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 Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had earlier warned storm could be one of worst the city has ever faced More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid