SIOUX CITY — When meeting Joanna Cole, young fans often mistook her for Ms. Frizzle, the adventurous teacher who brought science to life in Cole’s “Magic School Bus” books.
She and the fictional teacher shared a love of science, but in reality, Cole’s daughter said, her mother was probably more like her books’ character Arnold, who often remarked in the midst of the latest adventure that he should have stayed home.
“She was enthusiastic and excited about science her whole life like Ms. Frizzle,” Rachel Cole said. “But she was a writer and liked to stay home and write.”
Cole died Sunday at age 75 in Sioux City of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease.
A prolific author who wrote more than 250 books for children, Cole and her husband, Phil, moved to Sioux City in 2014, following Rachel and her husband, John Helms, a chemistry professor at Morningside College, and their two children.
By then, Cole was semi-retired, her daughter said, and had stopped making public appearances and traveling. Throughout her career, she visited classrooms to speak with children. Her last classroom appearance was in her grandson William’s kindergarten classroom in Sioux City, Rachel Cole said.
Cole will forever remain present in classrooms throughout the world through her “Magic School Bus” books, a staple for young readers.
“It’s wonderful to know that’s her legacy and to have grown up with all that writing in the house,” Rachel Cole said. “Science writing and writing for kids were just a joy for her.”
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Rachel Cole said her mother and father were homebodies who enjoyed watching sunsets from their home in Whispering Creek and being involved with anything involving their grandchildren. Phil Cole moved to Holy Spirit Retirement Home three years after they moved to Sioux City, and Joanna moved there about a year ago, her daughter said.
Though semi-retired, Cole had recently completed “The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution” with longtime illustrator Bruce Degen. The book is scheduled to come out next spring. She had begun research on one more book, Rachel Cole said, but had not yet begun to write it.
The idea for “The Magic School Bus” came in the mid-1980s. Scholastic senior editorial director Craig Walker was receiving frequent requests from teachers for books about science and thought a combination of storytelling and science would catch on. He brought in Cole, whose humorous work such as the children’s book “Cockroaches” he had admired, and illustrator Degen. With the ever maddening but inspired Ms. Frizzle leading her students on journeys that explored everything from the solar system to underwater, “Magic School Bus” books have sold tens of millions of copies and were the basis for a popular animated TV series and a Netflix series. Plans for a live-action movie, with Elizabeth Banks as Ms. Frizzle, were announced last month. Ms. Frizzle was based in part on a fifth-grade teacher of Cole’s.
Rachel Cole said her mother’s love of science developed long before fifth grade.
“When she was small, she liked to look at bugs and plants in her backyard,” she said.
Cole was a native of Newark, N.J., and a graduate of the City College of New York who worked as a children’s librarian and magazine editor before “The Magic School Bus.”
She is survived by her husband, Phil; daughter, Rachel Cole and her husband, John Helms; grandchildren, Annabelle and William; and her sister Virginia McBride.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.