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DRIVING KIDS TO THINK

A REAL MAGIC SCHOOL BUS JOURNEYS ACROSS AMERICA

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THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS has traveled inside the human body, around the solar system, and into the eye of a hurricane. But the transforming transport, star of the PBS animated series, recently came to life to embark on its biggest adventure yet, a yearlong tour of the United States. First stop: Manhattan’s Central Park.

”Making the bus real was a dream we’ve had for a long time,” says Deborah A. Forte, an executive with Scholastic Inc., which produces the two-year-old series plus related products: Magic School Bus books, which have sold more than 13 million copies, and videos (three new ones are due next month). ”It’s an opportunity to get into the communities and involve families in hands-on activities that send out the message that science is fun.”

The customized school bus, which is making stops at schools, libraries, museums, and malls in dozens of cities, is highly interactive. Young explorers, guided by a living, breathing Ms. Frizzle (though not Lily Tomlin, who won an Emmy for the role) and her reptilian sidekick, Liz, can venture into outer space via a computer game, ride through the circulatory system with the aid of a CD-ROM, read about dinosaurs, and build plastic anthills.

Judging from the reactions of the budding Einsteins who climbed aboard in New York City, the school on wheels is headed for success. Seven-year-old Stephanie Burns had a blast shooting to Jupiter. Another of her classmates, Sean Dalal, also 7, examined the inside of a model ear, reporting, ”This is so cool. It’s just like the Mighty Max toys, with all the little pieces and stuff.”

Regina Chiou, Stephanie and Sean’s second-grade teacher at the Manhattan New School, says the Magic School Bus has influenced her approach to teaching. ”Ms. Frizzle proves that a teacher’s enthusiasm is contagious,” she says. ”You have to immerse yourself in the subject — literally go there — to grab children’s attention and capture their imagination.”

It doesn’t hurt to have a 10-ton, yellow learning machine backing you up, either.