The Magic School Bus is an edutainment multimedia franchise that consists of a book series, a TV series, and several video games among other things. Each of the stories within the franchise centers on the antics of a fictional elementary school teacher, Ms. Valerie Frizzle, and her class, who board an anthropomorphic Type A school bus, which takes them on field trips to impossible locations, such as the solar system, clouds, the past, and the human body. The class pet Liz, a lizard, accompanies the class on their field trips.
The first media in which this franchise was developed was the Magic School Bus book series. Craig Walker, vice-president and senior editorial director at Scholastic Co., stated that the concept began with the idea of combining science with fictional stories, and Joanna Cole (who had written both science and humor before) and Bruce Degen were then approached with creating such a series. Walker also states that his own memories of school field trips and of a teacher he had once, served as further inspiration. The first book “At the Waterworks” was written in 1985 and published the following year. The books are written in the first person from the point of view of an unnamed student in “the Friz’s” class. Cole and Degen started a new series called Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures in 2001, which teaches social studies, eventually producing three books in that series. Microsoft Home started publishing Magic School Bus software in 1994.
In 1994, The Magic School Bus concept was also made into an animated series of the same name by Scholastic Entertainment, and premiered on September 10, 1994. Scholastic Entertainment president Deborah Forte says that adapting the books into an animated series was an opportunity to help kids “learn about science in a fun way”. Around that time, Forte had been hearing concern from parents and teachers about how to improve science education for girls and minorities. As noted by Marcel LaFollette, “accomplished women were exceptions in a universe of male luminaries” when it came to science television.:185 Miss Frizzle, the magic school teacher, was the closest approximation to an expert female host.:183, 185–195
Each episode of the series ran for 30 minutes. In the United States, the series originally aired on PBS as a part of its children’s block, PTV (later renamed PBS Kids), through South Carolina’s SCETV network; it was the first fully animated series to be aired on PBS. The last episode aired on December 6, 1997, the series then aired reruns on PBS until September 1998. The Fox network aired repeats from September 1998 to September 2002. Starting September 27, 2010, The Magic School Bus started a daily run on Qubo in the US, and on Saturday mornings on NBC.
From 1994 to 2000, several Magic School Bus video games were released. Most of the original titles were created by the software company Music Pen in collaboration with Microsoft and Scholastic Press, the publisher of the Magic School Bus book series. Though in the cartoon series, the bus was obviously animated in the usual way, in the CD-ROM games, it is typically animated with computer generated imagery. In all these titles the user gets to “drive” the bus, which almost always involves clicking on the steering wheel and choosing a location. (The exception is The Magic School Bus Explores Inside the Earth where it is the gear shift instead of the steering wheel.) Most of the games have about seven different locations, including the classroom. There is always some goal for the user in each one.
Scholastic Entertainment, the American Meteorological Society and the Children’s Museum of Houston created a Scholastics the Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm, a 2,600 sq ft (240 m2). traveling exhibit funded in part by the National Science Foundation, which premiered at the Children’s Museum of Houston in 2003 (a copy of it opened in New Jersey the month after that).