Agell has also written and illustrated picture books for young children.
Agell was born in Norsjö, Sweden, on September 7, 1959. She is the daughter of businessman L. Christer Agell and artist Margareta "Meta" McDonald. Her great-grandfather, K. Hugo Segerborg, was director of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. Of her childhood, Agell says, "somebody always handed me art supplies." Her family moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada when she was two years old. She attended Carlyle Elementary school, learning English and hearing tales of Maine from Anglo-Canadian and Franco-Canadian friends. She became enamored with Maine, writing a story set in Halibut, Maine, a fictional town in which she imagined herself as her protagonist, a ruddy-cheeked boy catching fish for dinner.
From Canada, Agell's family moved back to Sweden, briefly, then to Hong Kong when she was eleven. She graduated from the Hong Kong International School, a Lutheran mission school that, she says, was affiliated with an open-minded ecumenical church.
As a compromise with her mother, Agell applied to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME for early acceptance. Instead of leaving school for a hitch-hiking stint with her boyfriend, she left Hong Kong and arrived in Maine in 1977. She felt an immediate sense of home and has lived in the state ever since. Recalling her childhood story, she wonders if, somehow, she'd "written herself into the state."
Agell graduated from Bowdoin College in 1981, where she studied art and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in education. She later earned a teaching certificate from the University of Southern Maine, and a master's degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1986.
Agell became a naturalized citizen of the United States in the 1990s.
Agell taught multilingual and multicultural education at Portland High School, Portland, ME and lived in several Maine towns before settling in Brunswick, ME with her husband, Peter J. Simmons, an arts administrator and master gardener. She and Peter have two children, Anna and Jon.
Along with her work as a writer and illustrator, Agell is a teacher in the gifted and talented language arts program at Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, ME. She says she's found her "tribe" with middle-schoolers. She has also conducted workshops for youths and adults at various literary events throughout the state, including the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME.
Dancing Feet (1994) is a rhyming story about the function of feet, hands, noses, legs and mouths. The text is matched with watercolor illustrations that depict similarities and differences of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and reflecting Agell's interest in multicultural education. One reviewer found the drawings range from the "suggestively simple to excessively cartoonish." However, other reviewers found the book enjoyable to read and a good choice for story hour. Recommended for ages 3–7.
To the Island (1999) and Up the Mountain (2000) both features four friends: Dragon, Cat, Chicken and Rabbit who spend time together exploring their surroundings. In To the Island, recommended for ages 3–5, the four friends venture to a nearby island for a picnic. The story is described by Donna Gold of the Portland Press Herald as "neither silly nor solemn," with a text suitable for beginning readers and illustrations that, through use of vibrant colors, depict a happy time spent with friends.
In Agell's Up the Mountain, the four set off on a rainy day to climb a mountain. The adventure is, reportedly, "too mild for children at the upper end of the target audience" (the four just basically walk to the top of the mountain and back), but reviewers agree the simple rhymes and the illustrations, conveyed in ink, watercolor and pastels, are suitable for young listeners. Recommended ages 2–5.
Welcome Home or Someplace Like It (2003), Agell's debut novel, is a semi-autobiographical story told through the experiences of 13-year-old Aggie Wing. Aggie and her brother, Thorne, are faced with learning to cope with life in Ludwig, Maine after being dropped off there by their mother, a romance writer, who leaves to do research in Niagara Falls. The two children have moved a lot and must now learn to live with their 91-year-old grandfather. Themes in the book include abandonment, bravery, community, family and discoveries of home. Elsa Geskus, in Childhood Education, describes the book as a coming of age story and Barbara Auerbach reports in the School Library Journal, the book has "strong and winning characters; excellent pacing; and a lazy, nostalgic setting." Welcome Home or Someplace Like It has been compared with Polly Horvath's The Canning Season. Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Agell's dystopian book, Shift (2008), takes on an admittedly darker tone than her previous books, written in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that occurred in the United States on September 11, 2001. Agell felt a sense of outrage that the U.S. government's response to those events. "Was this really my country bombing its way to peace? Wiretapping its citizens to protect their freedoms?" she wrote in an interview for McMillan Publishers, "As someone who chose American citizenship on purpose, as an adult, I felt such a sense of betrayal. My country had been hijacked by a fear-mongering regime: ours. The whole thing had a surreal quality about it."
Agell channeled her anger into the novel, exploring themes such as personal freedom, government control, separation of church and state, religion, science and evolution, and identity, as experienced by the 15-year-old protagonist, Adrian Havoc who, with his sister Shriek, must somehow make sense out of a world that is "out of whack." The world they travel through in Shift is the partially post-nuclear United Christian States controlled by Homestate agents, with similarities to 1984 (George Orwell), The Stand (Stephen King) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy).
Agell views Shift as a cautionary tale. Reviewers find the book thought-provoking and readable for its intended young adult audience, though some find the plot confusing and take issue with the seemingly anti-Christian themes. Agell disagrees with this sentiment, saying through her character Lenore, "God wants us to think." Agell finds it strange that, in the book and in real life, this idea stirs up controversy. Agell wants her readers to learn to ask "what if" and develop the skills to think for themselves, regardless of their religious affiliations.
In March 2011, Shift was adapted for stage by Al Miller and performed as part of the Theater Project (a Young Company Production), in Brunswick, ME.
Agell's The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister (2010) focuses on the daily life of a fourth grade girl, India McAllister, growing up in a small town in Maine. Themes of the book include adoption, friendships, breast cancer, homosexuality and divorce which are interwoven throughout the book as ordinary occurrences in the young girl's life. The text is accompanied by India's (Agell's) line drawings. One reviewer criticized the book as too complicated, leaving unresolved most of the issues India encounters in the book. Recommended for children ages 8–11, The Accidental Adventure of India McAllister was named among the top ten GLBTQ books for young readers by the American Library Association's 2011 Rainbow Project.Shift ISBN 978-0805078107
Welcome Home or Someplace like It ISBN 978-0805070835
The Sailor's Book ISBN 978-0920668917
Mud Makes Me Dance in the Spring ISBN 978-0884481126
I Wear Long, Green Hair in the Summer ISBN 978-0884481133
Wind Spins Me Around in the Fall ISBN 978-0884481140
I Slide into the White of Winter (this book and the 3 above are a quartet) ISBN 978-0884481157
Dancing Feet ISBN 978-0152004446
I Swam With a Seal ISBN 978-0152001766
To The Island ISBN 978-0751354539
Up the Mountain ISBN 978-0789426109
The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister ISBN 978-0805089028
Tell Me a Story: About Maine, Atrium Art Gallery, University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn Campus, Lewiston, ME (2013)
The Great Bangor Draw-Off, Bangor Book Festival, Bangor Public Library Lecture Hall, Bangor, ME (2011)
Maine Festival of the Book, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Holiday Book Sale, Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, Portland, ME (2010)
Children's Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, ME (2009) (2010) (2012)
Fall Writing Retreat (Instructor), Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, ME (2005) (2006)
Books & Blooms, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, ME (2005)
Raising Readers Book Festival, a celebration of winter and reading, Pineland Farms, New Gloucester, ME (2005)
Blueberries and Moose: A Festival of Maine Children's Literature, Portland Public Market, Portland, ME (2004)
Writer-Illustrator Talk, hosted by Yarmouth Arts, Yarmouth, ME (2004)
Family Arts Festival, Brunswick, ME (2001)
Barbara Cooney Festival of Children's Book Illustration, Round Top Center for the Arts, Skidompha Public Library, Damariscotta, ME (1999)
Full Circle Summer Fair, Union, ME (1997)
South Freeport Congregational Church Summer Festival, Freeport, ME (1996)