Most helpful positive review
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
The Grand Finale
on November 4, 2004
In 1986, author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen published their first book together. It was a story about a funky-cool teacher with frizzy-red hair, who led her class on the most extraordinary, in-depth, and out-of-this-world field trips like no instructor before her. The adventures of Ms. Frizzle and her students quickly became a hit with real-life children, parents and teachers alike. No one could have predicted the success that awaited Cole and Degen once "The Magic School Bus: At the Waterworks" hit the shelves.
Thirteen years and ten collaborations later, Cole and Degen wrote the final chapter to their long-running series. Appearing in 1999, "The Magic School Bus: Explores the Senses" was a bittersweet end to arguably one of the best ideas in the history of children's literature.
The tale begins, like all those before it, inside the Friz's classroom. Her students are learning all about the five senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. Notes one student, "We were even learning a song about the senses to sing at an important parent-teacher meeting."
There's a problem with this, however. Ms. Frizzle thinks the conference is tomorrow evening. But little does she know that for once in her life, she's wrong! Incredible though it may seem, the meeting between parents and teachers is actually that evening! At least, that's what Mr. Wilde, Walkerville Elementary's new assistant principal, claims. But because Mr. Wilde doesn't find out about this latest development until the end of the school day, he can't inform the Friz -- she's already left the building!
"I've got to catch up with Ms. Frizzle!" exclaims Mr. Wilde. And, to the students' surprise, he plops down behind the wheel of their bus. Knowing the kind of trouble a new assistant principal is likely to have, the students also climb aboard. It marks the first time anyone other than the Friz has driven the bus, and there's no telling what might happen!
As with every adventure in the "Magic School Bus" series, things get a little crazy in a very short amount of time. Mr. Wilde, in all his enthusiasm, fiddles with a switch he shouldn't touch and -- PRESTO! -- the bus shrinks until it's no bigger than a speck of dust.
Despite being in a rather sticky situation, all is not lost. Instead of fretting over the fix they're in, Mr. Wilde and the students decide to make the best of it. In fact, they turn the experience into a learning session, centered on all things about the five senses. This would include the different parts and functions of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. Before the adventure is done, Mr. Wilde and the students will have traveled through a police officer, a little boy, Ms. Frizzle herself(!), a dog, and a cat!
This book works on a number of levels. One such level, for example, is the symbolism in this final chapter of the series. Even though Ms. Frizzle is not with her students during their inside-story of a field trip, leading them along, feeding them tidbits of interesting information, they manage to hold their own just fine without her. In their first escapade together ("At the Waterworks"), the Friz was literally holding her students by the hand. In this book, however, she casts her class adrift so the children can figure things out on their own, a test they pass with flying colors. It's a sign of just how much they have grown under the instruction of Ms. Frizzle and her unusual (yet highly effective) teaching techniques.
It's a nice send-off to the series, instilling the message in children that, yes, eventually there won't be an adult around to point out every little thing. But don't worry! You will have learned so much during that time, you won't need someone to fulfill that duty. You will discover the beauty of independent thinking. And it ties in with one of the Friz's most basic principles: "Take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!" The students, as well as readers of the book, are ready to move on, to grow, to take the next step.
Unlike the nine books that precede it, this story ends a little differently than all the rest. Yes, the pages that distinguish fact from fiction in the tale are still firmly in place. But the sly hints, the wily clues, pertaining to Ms. Frizzle's next great adventure are a mystery.
"Where will she take us next?" inquires Keesha, a student.
"That's the big question!" answers Arnold, a fellow student.
Thankfully, that "big question" is answerable. Because the "Magic School Bus" series became such a triumph, it's still riding strong almost 20 years later. There's a cartoon show, television tie-in books, chapter books, computer games, and a website, just to name a few things. There have even been card games, posters and plushie dolls!
The reason for its success is a simple one: it made learning fun. And when you combine those two ingredients, you've got a winning formula.
There just isn't enough that can be said about such a finely-crafted series. Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen have made the world of children's literature a better place because of the part they played in it. The adventures of the Friz and her students deserve a permanent home on bookshelves in classrooms, school libraries, and personal collections everywhere.
As Ms. Frizzle herself would say, "You never know where the Friz may go!"