Author Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s Sister, to Speak at JANM


Maya Soetoro-Ng

Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Obama’s sister, will read from her new book, “Ladder to the Moon,” on Wednesday, April 20, at 1 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 1st and Central in Little Tokyo. (Note: The time has been changed from 10:30 a.m.)

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, Soetoro-Ng draws inspiration from her late 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 and reaffirms our common humanity.

Yuyi Morales’ 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.

Soetoro-Ng says that “Ladder to the Moon” was inspired by her young daughter Suhaila’s questions about her late grandmother, Ann Dunham, who is also Barack Obama’s mother.

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, the author later moved with her family to Honolulu. She has traveled extensively, speaks Spanish and Indonesian, and has a long and rich background in cultures and education. After attending Barnard College and the University of Hawaii, she was awarded a master’s degree in secondary education from New York University.

From 1996 to 2000, she taught at and developed curriculum for public middle schools in Manhattan. She then moved back to Hawaii to pursue her Ph.D. in international comparative education; she also taught at a charter public school and a girls’ high school.

Soetoro-Ng is currently an education specialist for the East-West Center, where she facilitates educational exchange and cross-cultural understanding between Asia and the U.S. She is also a lecturer at the University of Hawaii’s College of Education, where she teaches multicultural education and the history of education.

Since emigrating from Mexico in 1994, Morales has drawn strongly from her Mexican heritage to create some of the most celebrated books for children. As a Spanish-speaking immigrant and new mother, she struggled with English and with her sense of loneliness in the foreign culture.

Taking solace in public libraries, she practiced English with her son by reading children’s books. In her library visits, she found a renewed interest in stories, inspiring her to enroll in evening writing classes to learn how to tell stories in English. She also bought her first set of paints and brushes and, while studying the picture books she loved, began learning how to paint.

Less than a decade later, the self-taught artist’s illustrations for Kathleen Krull’s “Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez” skyrocketed her work to the top of best-books-of-the-year lists. Her artwork also earned her a Pura Belpré Honor, as well as a Christopher Award and a Jane Addams Award. The first author-illustrator to be recognized by the Pura Belpré Committee three times for her work, Morales now lives with her husband and teenage son in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she continues to create acclaimed books for children.

Space is limited and RSVPs are highly encouraged. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit


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