My rating: ★★★☆☆
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is the twelfth installment of the original Magic School Bus series that spawned the Emmy Award-winning television series. As such, it maintains the original class of approximately thirty students, most of whom are nameless beyond the children included in the show. The Climate Challenge also adds a new character, a visiting student from South Korea named Joon. (It’s obvious from the book’s dedication that there was some significant reason behind Joon’s inclusion, though the book made no mention of what that might be; it baffled me enough that I tracked down this article, which offers up some background.)
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, being the first Magic School Bus book to be published in the current decade, addresses a very modern, topical issue: global warming.
I will state up front that the book offers a fairly black and white view of global warming, presenting the mainstream aspects of the issue in a way that children can understand while mostly neglecting other aspects of and contributing factors to climate change (such as desertification, habitat destruction, the difference between natural climate change and anthropogenic climate change, etcetera). So while the book includes a lot of information on “going green”, it’s not as nuanced as I feel it should have been.
When Ms. Frizzle’s class begins a unit on global warming, the
Time Lord teacher takes them on a trip around the world to see the effects of climate change in person. They see the melting ice of the Arctic, Greenland, and the Antarctic; they (very briefly) glimpse the melting permafrost of the tundra, the desertification of formerly fertile farmland, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs, intense weather, animal die-outs and migrations, and crop failures.
As they continue to fly around the globe, Ms. Frizzle introduces them to the concepts of greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, fossil fuels and CO2, anthropogenic climate change, and alternative energy sources.
The last several pages also include tips on what children can do to help curb their family’s carbon footprints.
All in all, this isn’t the most well-put-together Magic School Bus book; obviously, global warming and anthropogenic climate change are massively nuanced issues, and so this book suffers on two fronts. In it, Cole endeavors to teach a lot of information, so much so that most of it is mentioned more than it is explained. And on the other hand, there’s a lot that she only alluded to (desertification, habitat destruction, natural climate change) that really deserved to get more in-depth coverage.
So I suppose The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is a good book for introducing a child to the concepts of climate change and global warming, but I would suggest that it be used in conjunction with other relevant books that can fill in some of the information gaps. Beyond that, children may need a bit of previous familiarity with molecules and atoms to fully understand the pages on greenhouse gases (to familiarize a young child with the concept of molecules, I would suggest the Magic School Bus episode “Meets Molly Cule”).
And, of course, I’d highly recommend looking into other Magic School Bus books and the television show. They’re a wonderful resource for getting young children interested in science, even if some of the older works may be rather dated.