COLE, JOANNA (11 August 1944 – 12 July 2020) was a popular children’s book author, most known for her influential The Magic School Bus series. A recipient of a vast number of children’s literature awards, Cole’s works continue to inspire and educate children in the realm of science.
Cole was born Joanna Reid Basilea in Newark, New Jersey, to Elizabeth Reid and Mario Basilea. From a young age, Cole had a keen interest in science. Growing up, her science teacher had the class check out a different science book each week, and Cole explained that she believed “reading science books for pleasure was an ordinary thing.” Her interest in science expanded beyond the classroom, as Cole frequently studied the bugs that lived in her backyard. In fact, Cole’s first book, Cockroaches, stems from her observations of the bugs that lived in New York City. As her career progressed, Cole began writing children’s books which focused on other topics besides the sciences. Books such as The New Baby at Your House and Asking About Sex and Growing Up helped children struggling with life’s changes and challenges. Cole also expanded The Magic School Bus series to include adventures which taught social studies lessons to children.
Cole studied at both the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Indiana University before receiving her B.A. in Psychology from the City College of New York in 1967. While attending the City College, she married Philip Cole in 1965, and they remained married until her death in 2020. They had one child together, Rachel Cole. Joanna Cole worked as an elementary school teacher for one year before deciding to pursue her career in children’s literature.
Cole’s works over twenty scholastic and literature awards for their importance in children’s education in the sciences. Among the awards she has received are the Children’s Book Showcase Selection award from the Children’s Book Council, the Children’s Choice Selection from the International Reading Association and Children’s Book Council, the Golden Kite Honor Book Award, the Notable Children’s Book Selection from the Association for Library Service to Children, the Irma Simonton Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, the Eva L. Gordon Award from the American Nature Study Society, nine awards for the Child Study Association of America’s Children’s Books of the Year, and multiple Best or Notable Citations from the American Library Association, the Horn Book, and School Library Journal. In addition, all of Cole’s works are recognized by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council for being outstanding science trade books for children.
Joanna Cole died on July 12, 2020, as a result of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Cole was 75 years old. Though her connections to Cleveland were tangential, her death warranted a local obituary notice.
Langer, Emily. “Joanna Cole, ‘Magic School Bus’ Writer Who Hooked Children on Science, Dies at 75.” Washington Post, July 16, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/joanna-cole-magic-school-bus-writer-who-hooked-children-on-science-dies-at-75/2020/07/16/f0b75354-c6e8-11ea-a99f-3bbdffb1af38_story.html.