“More than anything, I wished that my mother and my daughter could have known and loved each other,” Maya Soetoro-Ng writes in her “Author’s Note,” mourning her late mother (anthropologist S. Ann Dunham), who died a decade before her granddaughter Suhaila was born. Through the infinite magic of words and the gorgeous imagination of Yuyi Morales‘ illustrations, Soetoro-Ng “unite[s] grandmother and grandchild through a story in which my mother could meet one of her granddaughters and share the moon with her.”
Inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s painting of the same name, Ladder to the Moon is an exquisite, multi-generational journey of love and hope. “‘What was Grandma Annie like?’” Suhaila asks. “‘Full, soft, and curious. Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could,” Mama assures her. Suhaila continues to wonder that night, and “as though in answer … a golden ladder appeared on the edge of the sill.” Grandma Annie emerges to take the curious Suhaila by the hand, and climb the beckoning ladder.
Nestled together into the moon, Suhaila and Grandma Annie share a smile until “they too knew each other completely. Sometimes a smile is strong enough to do that.” Suhaila watches as Annie guides the children lost in tragedies (a “fifty-foot wave” and “two tall towers that trembled”) to safety. Annie promises the children “‘We’ll work together,’” in order to “build bridges and buildings and bonds between people.”
Suhaila witnesses the power of prayer, the people below united in spite of all their different faiths into “hope’s massive stream.” The more she sees, the harder she listens, and the deeper she feels her grandmother’s love; with every new experience she shares with Annie, Suhaila “knew more than she had known before.” Soon enough, Suhaila herself learns how to heal.
Suhaila’s magical journey ends with a “snuggle and a smooch” before she tumbles back to bed, returning as a young harbinger of Grandma Annie’s healing wisdom. “Come. Tell me everything,” Mama gently greets her traveling daughter. And thus the story can begin anew…
Soetoro-Ng and Morales offer a wondrous tale of how each of us – even the youngest children – can “plant seeds in soft soil,” both literally and figuratively, as we nourish and heal one other. Together, with renewed love and hope, the earth can become a safe harbor for us all.