CLOSE
20th Century Fox
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.

20th Century Fox 

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.

20th Century Fox 

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."

7. LILY TOMLIN WON A DAYTIME EMMY FOR VOICING MS. FRIZZLE.

Getty Images

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.

20th Century Fox

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.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
arrow
History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Warner Bros.
arrow
travel
Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through canongateluxuryapartment.co.uk. And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios