Joanna Cole, Author of The Magic School Bus Book Series, Dies At 75

Cole wrote over 250 books for children, including the award winning The Magic School Bus series, bringing humor and a love of science to countless children worldwide.


New York, NY – July 15, 2020 – Joanna Cole, award-winning author of the bestselling The Magic School Bus series and more than 250 books for children, died at the age of 75 on July 12, 2020. She lived in Sioux City, Iowa with her husband Phil. Along with illustrator Bruce Degen, she created the groundbreaking science series in 1986, bringing humor and true kid-like curiosity to science and learning. The book series, published by Scholastic, has thirteen core titles and dozens of series tie-ins, with more than 93 million copies in print in 13 countries. The Magic School Bus series has been recognized with some of the most prestigious children’s awards including: NEA Foundation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education, An American Booksellers Association Choice, IRA/CBC Children's Choice, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, A Horn Book Fanfare, and Parents Magazine Best Books of the Year. Many of Cole’s early books were also highly acclaimed and beloved by her audience, including Bony-Legs, The Clown Arounds, and Best Loved Folktales of the World.

“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” said Dick Robinson, Chairman, President and CEO, Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company. “Joanna’s books, packed with equal parts humor and information, made science both easy to understand and fun for the hundreds of millions of children around the world who read her books and watched the award-winning television series. Her Ms Frizzle led a group of eager and curious students on countless adventurous trips on the Magic School Bus¬--into the human body, hurricanes, the solar system, and everywhere imaginable. Joanna and the landmark series she created with illustrator Bruce Degen and editor Craig Walker was produced for television by Scholastic Entertainment, and has been viewed continuously for 25 years. Her spirited work will live on as The Magic School Bus continues to be discovered by new readers and viewers.”

About Joanna, Bruce Degen said, “I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How? And with The Magic School Bus it was how to explain it so that it is accurate and in a form that a kid can understand and use. And you can actually joke around while you are learning. She had a rare sense of what could be humorous.

We met in 1984 in the office of the much missed Craig Walker, the brilliant editor who asked us to work together. We did not know each other. In the world of children's books it is not often necessary for illustrator and writer to actually meet, but there were conundrums with MSB. Every page was so complicated we had to make decisions: how to make it work. Could it work? And we did. Together. And we became friends. What Joanna has meant to the world, what there is in the world because of her, is well known. What she meant to me I can’t describe. Everyone who knew her, worked with her, loved her, knows what a loss it is.”

In 1994, Scholastic Entertainment, with support from The National Science Foundation, Microsoft, U.S. Department of Energy, and Carnegie Corporation of New York, introduced The Magic School Bus® animated television series, based upon the characters created by Cole and Degan and starring Lily Tomlin as the voice of Ms. Frizzle. The Magic School Bus has since become the longest running science series on television, on the air for 18 consecutive years. It has been broadcast in more than 100 countries and has won numerous awards. The new The Magic School Bus: Rides Again series, starring Kate McKinnon as Ms. Frizzle’s sister Fiona Frizzle, launched exclusively on Netflix in Fall 2017, and the first of four The Magic School Bus specials will air in August 2020. In addition, The Magic School Bus feature film is currently in development with Universal Pictures.

Prior to her death, Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen completed The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, scheduled for publication Spring 2021.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1944, Cole loved science as a child and was particularly inspired by her fifth-grade teacher, whom she likened to Miss Frizzle. She attended the University of Massachusetts and Indiana University, before graduating from the City College of New York with a BA in psychology. After graduating from college, she answered letters for Newsweek, worked as a school librarian, and became a magazine and children's book editor before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book was Cockroaches (1971), inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal. After doing some research, she discovered that there had never been a children’s book written about cockroaches before and saw an opportunity. Cole had a deep and abiding love for science. She explained, “In my science books, including The Magic School Bus books, I write about ideas, rather than just the facts. I try to ask a question, such as how do scientists guess what dinosaurs were like? Then I try to answer the question as I write the book.” Her unique voice, devotion to her craft, and commitment to scientific accuracy will be missed by the children’s publishing community and her audience.

Joanna Cole is survived by her husband Phil, her daughter Rachel Cole and her husband John Helms, her grandchildren, Annabelle and William, and her sister Virginia McBride.

For more about Joanna Cole and The Magic School Bus visit: //

(Click the images below to download hi-res versions)

Joanna Cole, Photo credit: Annabelle Helms

Bruce Degen & Joanna Cole at the Scholastic Store, Courtesy: Scholastic

Contact: Tracy van Straaten,