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20th Century Fox

12 Magical Facts About The Magic School Bus

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Who wouldn’t want a teacher like Ms. Frizzle? She’s funny, optimistic, and head-over-heels in love with everything science-related. Plus, she drives a pretty sweet vehicle. So fasten your seatbelts and let’s all take a magical ride down memory lane.

1. An Editor’s Love of Field Trips Inspired the Whole Premise.

By the 1980s, educational children’s books had come a long way. Gone were the simplistic Dick and Jane stories of yesteryear; brilliant wordsmiths like Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary had long since replaced them with fun, energized page-turners that kids actually wanted to read.

However, certain subjects were largely ignored. The Cat in the Hat and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 were a godsend to English teachers, but nothing comparable could really be used in science classes. Eventually, masses of educators started asking publishers to fill this void.

Enter Craig Walker, the late former vice president of Scholastic, Inc. As he told Publisher’s Weekly in 2006, “We kept getting requests from teachers who were interested in seeing more [picture] books in the science category. 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. Ms. Frizzle Is a Composite of Several Real-Life People.

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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 peculiar, red-headed protagonist.

According to Walker, she was modeled after “an eccentric second-grade teacher in my school who everyone thought was the best. She brought everything imaginable into the classroom—even a teepee—and had every corner, ledge, and windowsill filled with things.”

The name “Frizzle” itself was a portmanteau of “frizz” and “drizzle” that Cole came up with on a rainy day (“at the time, I had a perm,” says Cole). “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,” adds the author. In addition, Degen and Cole have each cited a teacher from their respective childhoods as inspiring some of Ms. Frizzle’s numerous quirks.  

3. Joanna Cole Really Procrastinated Before Writing that First 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. Also, she knew she'd have to boil down complicated ideas into terms that 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 Students, Degen Used His Children’s Class Photos.

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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 him or her into a caricature. The illustrator believes that 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,” revealed Degen. This 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, is a Jackson’s Chameleon.

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

This three-horned critter 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 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."


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

8. Ms. Frizzle Has Spoken Out About Global Warming.

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Released in 2010, The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge touched on this hot-button issue, to the chagrin of some parents. Cole felt that 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,” Cole argued. “They can be a real influence because it’s their world that’s being changed.”

9. Writing a New Book is a Year-Long Process.

Ordinarily, Cole spends six months researching the topic of a given installment. Afterwards, she’ll spend another six months putting the actual book together, with Degen illustrating it throughout this same period. 

10. Non-Science Entries in the Series Use a Different Artistic Style.

Eventually, Ms. Frizzle decided to branch out into the realm of social studies. “After many science adventures … we started to think that it might be fun to take Ms. Frizzle in a different direction and go into the study of cultures and world history,” Degen says in the interview above. 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’ 25th Anniversary.

WikimediaCommons // CC BY 2.0

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. Netflix Will Be Releasing All-New Episodes Next Year.

A computer-animated reboot entitled Magic School Bus 360 will be popping up in your queue at some point in 2016. Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos promises that the bus will be fitted with massive upgrades. Meanwhile, the students will utilize “the latest tech innovations such as robotics, wearables, and camera technology.”

Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
An Ancient Book Blasted with High-Powered X-Rays Reveals Text Erased Centuries Ago
Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A book of 10th-century psalms recovered from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is an impressive artifact in itself. But the scientists studying this text at the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University were less interested in the surface text than in what was hidden beneath it. As Gizmodo reports, the researchers were able to identify the remains of an ancient Greek medical text on the parchment using high-powered x-rays.

Unlike the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) used by the scientists is a much simpler and more common type of particle accelerator. In the SSRL, electrons accelerate to just below the speed of light while tracing a many-sided polygon. Using magnets to manipulate the electrons' path, the researchers can produce x-ray beams powerful enough to reveal the hidden histories of ancient documents.

Scanning an ancient text.
Mike Toth, R.B. Toth Associates, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the case of the 10th-century psalms, the team discovered that the same pages had held an entirely different text written five centuries earlier. The writing was a transcription of the words of the prominent Greek physician Galen, who lived from 130 CE to around 210 CE. His words were recorded on the pages in the ancient Syriac language by an unknown writer a few hundred years after Galen's death.

Several centuries after those words were transcribed, the ink was scraped off by someone else to make room for the psalms. The original text is no longer visible to the naked eye, but by blasting the parchment with x-rays, the scientists can see where the older writing had once marked the page. You can see it below—it's the writing in green.

X-ray scan of ancient text.
University of Manchester, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Now that the researchers know the hidden text is there, their next step will be uncovering as many words as possible. They plan to do this by scanning the book in its entirety, a process that will take 10 hours for each of the 26 pages. Once they've been scanned and studied, the digital files will be shared online.

Particle accelerators are just one tool scientists use to decipher messages that were erased centuries ago. Recently, conservationists at the Library of Congress used multispectral imaging, a method that bounces different wavelengths of light off a page, to reveal the pigments of an old Alexander Hamilton letter someone had scrubbed out.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Lucy Quintanilla
10 Facts about John Knowles's A Separate Peace
Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

John Knowles’s 1959 novel about a conflicted prep school friendship has become a coming-of-age classic.


Like his protagonists Gene and Finny, who are students at the elite Devon School during World War II, Knowles attended the exclusive Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in the early 1940s. He then served in the military for a short time before graduating from Yale in 1949. The West Virginian Knowles later wrote that despite the culture clash (and the cold) he fell in love with the school. "The great trees, the thick clinging ivy, the expanses of playing fields, the winding black-water river, the pure air all began to sort of intoxicate me. Classroom windows were open; the aroma of flowers and shrubbery floated in," he wrote. "The summer of 1943 at Exeter was as happy a time as I ever had in my life … Yale was a distinct letdown afterward."


After graduating from Yale, Knowles worked as a drama critic at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and as a freelance writer. One of his first published short stories, “Phineas,” appeared in Cosmopolitan in 1956 and contained the narrative seeds of A Separate Peace.


In several key scenes in A Separate Peace, Gene and Finny dare each other to jump off the overhanging limb of a huge tree into the river below. In the beginning of the novel, naturally adventurous Finny takes a flying leap off the branch. Gene, who is more reserved, follows his friend's lead, which cements their friendship. Later, Gene loses his balance while standing on the limb, and Finny catches him. Like his characters, Knowles admitted to being in a secret society with an initiation requirement that involved jumping from “the branch of a very high tree” into a river. Knowles did suffer his own fall, which injured his foot and compelled him to use crutches for some time.


His name was David Hackett, and Knowles met him during a six-week summer session at Exeter in 1943. Hackett attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts during the regular school year. There, he was a standout athlete on the hockey, football, and baseball teams. He also quickly befriended the future U.S. attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, and later served under him in the Justice Department.


At the novel's climax, Gene and Finny decide to jump off the tree branch together. Gene shakes the branch, causing Finny to plunge and break his leg. Though readers have debated Gene's intentions since the book was published, Knowles never said whether Gene meant to cause Finny's fall. Upon the author's death in 2001, his brother-in-law Bob Maxwell said, "John used to say he would never answer that question."


The protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms, an American soldier fighting in Italy during World War I, grows disillusioned after a disastrous battle and deserts the army. “I had made a separate peace,” he declares. Hemingway also uses the line in his 1925 short story collection In Our Time, with the character Nick saying it to a dying soldier. Knowles may have chosen the title to illustrate the parallel of the collective peace after war and the personal, subjective peace between individuals. In this case, Gene reaches a state of peace after he and Finny reconcile following the accident.


Eleven publishers turned down A Separate Peace. The book first appeared in print in 1959 thanks to the London publisher Secker and Warburg, while the initial U.S. publication took place on leap year day—February 29, 1960. Though the book received mostly positive reviews, it wasn’t an immediate bestseller. But as more and more English teachers discovered A Separate Peace, they brought it into their classrooms, and the book gained a colossal momentum. Knowles’s first published novel would prove by far his most successful one, ultimately selling more than 8 million copies.


Knowles once wrote about serving as the anchor man in a swimming relay race while at Exeter, beating the school’s rival, Phillips Andover Academy. He became “an athletic mini-hero for about 15 minutes.” In A Separate Peace, Finny breaks Devon’s 100-yard freestyle swimming record—but the winning time was unofficial, as Gene, who served as timekeeper, was the sole witness.


Though there was no description of any sexual encounter in the novel, some readers have contended that the book has a gay undercurrent. A handful of critics have objected to this perceived dynamic, including parents in a central New York school district who, in 1980, denounced A Separate Peace as a “filthy, trashy sex novel” that encouraged homosexuality. For what it’s worth, Knowles said, “If there had been homoeroticism between Phineas and Gene, I would have put it in the book, I assure you. It simply wasn't there.”


Fred Segal wrote the screenplay of A Separate Peace; Knowles read through the script and made suggestions for improving it. Directed by Larry Peerce with a largely amateur cast, the movie came out in 1972 to so-so reviews. Knowles was proud of the fact that the production was able to shoot on location at Phillips Exeter Academy, the inspiration for the fictional Devon School.


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