President Obama's Sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, Publishes Children's Book
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A new book may shed light on the president’s upbringing, but it’s only 48 pages long. And, it’s mostly pictures.
“Ladder to the Moon” is a new children’s book written by Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Barack Obama’s half-sister. The book is a fantastical story about Obama and Soetoro-Ng's mother, the cultural anthropologist Ann Dunham, and her adventure with Soetoro-Ng’s daughter, Suhaila. Along the way, they help orphaned tsunami victims and, as the title suggests, climb a ladder to the moon.
Soetoro-Ng got the idea for the book when her daughter said she wanted to know about her grandmother--who she never had a chance to meet.
On Wednesday evening, Soetoro-Ng read her book to a packed lecture hall at Columbia’s Teachers College, interjecting the reading with anecdotes about her mother.
“Mom loved Jung and collective consciousness,” said Soetoro-Ng. “She recognized the things that are the same in everyone--the same hopes and fears, the same insecurities.”
Soetoro-Ng was born during Dunham’s second marriage to Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman. She spent several years growing up with her half-brother Barack, both in Hawaii and Indonesia. The siblings are nine years apart in age.
“I wish some of Obama’s critics could have seen this,” gushed one audience member, Martica Heaner, after the reading. “If they could hear her, they would realize that they obviously had an incredible mother, and an incredible upbringing, and seem to share an enlightened, visionary, and embracing view of people and life.”
Soetoro-Ng is a professional educator who has taught high school history in Hawaii and holds degrees from N.Y.U., and the University of Hawaii. At the reading, she identified her book’s main themes as the interconnectedness of all people, the imperative of service, and a reflection of what could be inherited from family.
“She was tremendously nurturing,” said Soetoro-Ng of her mother. “She told me that she loved me 100 times a day it seems.”
Dunham died of ovarian cancer in 1995. In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama wrote his mother was, “in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve known.”
After the reading Wednesday night, a group of 8th graders from the Clinton School for Writers and Artists in Midtown performed a short play they wrote based on “Ladder to the Moon,” substituting their own memories of their grandparents.
“I liked it because it was a different kind of children’s book,” said Greta Spray-Keating, one of the students in the play. “It also has poetry and a deeper meaning in it that grown-ups can understand.”
"Ladder to the Moon" was published on April 12 by Candlewick.