Soetoro-Ng, Maya. Ladder to the Moon. Illus.by Yuyi Morales. Candlewick, 2011.
Don’t let appearances deceive you; Ladder to the Moon, the debut picture book by Maya Soetoro-Ng, is not some simple book to lull a little one to sleep. This author sets out to weave a hopeful and fantastical story that embraces the whole world’s humanity.
Inspired by memories of her mother, Ann Dunham — also President Barack Obama’s mom — telling her stories at night, Ms. Soetoro-Ng takes us on a journey from here to the moon and back.
We meet Suhaila, a small, curious girl who asks her mama, “What was Grandma Annie like?” Her mom replies, “Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.” Later that night, as the child lies in bed pondering her mother’s words, a golden ladder appears outside her window. At the bottom stands her grandmother, “her silver-bangled arms outstretched and tinkling. ‘Do you want an adventure, my dimpled child?’ ” she asks.
Together, Suhaila and her grandmother climb the ladder to the moon, where they can gaze down and observe the full range of wonder and woe taking place across the universe. Grandma Annie shares her wisdom with the girl, and urges her to listen to the moon’s songs, to observe how people need help, to join others in the work that needs to be done. She does not shield Suhaila from the world’s troubles, whether they be tsunamis, earthquakes, or “two tall towers that trembled and swayed on quaking soil.” Annie goes on to encourage her little one to see how people around the world survive tragedy by relying on faith, love, hope, community.
This imaginative plot soars off with the swirly, radiant acrylic paintings by Yuyi Morales, three-time winner of the Pura Belpré prize. With her bold, thick brush strokes; energetic curves; and gorgeous azure and golden hues, she infuses the story with much mystery and movement.
Younger children will not understand all the implications of Ladder to the Moon, but older ones and caring adults might be inspired by Annie’s goal: “We’ll throw in our hearts and minds, and work with our hands to make the land a little more kind.” As we approach the new year, that seems like a wonderful goal, doesn’t it?
You can hear more about Soetoro-Ng’s childhood and her inspiration for this picture book in this interview.
For two simpler books that celebrate our global community, see these nonfiction books: