Can you find Tibet on a map? Have you ever heard of Alexandra David-Neel? Answers can be found by reading “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” by Don Brown. The children’s author-illustrator has written several books about little known historical characters in interesting settings, check out “Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa,” “Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her remarkable discoveries,” or “Ann Ramsey’s Grand Adventure.”
Alexandra David was born in Paris in 1868. She had a wanderlust fed by reading travel books and looking at maps, including railroad lines, “fancying the many lands toward which they led.” In 1904 she settled in Tunis, North Africa, and married Philip Neel. But her craving for travel and curiosity about Buddhism led her to set out for India in 1911. For 14 years she traveled in Asia, many years, with a young boy, later man, Yongden, whom she adopted.
Don Brown’s “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” takes us with Alexandra to Japan, Korea, and the Gobi Desert. We learn about her study of Buddhist texts in the Kim Bum Monestary and her trek with Yongden to Lhasa, the Tibetian capital where she interviews the Dali Lama. She was the first non-Asian woman in Lhasa.
What a fantastic story. So many children’s books transport us to little known areas of the world and introduce us to amazing, frequently real, characters. I sometimes think, just read children’s literature.