Ladder to the Moon
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Ladder to the Moon

5.0 3
by Maya Soetoro-Ng, Yuyi Morales

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Soetoro-Ng and illustrator Morales (Floating on Mama's Song) collaborate on a vision of divine love, a love incarnated in a warm, round, brown-skinned grandmother. Soetoro-Ng (who is President Obama's half-sister) writes that the story sprang from a wish that her own mother had lived to meet her granddaughter. In the story, Suhaila's mother tells Suhaila about her Grandma Annie: "Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could." That night, Annie appears outside Suhaila's bedroom window and leads her up a golden ladder to the moon, where, from their celestial vantage point, they invite those on Earth they see are bereaved or in need of sustenance up into the sky for healing and rest. Morales conjures these images with real power, painting worshippers of many races and faiths illuminated by candlelight, infants with wings, and softly padded women whose arms promise forgiveness. The phrase "she knew more than she had known before" is repeated like a mantra as Suhaila witnesses cycles of suffering and healing. Nontraditional spiritual literature for children often falters in the execution; this work fulfills its promise. Ages 4–8. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“A lush, haunting story that brings together a grandmother and her grandchild. Soetoro-Ng, sister of Barack Obama, has written this story of compassion as a tribute to their mother.” – Booklist (stared review)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
An homage to grandmothers everywhere, this beautiful book was inspired by author Maya Soetoro-Ng's young daughter, who wanted to know more about her deceased maternal grandmother (also the mother of President Barack Obama). As the story opens, little Suhaila wonders about Grandma Annie, a woman as "full, soft, and curious" as the moon. That night the grandmother magically appears on a golden ladder and whisks the girl skyward. As they watch the people below deal with hardship, enjoy life and tell stories, the grandmother encourages the little girl to work "to make the land a little more kind." The book's message of global interconnection and compassion is tenderly interpreted in soft-toned, acrylic art by Yuyi Morales. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 3–5—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. After Suhaila asks, "What was Grandma Annie like?" the woman descends a ladder outside her window and invites the child to climb to the Moon with her and listen to the songs of the world's peoples, taste their troubles, feel their faith, and see her connection to them. Together they invite all those in need to climb to the Moon, experience its healing light, and work together to make the world a better place. The full-spread, stunning illustrations, executed in acrylic and digitally manipulated, most often appear on backgrounds of varying shades of blue. Grandmother and child are shown in a warm embrace on the cover, and the woman is rendered larger-than-life throughout, as if her body could match her heart and wrap itself "around the whole world." This is 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. Author and illustrator explanations in lengthy notes and on an accompanying CD are helpful, but readers will surely need additional discussion if they are to grasp the story's full import and discover, like Suhaila, their own responsibilities as citizens of the world.—Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT
Kirkus Reviews
It's hard to imagine the child for whom this intentionally inspiring mystical fable will strike a chord. Idealistic adults, on the other hand, will love it. They'll see it as an opportunity to foster compassion and tolerance, to introduce the idea of feeling connected to family members who've passed away and to share Morales' lovely, folk-art–style illustrations. All of which are worthy goals. Unfortunately, debut author Soetoro-Ng's lengthy, abstract text seems destined to lose the interest of young listeners, preventing any of these aims from being achieved. Occasionally awkward phrasing ("her silver-bangled arms outstretched and tinkling") is distracting, though there are also some appealing images ("she tossed herself out of bed like a tumbleweed"). Still, children are more likely to spend their time wondering why (and how) the moon sings than following the meandering plot as Suhaila and her grandmother Annie magically travel to the moon and then share their sanctuary with those in need. Morales' beautiful, luminous paintings, with soft edges and gently rounded figures, go a long way toward making the sentimental story almost work as an imaginative adventure. Double-page spreads with lots of celestial blue provide plenty to pore over, while the textures visible in her paintings are likewise pleasing. Ultimately, though, the artwork isn't enough o prevent this achingly earnest and heartfelt effort from sinking under its own weight. Disappointing. (author's, illustrator's notes)(Picture book. 4-7)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
11.38(w) x 10.02(h) x 0.42(d)
AD830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

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.

Yuyi Morales is the illustrator of Kathleen Krull’s Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, whose accolades include a Pura Belpré Award and a Christopher Medal, as well as the Pura Belpré Award-winning Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes. Born and raised in Mexico, she now lives in northern California.

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Ladder to the Moon 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
B-ANNB More than 1 year ago
The illustrations and the story are moving and remind us of what really matters in this world.
LenoraWA More than 1 year ago
This is a very special book for a grandchild who was born after her Grandma died. Full of love and caring and sharing that special lady.
blessedelementsGH More than 1 year ago
Maya Soetoro-Ng writes a beautiful touching hope filled children's book with in the pages of Ladder to the Moon. The story is enhanced and made even more beautiful by the illustrations of Yuyi Morales. This story begins with questions and curiosity from a little girl asking about a grandmother she never knew and then expands into an adventure that grants her wish to know her grandmother. One evening a golden ladder appears at the little girl's bed room window and on one of the rungs stands her grandmother who invites her to accompany her on a trip that is not only magical but teaches the little girl, Suhaila, that empathy and helpfulness towards others is a valuable service and celebration owed to humanity and our own life. This is a stunning story written by the author, Maya Soetoro-Ng who shares the caring attitudes and characteristics of her late mother so her daughter may have to the opportunity to be inspired by the grandmother she never met. This is not just a children's book but a treasure and the illustrations are more like pieces of art which unfolds the love in which it was written. This book was delivered to me by Candlewick Press but it was not purchased by me. It was not requested that I review this book but I have and the opinions expressed in this review are my own.