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Joanna Cole

Children's Author

Joanna Cole created everyone’s favorite science teacher when she wrote her first Magic School Bus book starring Ms. Frizzle. In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, Joanna Cole talks about her writing, Ms. Frizzle’s appeal, and her collaboration with illustrator Bruce Degen.


Joanna Cole is the creator of Ms. Frizzle – and in one way, the two are alike. Both women share a passion for science, learning, and explaining new things. But Joanna Cole doesn’t wear ladybug earrings, nor ketchup bottles on her shoes. She is an avid reader and researcher who writes about science in a way that is both understandable and entertaining for her young audience. The Magic School Bus was the perfect opportunity to combine two of her favorite things: science and humor.

Before The Magic School Bus, Joanna Cole worked as an elementary school teacher, librarian, children’s book editor, and writer. She was already the successful author of nearly 100 children’s books. Then one day, she sat down to a new assignment and wrote the following 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.”

The story behind The Magic School Bus

When an editor at Scholastic Press wanted science books that were fun for children, he called Joanna Cole. Cole had written well-researched science books as well as wacky fiction stories. When Cole combined these two styles, the result was a nontraditional manuscript layered with word balloons, school reports, and jokes on sticky notes. The story was about an eccentric teacher named Ms. Frizzle who led her class on a magical field trip.

The editor called upon Bruce Degen to make visual sense of this complex book idea. Degen, a talented and versatile illustrator with a good sense of humor, suggested ways to fit the school reports, jokes, and dialogue into an engaging picture book. The result of Cole and Degen’s first collaboration was The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, published in 1986. It received rave reviews from children, teachers, and the educational community.

Since that time, The Magic School Bus has become a household name and a nationwide phenomenon. The series has made science fun and accessible to an entire generation of elementary school students. It has provided teachers with high-quality, entertaining science books that children can’t wait to read. The Magic School Bus is why second graders can clearly explain the process of evaporation. The Magic School Bus is how a six year old knows that there are nutrients in his bloodstream.

Seventeen years after their first book, Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen continue to research new subjects and create new books. The success of The Magic School Bus books led to an animated television series that further popularized Ms. Frizzle and company. Most recently, Cole and Degen have begun a new social studies series called Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures.

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