Bell, William 1945-
BELL, William 1945-
PERSONAL: Born October 27, 1945, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; son of William B. (a tool and die maker) and Irene (Spowart) Bell; married; wife's name Ting-Xing Ye (a writer); children: Dylan, Megan, Brendan. Education: University of Toronto, M.A. (literature), 1969; Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, M.Ed., 1984.
ADDRESSES: Agent—21 Laurentian Lane, Orillia, Ontario L3V 7N8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected] org.
CAREER: Educator and children's book author. High school English teacher and department head in Ontario, Canada, 1970-2000; Harbin University of Science and Technology, English instructor, 1982-83; Foreign Affairs College of China, Beijing, English instructor, 1985-86.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ruth Schwartz Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, Belgium Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, and Ontario School Librarians' Award for Excellence, all 1990, all for Forbidden City; Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award, for Five Days of the Ghost; Young Adult Canadian Book Award, Canadian Library Association, 2002, and Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award honor certificate, 2003, both for Stones.
Crabbe, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986, published as Crabbe's Journey, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1987.
Metal Head, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1987.
Absolutely Invincible, Fitzhenry and Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 1988.
Five Days of the Ghost, Fitzhenry and Whiteside (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Forbidden City, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
No Signature, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.
Speak to the Earth, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
Zack, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1999.
Stones, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
Death Wind, Orca Book Publishers (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 2002.
Alma, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
(With wife, Ting-Xing Ye) Throwaway Daughter, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
The Golden Disk, illustrated by Don Kilby, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
River, My Friend, Orca Book Publishers (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1996.
Editor of Contours, an anthology of Canadian drama, Irwin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993. Contributor of essays to periodicals, including Indirections.
Bell's books have been published in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Germany, and Spain, Japan, Great Britain, and Poland.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian young-adult novelist William Bell is best known for his award-winning novel Forbidden City. Bell published his first book, Crabbe— also published as Crabbe's Journey—in 1986. The story of a teenage boy who runs away from home into the Canadian wilderness and learns some valuable lessons from another runaway named Mary, Crabbe received mixed reviews from critics, one of whom found the title character to be unlikable and uncompelling. "[It] is difficult to feel anything but contempt for this shallow fellow," remarked Quill & Quire critic Linda Granfield about Franklin Crabbe, the rich, lazy, and spoiled protagonist of the story. However, other reviewers saw Bell's debut book in a more positive light. For example, a Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the author writes about the wilderness "with a grace and perceptiveness often lacking in adolescent fiction."
In Crabbe Bell used the narrative technique of telling the story through journal entries. He has also used this device in several of his more recent novels, including Forbidden City. Set in 1989 and based on an actual incident, Forbidden City is about a young Canadian named Alex Jackson who journeys to China with his cameraman father to cover the unrest that will ultimately lead to the massacre of pro-democracy students by government soldiers in Tianamen Square. Recording his experiences in his journal, Alex writes about the people he meets, such as Lao Xu, an interpreter who is paid by the Communist government to spy on foreigners but who also has sympathies for the growing democratic movement. Just as Alex's father has finished his assignment and is preparing to leave the country, the conflict at Tianamen Square reaches a head. In the confusion, Alex is separated from his father, but he is helped by some of the students and given a place to hide. One of the students, Xin-hua, proves herself particularly brave by offering to take Alex to the Canadian Embassy. In the attempt, she is killed by the People's Liberation Army. Alex, however, is reunited with his father and they return to Canada with the film and tapes that will show the tragic events to the rest of the world.
Many critics considered Bell's depiction of the turbulent time in China portrayed in Forbidden City to be masterful. "Well written, well paced, and all too believable, this is an impressive novel," asserted Zena Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. A Growing Point reviewer further praised the work, not only for its lucid depictions of "duplicity, intrigue and cruelty," but also for offering "strikingly individual views" of the massacre.
Bell returns to his native Canada as the setting for his other young-adult novels, but the issues he tackles in these books are no less important than the government treachery profiled in Forbidden City. No Signature, in fact, deals with many issues at once, including illiteracy, homosexuality, broken families, and prejudice. The story is centered on Wick Chandler, who learns that it was his mother's attempt to blackmail her husband that caused his father to abandon the family. But Wick learns some humility too, after he comes to realize that he has similarly abandoned a former close friend after learning that the boy is gay. In Speak to the Earth Bell's interest in the environment leads him to write a fictional story based on the indiscriminate logging practices that continue to destroy much of the wilderness in British Columbia.
The title character of Bell's widely reviewed Zack is a biracial teenager. Zack Lane, the son of a white Jewish father and a black mother, finds himself conflicted when the family moves from diverse Toronto to rural Fergus, Ontario. Zack "misses big-city life and does poorly at his new high school," as a Publishers Weekly contributor described it. "Worse, the girl he likes stands by while her cousin hurls a racial slur." Though close to his father's side of the family, the darkskinned youth wonders about his mother's African-American relatives living in Mississippi. He gets the chance to learn about his mother's heritage when he drives the family truck to the American south. Booklist's Hazel Rochman praised Bell's work on this novel, saying that he "writes with taut drama, building scene upon scene to the climactic revelation. A line of dialogue can be like a blow, or a caress."
Stones and Death Wind also take place in the author's home province of Ontario. In the latter novel, teenaged Allie reacts to problems in her life—with school, parents, and possible pregnancy—by running away and following the competitive skateboard circuit with her friend, Razz. A "hi-lo" book aimed at "highinterest/low vocabulary" readers, Death Wind climaxes with a tornado that endangers Allie and Razz, but ultimately helps the girls put things into perspective. Heather Dieffenbach in School Library Journal submitted a mixed review, saying that while the book is "a fast-paced, exciting work, … it offers little beyond the surface."
Bell has also produced picture books for children. He transports young readers to China, where he once spent two years as an English teacher, with The Golden Disk, the simple story of a little girl who sets out to discover what the moon is and learns of its connection to her name. He continues along this vein with his next picture book, River, My Friend.
His is not an easy profession, Bell explained in St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. "I have never met a writer," he noted, "who didn't describe writing as frustrating, arduous, frightening, messy, painful and fraught with revision. On the contrary, we can all point to manuscripts, every page of which shows a blizzard of slashes, underlines, over-writes, arrows and other untidy ministrations….The thing of it is, creativeendeavour in general is almost always messy, full of false starts, changes of mind, restarts and, we hope, improvements."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Bookbird, February, 1999, review of Zack, p. 62.
Booklist, July 1987, p. 1671; November 15, 1987,p. 576; June 15, 1990, p. 2000; September 15, 1990, p. 178; January 15, 1991, p. 1054; February 1, 1991, p. 1122; May 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Zack, p. 1689.
Book Report, November, 1999, review of Zack, p. 59.
Books in Canada, June, 1998, review of Zack, p. 30; July, 2001, review of Stones, p. 31.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1987; February, 1991, Zena Sutherland, review of Forbidden City, p. 137; July, 1999, review of Zack, p. 380.
Canadian Children's Literature, winter, 1997, review of River, My Friend, p. 92; winter, 1999, review of Zack, p. 100.
Children's Book News, winter, 1997, review of River, My Friend, p. 28; fall, 1998, review of Zack, p. 30.
Children's Book Review Service, July, 1999, review of Zack, p. 152.
Growing Point, November, 1990, p. 5435.
Horn Book Guide, July, 1990, p. 87; spring, 1998, review of River, My Friend, p. 22.
Junior Bookshelf, December, 1990, p. 304.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1987, review of Crabbe's Journey, pp. 790-791; November 15, 1990,p. 1598; June 1, 1999, review of Zack, p. 880.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, May, 1999, review of Zack, p. 880; July, 2001, review of Stones, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 1987, p. 73; November 16, 1990, p. 58; June 14, 1999, review of Zack, p. 71.
Quill & Quire, June, 1986, Linda Granfield, review of Crabbe, p. 25; June, 1990, p. 16; March, 1995,p. 78; March, 1998, review of Zack, p. 74; February, 1999, review of Zack, p. 43; May, 2001, review of Stones, p. 35.
Resource Links, February, 1997, review of River, My Friend, p. 109; June, 2001, Karen Munro, review of Stones, p. 24; October, 2002, Gail de Voss, review of Death Wind, p. 26.
School Librarian, February, 1991, p. 29.
School Library Journal, May, 1987, p. 106; March, 1991, p. 211; July, 1999, Susan Oliver, review of Zack, p. 95; October, 2002, Heather Dieffenbach, review of Death Wind, p. 158.
Teacher Librarian, March, 1999, review of Zack, p. 22.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1999, review of Zack, p. 182.
William Bell Web site,http://www.orillia.org/williambell/ (September 4, 2003).