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The Magic School Bus was created by Children's book publishers, Scholastic, who wanted a fictional series that would help children understand science. They chose Joanna Cole as the author and Bruce Degan as the illustrator. The first Magic School Bus story "At the Waterworks was published in 1985 with several more stories following afterwards, and even a spin for social studies (Mrs Frizzle's adventures). The books seemed to gain instant popularity and soon there was a television series and a number of pc cd-rom games available as well.
The Main character's in this book are a very unusual teacher, named Mrs Frizzle, her pet iguana, the children in her class and of course the magical flying school bus. There is a very basic story built into the book, which in my opinion serves primarily as a framework to support the various facts children will learn through reading this. There is some humour, and the story isn't bad, there just isn't much to it. If by chance you have seen the TV programmes, or more likely the DVD's, the story is much more developed in these then in the book. This isn't a complaint. After all the book is only 40 pages long, and almost all of that is spent teaching facts about the solar system. Trying to squeeze a really well developed story and all the basic information about our solar system into so few pages would be a difficult task indeed.
In this book the class set off on a field trip to the planetarium, which happens to be closed for the day. Never fear, Mrs. Frizzle reschedules the filed trip for her own planetarium - the solar system. The school bus converts in a rocket and the class visits each of the planets as well as the sun, moon and asteroid belt. Because this book was published in 1990, Pluto is still considered a planet. All the basic facts about the planets are wrapped up into the story, describing what the planet looks like, some of the main features, what it's atmosphere is like etc... To the sides of each page, the reports of the school children are printed, each covering a different topic. This breaks down the main facts into a few simple lines that even very young children can very easily assimilate. It presents the facts as if a child were doing the talking, so everything is in language and terms a child will understand. There is also a scale on each of the planetary giving an example of one students earth weight (39 kg) and then what they would weigh on that planet, and a few other facts.
My sons' opinions: This book was bought primarily for my oldest son (age 5 at the time) as an extra resource when we were doing a unit study on space. He enjoyed the book, and this really did make it very easy for him to understand many facts, but it is primarily a school book and rarely gets taken down from the shelf except for school projects. My youngest, (age 2) also enjoyed this. he likes looking at the planets and naming them, and talking as if he actually knows something about the subject, but this did not hold his interest as much as the Eyewonder book with it's stunning full colour photography, or his favourite "Children of the Sun". After reading this to my older son, I asked him if he would like to attend school if they really had a magic bus like in the story. Rather sensibly, he said no. he felt the teacher was to scatterbrained to be trusted some place as dangerous as space, mentioning the fact that acid clouds on Venus could eat through his space suit, he could get boiled alive, or frozen stiff on the colder planets. Finally if the bus broke down, he seemed to think they'd be __________. Fair enough I have to admit and not bad logic from a five year old.
My opinion: I was very well pleased with this book. I think it does a wonderful job of breaking all the scientific information down into tiny simple chunks that are very easy to understand. I have bought more books in this series, and expect to buy even more in the future. I find this book absolutely wonderful for home education, and I know many other home educators make use of this series as well. But I also think it would be a wonderful book for any child who enjoys science and learning about space. It does make a lovely reference book. I also think this would be a great help to any child who is struggling to understand in school science classes, as it does present everything in simple easy to understand terms. I found the disclaimer at the back of the book the most entertaining though. This tells you some of the parts of the story that would not be possible, like the fact that astronauts could never visit Venus or mercury, and that the trip taken in one day in the story would really take many years in a spaceship. But my favourite part is the line advising children not to attach rockets to the school bus, as this will upset parents teachers, etc... and of course school buses can not really fly. Still you could just picture some child with Halloween fireworks giving it a try!
I paid just over £2 for this book from ebay, but having checked Amazon, a used copy now will set you back £2.80. I think this is quite reasonable for the amount of information contained, and give this a full five stars.
I would recommend this bok for ages 4-8.