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.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.