Back to school can mean a lot of things. For some of us, the start of school remains inextricably linked to freshly-sharpened yellow Ticonderoga pencils and a new box of Crayola crayons. Even decades after my elementary school days, the aroma of a box of crayons transports me to preparations for returning to class as summer vacation winds down. I can almost recapture the semi-panicky feeling of wondering who my new teacher would be and whether I’d be able to sit next to my best friend. September can also mean getting aboard a school bus, either again or—more momentously—for the first time. I lived close to my elementary school and junior high, so getting to school only required a short walk in those years. For high school, however, I had to take the school bus. Although I loved the fact that my driver’s name was Mrs. Brake, I wasn’t so thrilled that my stop was the first on her route. That meant getting up extra early in the morning to be ready, though I did have my choice of seats. In the afternoon, I had to stay on the bus until every other student had been dropped off.
Even before they start attending classes, small children often like to “play school” and envision themselves venturing off on that big yellow bus. Toy manufacturers have obliged these kids with school bus playthings for more than 50 years. Fisher-Price produced a 1959 pull toy it called the Safety School Bus. Little did it know that the ball-headed figures aboard that bus would take on lives of their own and turn into perpetual childhood favorites. Today, most of us know them as the Fisher-Price Little People, and they’ve gone far beyond their school bus origins. A prototype toy by inventor Arto Monaco takes the school bus in a different playful direction. Monaco’s activity toy includes pull tabs that control a traffic light and window shades, rotating cylinders with numbers and letters, and best of all a crank that actually makes the wheels on the bus go round and round. Who wouldn’t want to get aboard a bus that offers so much fun? As far as fun buses go, those of us who survived the 1970s might think of the multicolored school bus occupied by television’s Partridge Family. But later generations probably favor the marvelous powers of the Magic School Bus from the PBS cartoon series. In either case, I raise my juicebox in a toast to September, the start of school, and school buses, past and present.