Friday, April 20, 2018

The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Sink or Swim by Judy Katschke

Possibly because of my nonstandard schooling, I never got into the whole Magic School Bus thing. However, I see a lot of nostalgia for it from parents, requests for the original books by teachers, and younger kids who have rediscovered it. So I was definitely interested when Branches offered a tie-in series and it turned out to be quite popular.

Arnold is suffering through yet another day of winter when Ms. Frizzle suggests they take a field trip to somewhere else - like Hawaii! Wanda is disappointed, since she wants to visit the Arctic and save a rare fern, but changes her mind when she finds a cute little fish in the ocean. As Wanda tries to protect the fish, she and her classmates learn about how fish (and friends) can work together.

The black and white illustrations are rather bland - I would venture that only kids who grew up on the movies and original books will recognize each kid, who has a distinctive personality. Ms. Frizzle has apparently straightened her hair, which even I noticed, and the cast is carefully diverse, although, at least in this adventure, the white kids take the main roles. A glossary, dialogue with Ms. Frizzle with additional information, and discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Honestly, I wasn't particularly impressed with this. I felt that the text was flat and bland, as was the art. The theme of the book wasn't well-defined, which left me wondering why Wanda was trying to "save" a random fish, without even researching its status. The kids are stereotyped and there's a little too much teasing of the characters for their various quirks for my taste.

However, none of this bothers the kids who recognize familiar characters, enjoy the touch of science, and like the nature-themed adventures.

Verdict: If you purchase all the Branches series, I wouldn't leave this one out, but if you can only get a few focus on other, more popular and better-written titles.

ISBN: 9781338194456; Published December 2017 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

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