Like his Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure and Ruth Law Thrills a Nation, Don Brown's Far Beyond the Garden Gate: Alexandra David-Neel's Journey to Lhasa charts another innovative woman in a concise picture-book biography. Here, the focus is Parisian-born Alexandra David-Neel's determination to enter the Tibetan capital. A spread of David-Neel crossing a gorge by cable illustrates the lengths to which she goes to become the first Western woman to enter Lhasa, in 1924.
As a child in the mid-1800s, Alexandra David-Neel has a pampered life in Paris, where she reads about wonderful places she wishes to visit. She is especially drawn to the ancient Asian religion of Buddhism. She becomes a singer, Alexandra David, who travels to India, Greece and North Africa. After seven years of singing, she can no longer ignore her desire to study Asian culture in Tibet. She faces many obstacles; no non-Asian woman has ever traveled to Lhasa. Her scholarly adventures take her to many places she has read about. The lights and the darks of the subtle watercolors really make a difference in setting the mood of the story. The lack of detail in the pictures seems to make the reader want to find out more about this area of the world. The wonderful vocabulary makes this work of historical non-fiction an appealing book to read with elementary children. However, its child-like size and format are somewhat deceiving as it is a book for adults as well. 2002, Houghton Mifflin Books, Ages 6 up.
Gr 3-5-David-Neel was one of a small group of intrepid women who defied convention to become bold travelers in remote areas of the world. In fact, even as a child, she looked for adventure beyond the confines of her Victorian household. As an opera singer, she traveled to many far-off places, but she eventually married and settled down in Tunis. Her true adventures began in 1911 when, with her husband's blessings, she set out for Asia and was gone for 14 years. Those journeys are the focus of this picture book, which describes her wanderings and her eventual trek to Lhasa, a city never before visited by a European woman. Though the book starts abruptly, it tells a fascinating tale of a person willing to leave her comfortable world behind to pursue her interest in Buddhism, much of the time accompanied by a young servant whom she eventually adopted. David-Neel's vivid quotes are interspersed throughout the story. Although the author's note does not provide sources for them, the bibliography does list two of her books. The beiges, grays, and whites of Brown's palette capture the feeling of the unfamiliar world into which the woman and her companion ventured, but the rag-doll figures are less appealing. Little has been written about this intriguing woman for this audience, so this book will be a welcome addition to most collections.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
"Brown combines succinct language, dramatic storytelling, and beautiful, spare watercolor art to describe his subject’s remarkable life… Brown perfectly balances his atmospheric words and pictures in an exciting account." Booklist, ALA, Boxed Review
"Even now, children mostly seem to hear about wild adventure as the purview of men and boys: to have Don Brown's series is a bracing antidote to that misconception. Brown's signature watercolors are impressionistic, almost calligraphic. Heady, powerful stuff." Kirkus Reviews
"Brown's present-tense narrative uses simple but riveting language, and, as in his previous biographies, he interjects the subject's own words to further dramatize the story... What encouragement to readers to find their own way 'beyond the garden gate.'" Horn Book
“[Brown’s] work appears regularly in the biography section of elementary-school libraries because of his apt choice of subject matter and his eye for telling detail…Open the book to see why Brown is popular in schools.” The New York Times Book Review
“A welcome edition to most collections.” School Library Journal