News / USA

Obama's Mother Inspires Magical Journey

Presidential sibling authors children's book on love and healing

The author - Maya Soetoro-Ng - as a baby and  her brother, Barack Obama, with their mother, Ann Dunham, and her father, Lolo Soetoro, in an undated family snapshot.
The author - Maya Soetoro-Ng - as a baby and her brother, Barack Obama, with their mother, Ann Dunham, and her father, Lolo Soetoro, in an undated family snapshot.

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

During his run for the presidency, Barack Obama often talked about his mother, Ann Dunham, and the lessons she taught him through her work with poor rural communities around the world. Dunham died of cancer in 1995, before any of her grandchildren were born.

Now the president's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, has written "Ladder to the Moon," a children's book that attempts to connect her young daughter, Suhaila, with the grandmother she never knew.

The book’s title was inspired by a picture post card Dunham gave Maya as a child. It features a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe which depicts a ladder floating against the night sky, with a half-moon high above it.

'Ladder to the Moon,' by presidential sister Maya Soetoro-Ng
'Ladder to the Moon,' by presidential sister Maya Soetoro-Ng

In the book, little Suhaila asks her mother what her grandmother was like. "Like the moon," her mother replies. "Full, soft and curious." Suhaila longs to meet her, and one night, her wish comes true. A golden ladder appears at her window and Grandma Annie invites the girl to come along on a magical journey.

"The book is about an evening spent helping others to come up to the moon after natural disaster and religious strife and conflict," says Soetoro-Ng. "And the moon becomes a sanctuary, an imagined place to heal and rest in hammocks until we’re laughing loudly again."

It seemed natural for Soetoro-Ng to connect her daughter and Grandma Annie through the moon. Her late mother, she says, always loved the moon because it was the same for everybody, no matter where in the world they were. Under the glow of the moon, she recalls, her mother shared her most meaningful tales with her children.

That’s how Soetoro-Ng says she and her brother, President Obama, remember their mother - as a great story teller and great role model.

Maya Soetoro-Ng
Maya Soetoro-Ng

"Like me, he feels that she’s someone who gave us a strong moral compass, that she gave us compassion and desire to recognize the things that are common to all humanity and reach out across the divides even when doing so is hard," she says. "That’s something tremendously valuable."

It wasn’t just her mother’s tales that shaped who she and her brother have become. Soetoro-Ng says what parents do is more important than what they say. Dunham, who had a PhD in anthropology, worked in rural development in some of the poorest places in the world.

"I recognize, for instance, that in making sure that we came along to villages and to her work, that our mother was trying to get us to see that these village people were just as important and powerful and loving and had just as much to teach as upper class, well-educated people."

Although her goal was to introduce her mother to her daughter, Soetoro-Ng says "Ladder to the Moon" has something to say to other young readers, and older ones as well.

"Slow down and think about the lessons of the elders. I think it’s true we look forward to enormous amounts of information, but I think we would be better off if we thought about the kinds of wisdom and thoughtfulness that we need in order to handle the amount of information ahead."

Although Suhaila never knew her grandmother, Obama and Soetoro-Ng knew theirs. Their mother's mother had an enormous influence on them.

"Our grandmother was a formidable woman, very practical and very strong, very smart. She was for me a balancing, steadying force. She took care of us. Both my brother and I lived with her for a time and she allowed us to be brave because we knew that she would always take care of us, that there would be a safety net beneath us. And that was an important feeling to have. It was a great gift."

Other messages present in "Ladder to the Moon" are that all people are intertwined and that service is important. Soetoro-Ng says children need to know they are strong enough to take responsibility for themselves and others.

"We need to teach our children empathy and care and love and communication and social responsibility in preparation for adulthood. We can’t afford to live in isolation and we need to teach our kids that the things that they do not only matter to others far away, but impact others who live far away and there are ripples of effect. So that means we need to be responsible and thoughtful about our actions, about our relationship to the environment, about the way that we communicate and we ought to do so kindly."

Soetoro-Ng hopes "Ladder to the Moon" triggers conversations between parents and children about the values and tools the young generation needs to have a positive impact on the world.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid