Maya Soetoro-Ng

Authors Pavilion
Saturday, May 5, 10:00 am
Featured in a dialogue panel with James Rumford and Sue Cowing

Mission Memorial Auditorium
Sunday, May 6, 1:00 pm
Special guest, with Janny Scott, author of A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother

Title of latest book: Ladder to the Moon

Genre: Children’s fiction
Candlewick; April 2011
Hardcover; $16.99; 48 pages; illustrated

The book: From Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister of President Obama, comes a lyrical story relaying the loving wisdom of their late mother to a young granddaughter she never met.

Little Suhaila wishes she could have known her grandma, who would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could, Mama says. And one night, Suhaila gets her wish when a golden ladder appears at her window, and Grandma Annie invites the girl to come along with her on a magical journey. In a rich and deeply personal narrative, Maya Soetoro-Ng draws inspiration from her mother’s love for family, her empathy for others, and her ethic of service to imagine this remarkable meeting. Evoking fantasy and folklore, the story touches on events that have affected people across the world in our time and reaffirms our common humanity.

Yuyi Morales’s breathtaking artwork illuminates the dreamlike tale, reminding us that loved ones lost are always with us, and that sometimes we need only look at the moon and remember.


A lush, haunting story that brings together a grandmother and her grandchild. When Suhaila ask her mother, “What was Grandma Annie like?” the answer comes, “She was like the moon . . . full, soft, and curious.” And that night a ladder to the moon appears with Grandma Annie waiting to take Suhaila to the sky. Together they listen to moon songs, but then they hear other voices: swimmers struggling against high waves, and sisters in two swaying towers. All are invited to come and rest and drink “sweet moondew from silver teacups.” These experiences, especially observing so many on earth praying to “make the fighting stop,” have an effect on Suhaila, who now knows “more than she had known before.” Once home, Suhaila realizes she has changed, having helped others learn and heal. Soetoro-Ng, sister of Barack Obama, has written this story of compassion as a tribute to their mother. Not every listener will understand the particulars or references, but the evocative words will wash over them, and they will respond to the expressed feelings of empathy and love. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect illustrator for this text than Morales, whose rounded shapes, sunset colors, and softness and strength mirror the words. Morales captures the luminosity of both the sky and the people on earth striving and straining to make the world a better place. The endnotes by author and artist add insight into a book meant to be discussed.

–Booklist, Starred Review, March 2011

From a place of bittersweet longing, Maya Soetoro-Ng writes an introspective children’s book that inspires all ages. What we find in Ladder to the Moon are epic images and inescapable stories that connect us through inevitable loss and spiritual understanding.

Honolulu Weekly

Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Ladder to the Moon and her mother’s gift for storytelling, the author (Barak Obama’s half-sister) weaves a tale that introduces her daughter to her grandmother’s concern for others and her cultural heritage… A complex story that encompasses natural disasters and war, as well as major religious and cultural traditions. Morales depicts different kinds of worship, different ethnic groups telling their stories around a fire, and even a creation myth.

School Library Journal

Maya Soetoro-Ng was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and is a writer and educator with a PhD in international comparative education. She says Ladder to the Moon, her first picture book, was inspired by her young daughter Suhaila’s questions about her grandmother Ann Dunham, the mother of Maya and of our forty-fourth president, Barack Obama.

Soetoro-Ng’s other works:

Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia; Duke University Press; First Edition; December 2009

Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids; Chronicle Books; March 31, 2010

Maya Soetoro-Ng on “Ladder to the Moon”

“Ladder to the Moon” – Illustrations


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