Author Q&A: Maya Soetoro-Ng


We spoke with Maya Soetoro-Ng, author of Ladder to the Moon about grief, coping, and teaching your child about their own history. You can visit the author on Facebook. What do you hope that Ladder To The Moon teaches young childrenabout coping?

Maya Soetoro-Ng: In "Ladder to the Moon" the characters experience hardship, but they also find new sources of strength in the wisdom of parents and ancestors, in community and kinship, and in their own interiors.  By engaging in service and giving love and compassion to others, children realize that they are strong. Children should know that they might face great challenges in life and lose people and things that they care about.  Unfortunately, they will likely meet people behaving unkindly or selfishly, and they'll likely witness violence at some point, either from a distance or firsthand.  They will certainly inherit problems from the preceding generation and will experience conflict with members of their own generation.   In facing all of this, they must grow resilient. They must survive and grow ever stronger and then make the world stronger and kinder. Your book illustrates a couple of major world events - the Indonesian tsunami, for example. What tips would you give parents for talking to their children about times of crisis and tragedy?

Maya Soetoro-Ng: In the book, we never see the waves crash or the towers fall. Moreover, the children are not left entirely alone or without resources. For instance, in the scene after the tsunami, Yuyi has drawn all of the children with something to hang on to. The point is that these events are not depicted in a way that is too scary.  What we do see is the aftermath of tragedy, where people are encouraged to help one another and band together, to cooperate and find solutions to shared problems. I think parents should focus on those messages of empowerment and interconnectedness in the book. We adults need not be explicit and frightening in talking about the bad things that happen in the world, but we can let children know their responsibility and power to sympathize and assist after crisis and tragedy.  We can do much to help our children realize that they are connected to other humans, even those residing far away, and to ask them to act in recognition of our common humanity. How do you think that major times of crisis affect children - are there a lot of, or what are the "teachable moments" in these cases?

Maya Soetoro-Ng: Children are aware of so much more than many adults realize. They are intuitive and perceptive and they know when the adults around them are experiencing grief or shock.  If we don't talk with our children and try to explain our reactions and feelings, we frighten them more because then they know something is amiss but they don't understand it.  Sadness becomes more powerful when it is combined with silence and cloaked in mystery.  When we name our experiences and share our thoughts, we can often diffuse grief and apprehension.  We need to give our children the tools to communicate their confusion and worry so that we can banish fear and replace it with resourcefulness. I think another important point of the book is teaching children about their own histories - Grandma Annie brings Suhalia through many different experiences and shares her wisdom. What are some good ways for parents to do the same?

Maya Soetoro-Ng: My daughters love to hear about mand my husband's childhood experiences and the colorful characters that populated our pasts.  Suhaila asks us both to share these stories at bedtime and we endeavor to do so animatedly with varying voices and dialogue. She's really captivated.  She doesn't stay that interested when I speak of Grandma Annie more abstractly, but when I bring details about the dolls we made from yarn, or the red and green chili peppers we put on our Christmas tree, or the pet beetle we named Fred, she is enchanted.  We often assume our kids aren't interested in these things, but if we rediscover a sense of play and share these stories when it's still and TV and computers are turned off, there's so much of our deepest selves that our children will happily receive.  The wisdom that we've earned and that our parents possess can be embedded in these stories and thus conveyed in ways that are natural and fun. The ending of this book is truly interesting - I want you to talk a little about hope, coming together, and working hard to solve problems.

Maya Soetoro-Ng: Above all, I wanted "Ladder to the Moon" to be a book about the optimism that we must work to preserve. A good attitude won't conquer all, but it will help us ward off despair and ensure that our lives are satisfying. We all need faith--not necessarily religious but perhaps--in order to brighten our vision and make us healthy emotionally and psychologically.   We need to keep the faith in one another, in the possibility of dialogue and connection, in the ability of the next generation to do better than the last.  We need hope to keep us going and we need to come together and work hard in order to solve problems; industry makes hope pragmatic and not merely delusional.  Our children make us hopeful, I think, in representing an unmapped future full of potential, and in return we have to nourish hopefulness in them.