Bel, who recently passed away at age 103, was a New York City school teacher.
In 1965, while still buried in a mountain of bureaucratic paperwork she termed "trivia in triplicate," her first book, "Up the Down Staircase," was published.
The book, based on her experiences as a public school teacher, became a global sensation, and has now sold over 6 million copies, in 16 different languages.
Told in fiction as a novel, the teacher Sylvia Barrett teaches at a fictitious New York high school, but Bel based this book upon real New York City schools.
Bel used bureaucratic memos, notes and other sources to create an often humorous narrative.
"Dear Sir or Madam, one bureaucratic memo reads, "In reply to your request for resignation, please be advised that yours was filled out improperly." Other topics range from "Lateness due to absence" and "Polio Consent slips."*
The book title "Up the Down Staircase," was taken from a memo a school official wrote. The memo spoke of a student who was being punished for walking up a staircase, designated for walking downward.
But amid Bel's humor, there is a serious side. She writes of real life issues such as rundown classrooms, unruly students, teenage pregnancy, and other serious problems afflicting young adults.
"Up the Down Staircase" was so popular, that in 1967 it became a hit movie starring Sandy Dennis as Sylvia.
This enormous success made Bel a literary superstar and for decades after, she was a popular public speaker at educational and civic events.
Where did Bel's renowned humor come from? Perhaps it came from her grandfather, the beloved Yiddish humorist Sholem Aleichem.
His stories of Tevye the Milkman became the basis for the stage play and movie, "Fiddler on the Roof."
As an example of Bel's humor, in 1991 in a revised introduction to a new edition of "Up the Down Staircase" Bel wrote, "One Morning a boy came to class three months late. I greeted him with a feeble joke: 'Welcome back! What happened? Did you rob a bank?' 'No,' he said. 'A grocery store.' " *
Bel also periodically continued to teach. She taught her last class at Hunter College on Jewish humor, at 99 years of age. For writing, teaching and a little laughter always uplifted Bel's heart and the hearts of those around her.