Author Joanna Cole, who created the beloved character Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus book series, has died at age 75, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Cole, of Sioux City, Iowa, died Sunday of the lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Cole wrote over 250 books, but is best known for her Magic School Bus series, featuring beloved and wacky science teacher Ms. Frizzle, who drives her grade schoolers on field trips that take them through time, space and even inside the human body.
“I discovered in the fifth grade that I enjoyed explaining things and writing reports for school,” Cole said in her biography on the Scholastic Inc. website. “I had a teacher who was a little like Ms. Frizzle. She loved her subject. Every week she had a child do an experiment in front of the room, and I always wanted to be that child.”
The books have sold millions of copies. The Magic School Bus animated show, with Lily Tomlin voicing Ms. Frizzle, was a 1990s hit. It was, with Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live providing Frizzle’s voice. A live-action movie is also in the works, starring Elizabeth Banks as Ms. Frizzle.
Cole’s first book, Cockroaches, published in 1971, was inspired by an article she read in The Wall Street Journal.
“I discovered that there had never been a children’s book written about cockroaches before,” she said in her Scholastic biography. “So I thought, why not? Plus, I had ample time to study that creature in my low-budget New York apartment!”
Cole was able to blend humor and information in her books, illustrator Bruce Degen said in a statement.
“I think for Joanna the excitement was always in the idea. What? Why? How?” Degen said. “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.”
And Cole loved her career.
“Writing is hard work, but it’s the greatest fun in the world,” Cole said in her Scholastic biography.
Readers and fans paid tribute to Cole on social media.
“Thank you, Joanna Cole for inspiring multiple generations,” wrote one Twitter user. “I hope to be half the teacher as Ms.Frizzle. Joanna Cole is an icon.”
Said another, “Thank you, Joanna Cole, for teaching me to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. For teaching me that if you keep asking questions you’ll keep getting answers! And for teaching me that science really can be fun.”
Cole is survived by her husband, Phil; her daughter, Rachel, and son-in-law, John; her grandchildren, Annabelle and William; and her sister, Virginia.
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