First aired on Q (06/21/11)
Stanley Ann Dunham was an inspiring woman. U.S. President Barack Obama often refers to his mother as his inspiration and now Dunham also serves as the inspiration for a new children's book written by her daughter. Maya Soetoro-Ng, daughter of Dunham and half-sister of Obama, started Ladder to the Moon after her daughter began asking questions about her late grandmother. Dunham passed away in 1995, before Soetoro-Ng's daughters had a chance to meet her.
Ladder to the Moon is a tale about family, healing and how we're all connected through stories. In a recent interview with Q, Soetoro-Ng told host Jian Ghomeshi that the book "was a way for me to heal from the loss, to conjure my mother, to open up conversations with my daughters about who she was and what is it they inherit and where it is they come from."
Obama and Soetoro-Ng get their gift of storytelling from their late mother. Dunham was a respected anthropologist, and as such, was always telling her children the stories she collected. "As an anthropologist she was very respectful in collecting," Soetoro-Ng said. "She did remind us that everywhere one could find stories of value and beauty and it makes sense therefore to seek out these stories and appreciate them."
Obama has written several books and although Ladder to the Moon is Soetoro-Ng's first, it won't be her last. "I honestly feel like my brother and I both use storytelling to get our bearing, to steady ourselves," she said. "We can name ourselves through storytelling."
Soetoro-Ng stresses the value of giving young people the power to tell stories on a regular basis, which is why she chose to start her writing career with a children's book. Soetoro-Ng is a teacher at the secondary level and found she was often wishing that the young people who come to her would have more opportunities to talk about their place in the world and their communities. "My thinking is that if we're going to make sure they have flexible minds and spirits...we have to do so at an earlier age."
Soetoro-Ng loves the idea of writing children's books that open up a dialogue between adults and children. "I think they have much to teach us, and we need to remind them of their value, and ask them to share their stories."
Ladder to the Moon
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From Candlewick Press:
"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."