Frizzle Fails: Majorly Unfun Magic School Bus Trips

Science is cool. When I was a kid my mom was a science teacher, and during the summer I’d serve as a child guinea pig for whatever courses she was taking. I dissected owl pellets, collected pond water, and learned firsthand that science is awesome. And gross. Did I mention gross?

If you weren’t lucky enough to have a scientifically inclined parent, you may have had the next best thing — the guiding, fictional hand of Miss Frizzle, the adventurous, well-dressed schoolmarm from The Magic School Bus. The Magic School Bus was a series of children’s books and cartoons about a group of kids diving head-first into the inner workings of scientific phenomena.

But let’s be real. Teachers are great, but they can’t hit the mark 100% of the time. Here are some Frizzle Fails: those Magic School Bus adventures that delved a little too far into the disgusting, confusing, or downright depressing side of science.

The Magic School Bus Gets Demented

The school bus takes a mystical journey along the neurons and synapses of Phoebe’s grandmother, who was recently diagnosed with advanced dementia. Can they make it through the hippocampus before activity is significantly impaired?

The Magic School Bus Heats Up

Riding on the back of a flea, the Magic School Bus travels with a roadkill racoon on its trip through the animal control center’s crematorium. The kids learn an important scientific axiom: energy cannot be created or destroyed… it can only change form (into a harrowing experience that will haunt you for all the rest of your days).

The Magic School Bus Is In The Money

…as a strain of bacteria being passed from person to person on a dollar bill. The whole gang follows Ralphie’s tooth fairy money as, in the course of a single day, it passes from a man’s unwashed bathroom hands, to the wallet of a lady who just sneezed into her bare palm, before making its final appearance tucked into a g-string at a gentleman’s club.

The Magic School Bus Yes We Can-Cer

When Tim Jamal is diagnosed with a rare invasive tumor, the Magic School Bus takes a fun ride along his fast-dividing cells, evading the surgeon’s knife before ultimately getting wiped out by a high dose of chemotherapy. Uncontrolled mitosis? More like uncontrolled fun!

The Magic School Bus And The Poison Ivy Mystery Tour

WHEEEE! The School Bus slip-slides along the oils excreted from a poison ivy plant, and everyone learns how urushiol can trigger an immune response before – whooosh! – getting knocked out by a hefty, immune-suppressing dose of oral steroids. Will prednisolone make the kids go HAM with mood changes and aggression? Will Frizzle escape the dreaded moon face?

[Guys this isn’t even a book pitch, really, I just have poison oak really bad and this is my life right now.]

The Magic School Bus Peanut Caper

What began as a wacky adventure into the growth cycle of legumes ended three minutes later. Because Keesha has a nut allergy. Read more in The Magic School Bus EpiPen Extravaganza!

Dammit, Friz.

The Magic School Bus In The Mouse House

Miss Frizzle takes the gang on a great trip along the gut flora in the digestive tract of a mouse (you would not BELIEVE how much food from your very own home they find in that stomach!). When the mouse is chased out by the family cat, he is snatched up by an owl. The mouse is swallowed whole, and the kids find themselves broken down into teenier and teenier bits inside the owl before being regurgitated in a sack of hair and bone that is harvested and dissected by a bunch of curious youngsters.

[Like… this is what I did for fun when I was eight. Thanks, mom.]

The Magic School Bus Joins A Gerbil Family

This trip begins in the vas deferens of a male gerbil. From there, they … learn some stuff… then grow into the rapidly dividing cells of a gerbil embryo. When the fetal gerbil is fully formed, they learn – oh no! – that a choromosomal abnormality prevented proper development. After a bumpy journey through the gerbil birth canal, they learn that the circle of life is short indeed, when the gerbil mother recognizes that the child will not thrive and eats it. From there, it’s an awesome lesson in gerbil digestion and egestion. YAY.

The Magic School Bus Is NOT The Father!

The kids learn about DNA analysis – AND the civil justice system – when they go for a quick trip on Dorothy Ann’s blood cells during a hotly contested child support inquiry. How much of her genome is identical to her putative father’s? A statistically insignificant amount, it turns out!

The Magic School Bus Comes To Your AIDs

In this Very Special Edition of the Magic School Bus, the kids learn about the proper handling of bodily fluids when Friz, who has several open paper cut wounds on her hands (so much grading!) comes to the assistance of the heavily bleeding victim of a freak drone accident. As they tag along with an HIV strain, the kids learn that communicable diseases can be passed in a number of ways and that they should always take precautions when interacting with bodily secretions. But it never hurts to hug!

Educational Shows That Should Get Kickstarted

Last week, one of our Man Crush Monday honorees, LeVar Burton, launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring beloved program Reading Rainbow to classrooms for free and to more platforms than just iPads/tablets, helping kids learn to read and build a love for books. In about 10 hours, the initial goal of $2 million was reached, and almost $3.5 MILLION  has been donated since it launched less than a week ago – and it doesn’t even end until July 2nd.

When Veronica Mars made history last year by raising $2 million in about 10 hours as well, we thought shows like Gilmore Girls and Buffy would be prime candidates for a Kickstarter campaign. Now with Reading Rainbow making strides, I thought about the other educational shows from our childhood that could possibly make a comeback and return to help a whole other generation of kids too. Here are some of my picks, do you have any that you don’t see on the list?


{Ran from 1995 to 1998}

Kids love a talking animal, so when Jack Russell Terrier Wishbone is a sharp-talking pooch, it’s easy to forget that he’s retelling stories from classic literature. Wishbone takes on the role of the titular character in each story as he plays it out in his daydream, while his owner Joe faces some kind of similar situation IRL. If a crowdfunding campaign was launched for the show, maybe the show could just get a revamp and come back to TV. Is there even a show like this on right now? I’ve lost touch with my children’s programming.

Magic School Bus

{Ran from 1994 to 1997}

So this ‘Inside Ralphie’ episode is, for some reason, the most prominent one stuck in my head, even after all these years. Like, Ms. Frizzle just straight up took the class & their Magic School Bus into his body to figure out why he’s sick. Teacher of the year, y’all. Anyways, I feel like Magic School Bus would be a great app for kids, especially with an episode in this vein (pun intended), where it takes them on a journey into the body.

Bill Nye the Science Guy

{Ran from 1993 to 1998}

It depresses me that there are probably kids out there who only know Bill Nye from his time on Dancing with the Stars. Who do kids have to look up to in the media now if they want to be scientists? Bill Nye focused on a certain subject in science each episode, and if he successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign, he should bring his science show to schools all over the world, making it one of those interactive assemblies where the students get out of class but are really just going into another one.

Mr. Wizard’s World

{Ran from 1983 to 1990}

Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers this show? I feel like it was part of my morning TV programming, in addition to Saved by the Bell (gotta balance it out). Mr. Wizard’s real name was Don Herbert, and he invited kids to his ‘house’ to show them science experiments and it’s definitely not as creepy as it sounds. Apparently Don died in 2007, but if there’s a Mr. Wizard Jr. out there, a Kickstarter campaign would be a perfect way to maybe fund a web series – or perhaps just find a new Mr. Wizard.


{Ran from 1992 to 1995}

Confession: I pretended that Ghostwriter was real and used to write messages to him/her in my composition notebook. Alas, Ghostwriter never came.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a circle of friends who needed to solve mysteries that the real police couldn’t solve. The whole point of the show was to help kids improve their reading and writing skills, and how awesome would this be as an app? Let’s be real – I would totally download it for myself.*

Name Your Adventure

{Ran from 1992 to 1995}

If you watched TNBC on Saturday mornings like I did, you remember this show, which made kids’ dreams come true. I thought Name Your Adventure was like THE show to be on, since you could literally name your adventure, and it would come to fruition. Kids were able to meet the likes of President Bill Clinton, Tori Amos, and in the video above, the late Jonathan Brandis who starred in the show SeaQuest. The girl wanted to become a director or movie something or other, so host Mario Lopez took her to set and let her hang out. How cool is that? This series showed me that anything is possible and there are so many jobs and things to accomplish out in the world, so I can only imagine what this could provide for kids who only know the life inside their little bubbles. Again, with a crowdfunded campaign, a web series would be perfect for this, and maybe Mario Lopez would even come back to host it.



People Like Us: valerie frizzle: woman, teacher, icon

Welcome to the inaugural post for our People Like Us series. It’s a way for us to introduce and share with y’all our super talented friends and their super awesome writing. Basically, we’re pimping out our peeps. Deal.

Kicking the series off is a post from my dear friend Brian. Although we went to the same college, we bonded while working together for a theater in Boston. I’ve watched him start off as a mere concessions worker, then as a box office associate, onto making it like a bo$$ as the Box Office & Front of House Manager, and finally he’s moved away from the annoying patrons and into the back office where the important people sit as a Marketing and Development Associate. What I’m trying to say is that I taught him everything he knows. 

me and b bein fancy

However, I cannot take credit for his excellent storytelling skills (his degree from Emerson, natural talent, and mom Bonnie is to thank). Enjoy this entertaining and frightening true explanation of why Ms. Frizzle is his life inspiration.

And if you like what you read, follow his WordPress blog here: A Mighty Fine Life. If you like Tumblin’, follow him here: Tumblr. If you enjoy children & young adult lit reviews (especially animorphs re-reads including graphics made on MS Paint), follow him here: The View From Sunday.


I have been doing a fair amount of thinking lately about the people I’ve looked up to in my day – people I’ve considered exemplars in their field, people I want to emulate, people who’s work has had a lasting, life-long impact on me. And the answer to that question has always surprised me, has always evaded me, because as I’ve said, I’ve never really known what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was a kid, I hopped around from answer to answer – writer, scientist, hairdresser, teacher. And none of them stuck. I loved books and movies, I loved playing, and I loved people; that’s all I really knew about myself, and I wasn’t sure if a career as a professional storyteller and player, who maybe sometimes taught people things, was possible.

But you know who managed to accomplish all that and more?

Valerie. Mother-effing. Frizzle.

Ms. Frizzle, Perfect Person

That’s right. And you know it in your heart of hearts that I am right because this woman was the teacher – nay, the human being – we all dreamed of having in our lives. This woman is the be-all end-all of scientific learning of our generation, is admired by all the people everywhere, is the greatest teacher known to mankind, and I will punch you right in the nose if you say otherwise.

“Brian, you’re a little out of control here. What’s so great about her?”

Well first of all, don’t talk to me in that tone of voice. Who do you think you are? Are you better than Ms. Frizzle? No.

Second of all,  here are my top six reasons Ms. Frizzle is a badass and a teacher I want to be when I grow up.

1) Ms. Frizzle Owns A Magic Vehicle

Hello?! This much should be obvious. Does your car turn into a plane and a train and a submarine and a time machine and a rocketship and a ladybug and a triceratops and a planet and also shrink and also have the ability to turn you into a fish or frog or a BEAM OF LIGHT?????? IS YOUR CAR ALIVE AND DOES IT HAVE EYES????? No. No, I did not think so.

The eponymous Magic School Bus enabled Val to take her kids to infinity and beyond. It was an invaluable teaching tool, and a resource that any teacher would kill for. Sure, not everyone has the funding for this, but let’s take the bus as a metaphor for creativity in education. It’s like the old writing adage: show, not tell. The bus was simply The Friz’s way of bringing that kind of creative, hands-on learning to her classroom. Non-cartoon educators need to go about it a different way, but it is still a principle that we ought to listen to, right?


OK, also it helped that the bus was sentient and had its own thoughts and opinions. Which, okay, you could argue that taking a bunch of kids for a ride inside something alive every single day is sort of messed up. But the bus and the Friz also seemed to be buddies – this was no servant/master relationship; Ms. Frizzle cared when the bus was sick/needed repairs, and referred to it as an old friend. You have to wonder if she was the one who built it. This would likely mean that she is either a master mechanic – which I’d argue against, since in the episode about bones and muscles they took the bus in for a repair with R.U Humerus – or some kind of wizard. You be the judge.

2) Ms. Frizzle Let Her Students Learn By Doing

The kind of dynamic, experience-based learning her class did on a day-to-day basis is simply staggering. She allowed them to explore who they are as people, and brought them up close and personal to the things they were studying. Ms. Frizzle understood that the words on the page were not enough. And yet, she had clear objectives in mind for every lesson: “students will understand the basic types of bridges and how they work;” “students will have a clear understanding of the scientific method;” etc etc.

Her lessons weren’t a fly by night operation – they were well planned out and demonstrated a lot of thinking on the Friz’s part. In fact, you could argue that she worked backwards from her goal until she found the right kind of lesson. Often, the lesson would present itself in an organic way: Ralphie is sick, let’s figure out why. Or, Dorothy Ann became petrified of asteroids, presumably after watching Armageddon and crying about Bruce Willis (she just seems like the type, y’know?) – and Ms. Frizzle would jump in from there and guide the students in the most hands-off way possible. She had the tools and the kids had the experience. She dropped them into the thick of things and let them fend for themselves, be they playing a frictionless baseball game or turning into animals and trying to live on the streets of a city.

Sure, Ms. Frizzle’s methods were peculiar but they allowed for students to – as the Friz might say – get messy. It’s sort of implicit that they are never in any real danger: she never panics, not once, and it is demonstrated time and time again that she has her students best interests at heart. She taught real science – without any pretense or ulterior motive. It was all about the learning and all about using that learning to make her students be better, more observant people. She let them take chances, and that really paid off.

3) Ms. Frizzle Was Light Years Ahead Of Her Time, Fashion-Wise

Ms. Frizzle, 1995

Nicki Minaj, 2010

4) Ms. Frizzle Didn’t Do Any Kind Of Handholding

On the contrary! “Make Mistakes” was part of her catchphrase! Making mistakes means you’re working hard, and working hard means eventually you’ll achieve something. It’s not about being perfect, just about taking chances and allowing yourself to not succeed sometimes. Once you forget about being self-conscious, that’s when the real work is able to begin. Ms. Frizzle understands that – often, one of her students will be comically mistaken about something, and rather than saying, “Carlos you are a moron, that sound machine sounds awful and defies the basic principles of sound design,” she let him try and try until he got it right.

I mean, the fact that she took him to a magical sound mansion didn’t hurt. But that’s exactly the thing: it wasn’t, “Carlos, you’re wrong.” That would defeat his spirit and probably scar him for life. Instead, she presented him with the tools he’d need, provided a structure for using those tools – remember when she yodeled? – and answered his questions when he had them.

That, too, was what was so great about the Friz. She posed questions to her students right back at them, even if sometimes they didn’t realize they were being asked. Like that time she stranded herself on Pluto and left it to the kids to operate the bus and find her – through learning about the rest of the planets, that is. Mind you, this is back when Pluto was a planet so this was sort of a big deal.

5) Ms. Frizzle Was Popular With The Kids

Okay, this is superficial, but who doesn’t want to be the teacher everyone wants to have? It warms your teacher heart to hear an older kid nod knowingly and say, “I had the Friz’s class last year.” Also, they baked her a birthday cake! How much love does that show? Baking someone a cake is something you only do for someone you love. Have you ever baked a cake for your worst enemy? No. (Once, my friend Joa had someone bake her a cake out of love only she didn’t like him at all so it was an unrequited love cake, but still there was love in the batter!) The kids also bought Ms. Frizzle a cocoa tree one time – I think for Earth Day? WHO BUYS THEIR TEACHER AN EARTH DAY PRESENT?? A group of kids who really freakin liked their teacher, that’s who.

She was a well-liked and well-respected person in the school community and in the outside world – she had friends in the strangest of places.

Also, she was voiced by Lily Tomlin and her cousin was Dolly Parton. So that’s popularity points right thurr.

6) Ms. Frizzle Loved All Her Students Equally, Even The Terrible Ones


She was so respectful of each and every one of her kids and allowed them to learn at their own pace, in their own way. Some teachers would have looked at Arnold and said, “You know what? MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST STAY HOME TOMORROW IF YOU’RE GOING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT LEARNING EVERY SINGLE FREAKING DAY. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE IN SCHOOL FOR, YOU SNOTTY GINGER.” Some teachers would have taken in Cousin Janet’s terrible ‘tude and promptly jettisoned her into space for being such an uptight crotchety little malcontent who nothing was ever good enough for.

Not the Friz.

Instead, she coaxed everyone out of their shells in a way that was fair and kind. She recognized that some kids were persnickety and dealt with that – sometimes by throwing them in a swamp, but there was learning to be had. And they soresponded to that. They may have complained every once in awhile, but they took that respect and faith that she had in them and ran with it, and became better students for it.

So there it is, folks. Fictional she may be, but Ms. Frizzle represents everything I want to bring to my career (?!?) as an educator, whatever trajectory that career might take. Because at the end of the day, the Friz taught us that teaching is more than books: it’s creativity and passion and laughter and caring about what you do and who you’re doing it for and thinking so far outside the box that the box becomes  a non-entity. I can’t wait to try it out for myself.

Seatbelts, everyone.