Researcher Tricia Kehoe is a scholar of Tibet studies who came across a dusty old copy of 1942’s Sue in Tibet, an out-of-print adventure book with a female character as lead, and knew she’d found something special. In a report for BBC Kehoe recounts her experience finding the picture book that stars Sue Shelby, the first daughter of a missionary family, in Batang, a remote Sino-Tibetan border town. She learned that the author’s life was used as the premise, making Dorris Shelton Still a remarkable treasure of history waiting to be found.
Between 1908 and 1921, Still’s family was stationed in Batang was missionaries. She considered the community home and was well immersed, though she and her sister were required to wear American dress. Sue and Dorris’ stories intersect: both made friends with Tibetan girls and met a reincarnated lama, who the real-life heroine once picnicked with after he was disbarred from religious leadership, having fallen in love. In the book, Sue miraculously becomes a message carrier for a military conference and thus a Batang hero, but in real life, the end of Dorris’ time in Tibet was not as sweet. She and her sister were shipped off to boarding school in 1921 and her father was shot and killed on a medical mission in Lhasa.
The BBC reports that Shelton followed Tibetan causes in the United States throughout her long life but never returned to the land she loved as a child. Her book is a considered a rarity for it’s time, when few girls were the focus of children’s books.
Read the full story at the BBC.