The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth
I wanna rock and, erm, rock, all night.
This is the first Magic School Bus book I ever actually read. I've seen a couple of episodes of the TV show with my kids, but the book is written in a really interesting style. There's the normal text of the book, plus pretty much every page has word balloons or thought balloons coming from most of the characters, and similarly to the TV show you have little asides by the kids in the style of reports that they wrote about their trip.
It has a very strange beginning. Apparently, they had been learning about animals' homes for almost a month and they were pretty tired of it. So, the only thing they do in this class is science? I mean, dang, I'm a big fan of science, but yeah if I was learning about the homes of animals for a month, and it really wasn't something I was into, but that was all I was doing, day in and day out? Yeah, I'd get pretty sick of it. Ms. Frizzle gives the class homework: everybody's supposed to bring her a rock. But out of at least eleven kids, only four of them bring rocks. What? It's not that hard to find rocks. It's really not. They're just like the most slacker kids in the universe. It's just silly. So she says, "Okay, let's go get in the bus." And she changes her dress to get in the bus, and then they go in the bus, which is magic so it spins around and then she has a completely new outfit. Then they all start digging to the center of the earth.
It's really hard to dig big holes. I mean, they dedicate the last two pages of the book to issues with the science, and how kids wouldn't really use jackhammers (which they don't even have at first) but it doesn't actually talk about the kids being forced through child labor to dig these massive holes with picks and shovels. That non-trivial. Even in sand, it's non-trivial. They're digging in the middle of a field. At any rate, they hit rock soon and so they start jackhammering through all the different layers of the rock, talking about the different kinds of rock, and then at a certain point they fall into a limestone cave and she talks about that. Then they talk about metamorphic rocks. Then the bus is suddenly starts drilling, on its own, so apparently the bus is sentient (it actually does have eyes in its headlights, so maybe this bus is as sentient as Miss Frizzle is, I don't know) and so they follow the bus as it drills into igneous rock through the Earth's crust. They then get back on the bus for the air conditioning, and then they drive the bus with the drill to the center of the earth and back out again on the other side. They come up on a volcanic island and then they all get some more igneous rocks and then the volcano suddenly erupts and they fly in the steam back to school, having collected a bunch of rocks. While it is classified as a nonfiction book, about 90% of what happens is fictional.
At the end (kind of like at the end of the TV show) they have this nice debate between a fictional first reader of the book saying that it's full of mistakes and the authors, saying they included the conversation to help you decide which things are true and which were put in to make the story more exciting. I think this should really be a fiction book because the vast majority of it is fake. Buses don't do that. I mean, yes the earth is made that way. But in a fiction book about, for example, a child playing in the snow, the fiction classification isn't suggesting that snow is fictional. Just because it's meant to be educational does not make it nonfiction. It seems kind of silly. It's certainly just as fictional as, for example, "George Washington's Teeth." Yes George Washington did have problems with his teeth, but that was classified as a fiction book.
At least they mentioned that even if a bus could drill its way through the earth, the trip would take very very long, and it's too hot, and the bus would melt, and buses can't be in lava and fly in steam and kids can't use jackhammers... It's just like the only things about this that are true are the actual rocks and the general layers of the earth, and that's just so trivially straightforward. I understand if all you're doing is talking about rocks and the crust of the earth, that does not make a fascinating story. But I've definitely read some amazing non-fiction books where they don't have to do this. They don't have to pad reality with so much fiction.
I get it. I really do. Science is awesome. We love science. But it'd be nice if there was a much clearer delineation between fantasy and reality in this book, and not just in the last two pages.
Another annoying thing about the book is text like, "When we came to the field, all the kids wanted to get out of the bus. But suddenly, the bus began to spin like a top. That sort of thing doesn't happen on most class trips." They just can't stop over stressing that this is a weird situation. The new kid says stuff like, "I can't believe Miss Frizzle dresses like that!" Okay, okay, I get it! She keeps talking about how she can't get used to Miss Frizzle as a teacher. They keep saying, "This school bus is unusual." "This is unusual." Maybe it's their way of saying that it's fantasy versus reality, but I think it's obvious that school buses don't randomly start spinning. Nobody needs to state that. It's the more bizarre things, the things that the kids are doing that are clearly dangerous, rather than the weird and frivolous happenings that they need to be drawing attention to.