Attention class: School is out, but "The Magic School Bus" is picking up more pupils than ever.
Tyne Daly, Eartha Kitt, Elliott Gould, Rita Moreno, Tony Randall, Edward James Olmos and Swoosie Kurtz have jumped aboard for the 13-show second season of the wild, educational series featuring the Emmy-winning voice of Lily Tomlin.
Joining them are the nearly 4 million children who tune to PBS's first animated series for their weekend dose of science made fun.
Behind the wheel--and part of the success--of "The Magic School Bus" is the exuberant and unpredictable Ms. Frizzle (Tomlin), a red-headed, hands-on teacher with a innovative wardrobe who exhorts her class to "take chances" and ask questions as they travel on a magically transformable bus on a series of fantastic adventures.
The equally enthusiastic Tomlin says the show can bolster viewers' self-esteem as well as their science knowledge, and that her character can provide "some balance to the kind of negative adolescent sensibility that pervades a lot of stuff for children.
"If everybody buys into the most base, the most brutal, the most nihilistic parts of ourselves, well then, that's what we're going to reflect," says Tomlin. That's what we are going to cultivate. But if we recognize that we can reach higher, that we can be more noble, if we buy into the higher side of ourselves, and if that side was given as much attention as the base side, who knows what we could do?"
The half-hour series is the centerpiece of a multimedia campaign to provide compelling science material to motivate 6-to 9-year-olds, says Debra Forte, executive vice president of Scholastic Productions.
The 75-year-old home of those preschool Weekly Readers, inexpensive books and dozens of age-targeted magazines, Scholastic Productions has turned "The Magic School Bus" into a high-powered marketing vehicle. In addition to the show, there are two award-winning CD-ROM learning adventures, five video cassettes, two audiotapes and merchandise based on Joanna Cole's and Bruce Degan's book series.
The first six "Magic School Bus" titles resulted in 13.5 million books in print. A seventh book, is due out next fall. There also are six TV tie-in books and three activity books, not to mention the more than 400,000 activity guides distributed to schools each year.
And just think: The kids are actually learning something.
Though not as fact-packed as the book, the television show still packs some lessons after Little Richard's rousing opening song. In the first season, there were field trips through the solar system, the digestive system, the blood stream and the food chain. Other shows focused on decomposition, desert adaptation, sound, seeds, ants and weather. The 13-adventure itinerary starting in October includes volcanoes, butterflies, bats, dinosaurs, engines and microbes.
In addition to providing children with the underlying concepts, the show has gentle reminders about how to pursue further information. (Read a book!)
"It's a vehicle that brings children and parents together," says Jane Startz, co-executive producer of the show. "I don't think the audience thinks of it as an educational show, but it empowers kids ... and they know they're being educated. "The shows, like the books, allow you to take away as much as you can absorb."
"The Magic School Bus," in television and book form, has a well-loved cast of multi-ethnic students--Arnold, Wanda, Ralphie, Dorothy Ann et al.--who are inspired (and often prodded) by Ms. Frizzle to learn first-hand about their world.
Attention to detail is one of "The Magic School Bus's" secrets to success, and one of the reasons children watch and read the stories again and again.
In addition to Tomlin's Emmy as outstanding performer in an animated program, "The Magic School Bus" garnered an Emmy nomination for graphics and title design, a Grammy nomination for best spoken word recording for kids, four CINE Golden Eagles, a Parents' Choice Gold Award and a National Education Association Award for Advancement of Learning Through Television.
\o7 "The Magic School Bus" airs on PBS; check your local listings.\f7