2011 Winner: Children's Science Picture Book

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, by Joanna Cole. (Illustrated by Bruce Degen; from the Magic School Bus Series.) Scholastic, 2010.

For more than 20 years, Cole and Degen have been writing and illustrating their series about the amazing teacher, Ms. Frizzle, who takes her class on fantastical adventures that teach readers about scientific principles while being vastly entertaining. In this latest installment, the school bus changes into a plane that whisks the class off to the Arctic and other parts of the world to see the changes that have been occurring as a result of global warming. Student “reports” at the edges of the pages provide facts about the science and the choices that are being faced. (For example, one describes the pluses and minuses of biofuels.) The students learn about the greenhouse effect first-hand when they slide down to Earth on sunbeams and are wafted back up as heat—only to bounce off the greenhouse gases and descend to Earth again, flying through carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of the book, the students discover ways that they can save energy and put on a play about global warming for their community. As with the earlier adventures in the series, the whimsical illustrations are a big part of the book’s success. 

About the Author

Joanna Cole, Author

Joanna Cole discovered in the fifth grade that she enjoyed explaining things and writing reports for school. She had a teacher who was a little like Ms. Frizzle. Her teacher loved her subject. Every week the teacher had a child do an experiment in front of the room, and Joanna always wanted to be that child. Grade school was very important to her — maybe that's why she ended up writing books for children as an adult.

After graduating from college, Joanna worked as an elementary-school teacher, a librarian, a children's book editor, and a writer. Her first book was Cockroaches. An article in the Wall Street Journal inspired her to do some research. She discovered that there had never been a children's book written about cockroaches before. So she thought, why not? Plus, she had ample time to study that creature in her low-budget New York apartment!

Since then Joanna has written both nonfiction and fiction books for children. In her science books, including The Magic School Bus books, she write about ideas, rather than just the facts. She tries to ask a question, such as how do scientists guess what dinosaurs were like? Then she tries to answer the question as she writes the book.

Bruce Degen, Illustrator:

When Bruce Degen was a kid, he used to draw all the time. In sixth grade, he had a wonderful teacher who would let him stand in the back of the room and paint all the time. Once he didn't even have to take a spelling test!

Bruce went to a special high school for art, LaGuardia High School — you had to take a test to go there. He went to Cooper Union and got a bachelor's degree in art, and then he went to the Pratt Institute and got a Master of Fine Arts.

Bruce worked in a lot of art fields. He worked in advertising; he painted scenery for the opera; he was a painter and printmaker; he even taught art in high school and college. But he got to a point where he decided there was something missing — and what was missing was humor! When he was a kid, all the work that he did was funny. And he realized that the kind of art he always loved to draw was the kind you find in children's books. So he did something he had never gone to school for — he became an illustrator.

“The nice thing about books is that they go out into the world. When a kid, parent, or teacher tells you how much he or she likes your book, you realize that you've given something that has become part of someone else's life,” remarks Bruce.