February 02, 2009 12:00 PM

For a moment, after the Jonas Brothers took the stage of the Verizon Center on the eve of the inauguration, 10-year-old Malia Obama could have been any fifth-grade girl. A huge grin lighting up her face, she cheered, waved her arms and sang along: “Now I’m speechless. Over the edge, I’m just breathless …”

Then the moment passed and, once again, Malia and sister Sasha, 7, were back in the spotlight, led onto the stage by Joe Jonas himself. They danced along with the Jonases, Miley Cyrus and teen stars Demi Lovato and Keke Palmer before a crowd of 14,000 at the Kids’ Inaugural: We Are the Future concert. “Sometimes you forget they’re human,” Palmer, who chatted with the girls, told PEOPLE. “But they were like my brother and sister, except better behaved!”

For the world’s most famous little girls, the concert was a chance to kick back in the middle of an extraordinary three days that culminated with the swearing-in of their dad, Barack Hussein Obama, as the nation’s 44th president. It also marked the beginning of a new life for the sisters from Chicago as they take their places as the youngest occupants of the White House since Amy Carter.

With the eyes of the world upon them, Malia and Sasha displayed preternatural poise throughout the days of pomp and ceremony. Yet they also kept their kids’ sense of fun. On Jan. 17, during the Lincoln-inspired train trip from Philadelphia to Washington, while the grown-ups disembarked in Baltimore for speeches, Sasha and Malia asked the daughters of Alicia Girardeau, a homemaker and Obama supporter from Kansas City, Mo., who was invited on the train, to hang back with them. “They all decorated the train car for Michelle’s birthday,” says Girardeau. “The girls were back there for three hours, playing games, doing a puzzle. They were just so sweet and open.”

Everywhere she went, Malia carried a camera. Unruffled by news photographers on the train, Malia snapped her own photos of Dad, little sis and the Girardeau girls. She shutterbugged again the next day during the pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, where she and Sasha huddled with a blanket against the bitter cold as their parents rocked out to Mary J. Blige and Bruce Springsteen.

Michelle Obama has repeatedly invoked the need to maintain a sense of “normalcy” for her daughters, but even this famously disciplined mom agreed to bend one rule: On Jan. 21 Malia and Sasha got to take a day off from school. After all, they needed to recover from their kids’ party at the White House—during which they and a few dozen friends watched HSM3 and Bolt and then received a visit from the Jonases.

As for settling into their new digs, that seemed to be going just fine. With the day’s formalities finished, the First Family walked down the North Driveway of the White House to watch the Inaugural parade. Sasha, smiling and skipping, held her dad’s hand; Malia and Michelle walked hand-in-hand a few steps behind. Just moments earlier they’d entered their new house. “We’re here!” Michelle told a staffer and friend. “We’re home!”

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