Her publisher, Scholastic, said Cole, a resident of Sioux City, Iowa, died Sunday from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
“Joanna Cole had the perfect touch for blending science and story,” said Scholastic Chairman and CEO Dick Robinson in a statement issued Wednesday. “Joanna’s books, packed with equal parts humor and information, made science both easy to understand and fun for the hundreds of millions of children around the world who read her books and watched the award-winning television series.”
The idea for The Magic School Bus was born in the mid-1980s. Scholastic senior editorial director Craig Walker was fielding requests from teachers for books about science, and decided a storytelling and science series was the answer.
He recruited Cole for the task. She was the author of the children’s book Cockroaches, along with illustrator Bruce Degen.
The concept was simple: Teacher Ms. Frizzle led students on journeys into everything from the solar system to underwater adventures.
Magic School Bus books sold tens of millions of copies and later was turned into a popular animated TV series and later a Netflix series. Plans for a live-action movie with Elizabeth Banks as Ms. Frizzle were announced just last month.
Cole and Degen recently completed The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution, scheduled for publication next spring.
Cole was a Newark, New Jersey native and a graduate of the City College of New York. She worked as a children’s librarian and magazine editor before The Magic School Bus series.
Survivors include her husband, Phil; daughter Rachel Cole and her husband, John Helms; grandchildren, Annabelle and William, and her sister, Virginia McBride. No memorial plans have been announced.