Cover image for Uncommon traveler : Mary Kingsley in Africa
Uncommon traveler : Mary Kingsley in Africa
Brown, Don, 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 27 cm
A brief biography of the self-educated nineteenth-century Englishwoman who, after a secluded childhood and youth, traveled alone through unexplored West Africa in 1893 and 1894 and learned much about the area and its inhabitants.
Reading Level:
AD 550 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.6 0.5 43954.

Reading Counts RC K-2 3.3 2 Quiz: 25838 Guided reading level: M.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT476.23.K56 B76 2000 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DT476.23.K56 B76 2000 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
DT476.23.K56 B76 2000 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In 1870, an eight-year-old girl named Mary Kingsley lived in a small house on a lonely lane outside London, England. Her mother was bedridden and her father was rarely home. Mary did not go to school. She served as housekeeper, handyman, nursemaid, and servant, for years. In 1893 Mary traveled to West Africa and proceeded to embark on an astonishing journey of discovery. In her high-necked blouse, long skirt, and Victorian boots, she endured the brutal heat and hardships of Africa, and thrived. With luminous watercolors and a lively text, Don Brown tells the fascinating story of a most uncommon woman.

Author Notes

Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him "a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies." He lives in New York with his family.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ages 4^-8. "Filled with fire, temper, intelligence and go," nineteenth-century British traveler Mary Kingsley twice journeyed to West Africa by herself--a nearly unheard of undertaking for a single woman of that time. Even more remarkable is the fact that, until her parents' death in 1892, Kingsley had scarcely left the family home: "books were her companions and teachers." Nevertheless, inspired by her father's journeys, she ignored warnings and pressed on, surviving encounters with animals, insects, and the elements, while falling in love with West Africa in the process. Returning to England, she shared her feelings in lectures and books. Brown's picture-book biography is as spirited as the woman herself, giving children a sense of Kingsley's splendid calm and capacity for dry understatement. Brown's witty, affectionate, gauzy watercolor illustrations are wonderful complements to the text, contrasting the grayness of Kingsley's childhood with the brilliance of Africa's natural landscape. A grand introduction to the woman and an inspiring story about perseverance, this is an uncommonly good book about an uncommon traveler. An author's note telling more about the intrepid Kingsley and a bibliography are appended. --Michael Cart

Publisher's Weekly Review

Brown (Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure) again trolls feminist history for an engaging heroine, emerging this time with the redoubtable British explorer, Mary Kingsley. After a reclusive childhood spent dutifully nursing her mother and educating herself through books (she was never sent to school), Mary determines to see the world and sets off in 1892, at age 30, for the wilds of West Africa. Exploring the country in full proper Victorian dress ("It is at these times that you realize the blessings of a good thick skirt," she remarks after falling into a spike-filled pit and narrowly escaping injury), the plucky Mary collects insects and fish for the British Museum of Natural History. A series of piquant pen-and-ink and watercolor sketches shows her approaching a hippo, fending off a crocodile with her canoe paddle and wading "through sun-cooked swamps of ink-black slime." It's difficult to discern a chronology for Mary's adventures, but the vague sense of years of travel and adventure matches the artwork's appealingly impressionistic flurry of lines blurred with smoky color. Mary emerges as an intrepid and admirable character. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-3-The author of Ruth Law Thrills a Nation (Ticknor & Fields, 1993), Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure (1997), and Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries (1999, both Houghton) brings another unsung female adventurer to light. Confined in a Victorian manse with bricked up windows, Kingsley spent her young years caring for her bedridden mother and awaiting the intermittent visits of her peripatetic father. Resourceful and independent, she escaped through the books she read in her father's library. Released from her servitude by her parents' death, the 30-year-old woman embarked on extended travels to Africa, where she found her spiritual home and felt a kinship with the native people. She returned to England to write and lecture on her observations. Brown's spare text, filled with perfectly chosen details, gives individuality to a universally appealing tale of a neglected child who eventually triumphs through her own spirit of independence. By incorporating quotes from his subject's writing, the author provides an accurate picture of her common sense, her sense of humor, of wonder, and of self. The sketchy watercolor illustrations accurately convey the dreariness of her childhood, but are less successful in portraying her travels. Dominant hues of gray, brown, green, and blue effectively evoke settings and transitions, but the details in the drawings are as disappointing as the ones in the text are delightful. The human figures are shadowy, with hollow eyes, stiff arms, and pallid complexions. It is unfortunate that the visuals don't support the beauty, excitement, and lushness that so enthralled Kingsley.-Starr LaTronica, Four County Library System, Vestal, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.