To cover the First Daughters, first travel overseas ...

When Malia and Sasha Obama made a weeklong trip to Africa with their mother in June, I got a close-up view each day of the first daughters, which is both rare and interesting.

They made no public statements -- and, in fact, the only time I heard their voices was when they joined their mother in reading Dr. Seuss to kids in a shantytown in the Zandspruit section of Johannesburg, South Africa. Their choice: “The Cat in the Hat.”

Still, my notebook is filled with my impressions (Malia almost as tall as mom) and observations (another museum; Sasha seems bored) and those observations shared by the Africans they met.

Nkau Onkarabile, 18, an orphan in Botswana, sells red AIDS lapel pins and other beaded jewelry through a non-profit, Stepping Stones International. He had the chance to meet the first daughters privately in a small group.

“I loved them,” he told me afterward. “At first I thought they would not enjoy making business with us. But they inspired me. They told me that what I am doing was great.”

Once fiercely protected by their parents, these two Chicago natives are growing up -- and stepping out into the world. That’s a theme of the story I wrote for the Chicago Tribune on July 3, when Malia Obama turned 13. (Sister Sasha celebrated her 10th birthday in June.)

The reporting sheds light on one aspect of a national story with a local foothold as it plays on an international stage. Whether in Chicago, in Washington or in the world at large, we’re on it.

-- Katherine Skiba

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