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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.