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Korean boy featured in ‘Magic School Bus’

“The Magic School Bus,” a series of children’s books intended to teach scientific concepts to children, recently rolled out its 12th installment that features a Korean boy, reflecting author Joanna Cole’s special attention to Korea.

The popular series, published here by BIR, a unit of Minumsa, is a collaborative project with renowned illustrator Bruce Degen, and the duo visited Seoul in 2007 to celebrate the publication of the 11th installment of the series.

“After our wonderful trip to Korea, we had many happy memories and we decided to include a Korean child in our next book. The publisher tells us that they asked young readers to submit names. They sent us a list of about ten names, and we picked Joon,” Cole said in an e-mail interview. 

The 12th installment of bestselling science book series for children, titled “The Magic School Bus”
The 12th installment of bestselling science book series for children, titled “The Magic School Bus”
Degen also had similarly fond memories about their trip to Korea: “We were so impressed by the excitement of the people of South Korea for education and for science in the schoolchildren. We thought that there must be a way to say thank you to Koreans. So we tried to do that by having a Korean student become part of our next book.”

The series has sold more than 7 million copies here, illustrating the engaging exploits of Ms. Frizzle and her class of students at Walkerville Elementary School who board a magical school bus which takes them on educational adventures.

The books introduce various science topics such as space, the Earth, the human body, with an unnamed student offering a first-person perspective. Because of the unique storytelling and informative content, in 1994, the Magic School Bus concept was made into an animated television series.

The topic of the latest installment is global warming, which Cole called “an urgent subject.”

“Everyone must learn about it -- young and old. The cold winter in the Northern Hemisphere has confused some people who think that global warming means the temperature everywhere should be warmer,” she said.

Cole said the average temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was the highest it has been since measuring began, and the average temperature of the earth tied with 2007 for the highest so far. “People must be careful not to confuse the weather in one place with the climate of the whole earth,” she added.

Degen agreed that climate change is a big topic. “We wanted to explain the problem to the readers by showing how greenhouse gases trap heat and affect the climate. And we wanted to discuss what kids can do about it,” he said.

Degen said, children may not be in a position to change laws, or make decrees, but they can do a lot of things at home and in school to save energy, and to conserve resources, which reduces greenhouse gases and starts to solve the problem.

“When we first started to work on it years ago there were many voices saying that global warming is not really happening. But now the scientific data has convinced about 99 percent of the world’s scientists,” he said.

The Magic School Bus series on global warming, as with other installments, is packed with ideas, facts, humor and a story line, accentuated by word balloons, reports, fact boxes -- all the literary devices designed to keep it understandable for younger readers across the world.

By Yang Sung-jin  (