No denying whose half-sister she is: Maya Soetoro-Ng has the same earnest-calm manner, the same lofty rhetoric punctured by flashes of dry humor. She and President Obama must have got it from their mom.
Ann Dunham, who died in 1995, is the central character in “Ladder to the Moon,” Soetoro-Ng’s first children’s book — but already the second to come out of this first family, following her brother’s “Of Thee I Sing.” “Ladder” tells the story of Soetoro-Ng’s daughter Suhaila, 6, and her yearning to know “Grandma Annie.” One night, a golden ladder appears next to her bed, and the little girl spends a magical night with her grandma on the moon.
On a swing through D.C.’s Tenley-Friendship Library on Friday, part of a two-week book tour, Soetoro-Ng told a group of children and adults that she wrote the book to let her own two daughters, as well as nieces Sasha and Malia, know what the grandmother they never knew was like. “She would have given them so much.” In the family’s travels — her older brother was born in Hawaii and Soetoro-Ng in Indonesia, before moving back to the 50th state — Dunham “found community and friends wherever she went.” The book echoes those themes but also alludes to death and loss, to the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the towers of the World Trade Center. “We have to remember that we are connected to one other,” Soetoro-Ng told the library crowd, “and what happens far away matters to you — or it should.”
The teacher and her family are now back in Hawaii after a brief stint living in D.C. in the first year of her brother’s administration. She said she wrote the first draft in a day, then began editing while artist Yuyi Morales worked on the illustrations, a process that took more than three years.
Early reviews: The president “said it was sweet and captured our mother’s spirit nicely,” and Suhaila gave it a big thumbs-up. “She reminds her first-grade class all the time, ‘My name is in the book.’ ”