act. Cole knew from the start that her story needed to be funny and informative in equal measure. She also knew she'd have to boil down complicated ideas into terms any child could understand—without boring her young readers. “I was very nervous about it,” Cole admitted, "because I didn't know if I could do this—to combine all these things. So, I cleaned out my closets, and I washed things. I mean, the kinds of things I never do. And one day I just said to myself, 'You have to write today. You have to sit down.' And so I wrote."

Right off the bat, her opening paragraph captured the tone she was going for. “I knew I had a teacher, and I knew I had a class, and I knew they were going to take these school trips that were going to be wacky, but I didn’t know what the teacher was going to be like. So, I wrote these words: ‘Our class really has bad luck. This year, we got Ms. Frizzle, the strangest teacher in school. We don’t mind her strange dresses or her strange shoes. It’s the way she acts that really gets us.’” Using those lines as her guide, Cole fleshed out Ms. Frizzle's character and the journey that was about to unfold.

4. While designing the Magic School Bus students, Bruce Degen used his childrens' class photos.

Degen would sift through old elementary school picture day portraits. Then he’d pick out a kid whose outfit and hairdo he liked and convert them into a caricature. The illustrator believes most of those selected children “are in the class and … don’t know it.” Still, at least one was notified.

Nervous and bespectacled Arnold was, in fact, based on a good friend of Degen’s son. “I didn’t tell him until he was 16 years old,” Degen revealed. The news didn’t go over too well. “He said, ‘I don’t look like Arnold!’ I said, ‘Well, that day, you were wearing … that white and yellow striped polo shirt. And you had that blondish, curly hair; and that was you. You were Arnold.’”

5. Liz, Ms. Frizzle’s beloved pet in The Magic School Bus books, is a Jackson’s chameleon.

This three-horned creature resembles a curly-tailed Triceratops. Native to Eastern Africa, the animal now roams the Hawaiian islands as well, thanks to careless pet owners. Originally, it was Cole who hatched the idea of giving Frizzle a lizard sidekick. Degen then chose this particular species because it was “the weirdest-looking one” he’d ever seen.

6. Little Richard sang the Magic School Bus TV show’s theme song.

Launched in 1994, the PBS series lasted for four seasons and 52 episodes. The hard-rocking intro was penned by lyricist Peter Lurye and sung by 1950s icon Little Richard, who is perhaps best-known for his 1955 mega-hit, "Tutti Frutti."

7. Lily Tomlin won a Daytime Emmy Award for voicing Ms. Frizzle in The Magic School Bus cartoon.

Lily Tomlin became the voice of Ms. Frizzle in 1994. “Kids never believe I’m Ms. Frizzle because she kinda looks like Bette Middler,” Tomlin joked. At the 1995 Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony, she won the Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program category.

8. Ms. Frizzle has spoken out about climate change in The Magic School Bus.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, released in 2010, explained the scientific facts of climate change in a kid-friendly way, to the chagrin of some parents. Cole felt the book was both timely and necessary. “Kids should know about [global warming] and talk about it and they should talk to their elders about it,” she argued. “They can be a real influence because it’s their world that’s being changed.”

9. Writing a new Magic School Bus book was a year-long process.

Cole typically spent six months researching the topic of a given installment. Afterwards, shed spend another six months putting the actual book together, with Degen illustrating it throughout this same period.

10. Non-science entries in the Magic School Bus series use a different artistic style.

Eventually, Ms. Frizzle decided to branch out into the realm of social studies. Those books find Frizzle going on vacation, far away from her students and bus. To help set them further apart from the scientifically inclined stories, Degen uses a darker sort of paint called gouache in place of his standard watercolor.

11. NASDAQ helped celebrate The Magic School Bus’s 25th anniversary.

To commemorate a quarter century’s worth of adventures, an actress dressed as Ms. Frizzle rang the final stock market closing bell at the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square on October 17, 2011.

12. A Magic School Bus reboot was released in 2017.

Lily Tomlin once again brought Ms. Frizzle to life in The Magic School Bus Rides Again. In the reboot, Ms. Frizzle’s younger sister, Fiona Frizzle, wields the keys to the legendary bus. It appeared in people’s Netflix queues in 2017, and was canceled after just two seasons. The show was originally meant to be a computer-animated series titled Magic School Bus 360 and was scheduled for a 2016 release.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.