“My Sister is My Guardian Angel” is a touching picture book co-authored by mother-daughter duo, Jeba and Sophia Pandian. The book recounts daily happenings of two sisters — the younger lives on Earth and narrates the story, while the older sister resides heaven. The younger sister imagines what her older sister does every day, things like looking after all the pets in heaven, enjoying sweet, heavenly treats — think cloud cotton candy and ice cream — and taking up sword fighting lessons with the archangel Michael. Most importantly, however, the older sister looks after her younger sister on Earth as her guardian angel.
This is one of those books that tugs at the heartstrings — a perfect book to read aloud to children who might have questions about heaven, guardian angels and other topics. The book also offers comfort to anyone who has experienced loss.
“My Sister is My Guardian Angel” will be released June 11, the 10th birthday of Isabella Pandian, the first child of the Pandian family. Isabella will celebrate her birthday in heaven, just as she has done for the past decade.
“In 2007 our first daughter, Isabella, was born prematurely,” Jeba said. “She passed away after five days in the ICU. It was such a difficult thing to go through.”
A few years after Isabella’s death, the Pandians had Sophia. Sophia is the co-author of the book — she was just 5 years old at the time the book was written. She’s now 7, but “I’m almost 8 years old!” she said.
The book certainly had humble beginnings.
“A couple of years ago, in 2015, Sophia started asking a lot of questions about Isabella and what she was doing,” Jeba said. “Sophia was also having nightmares at the time. Our friend suggested that Sophie draw some angels and put those drawings around her room. We then started talking about Isabella being her angel and watching over her, which led to more questions about what she did in heaven. We decided to sit down one day and draw out the book — Sophia would draw pictures, and we would put words to those pictures.”
The two quickly became more than mother and daughter — they became co-authors. When we began our interview on the patio of the Pandians’ backyard, Sophia proudly showed me pages from the very first draft: drawings constructed from pen, crayons and markers, with words scrawled across the top of the illustrations. They were precious depictions of an angel watching over her sister, painstakingly imagined by a little girl with a big personality.
“Here is one of the scenes I drew — I was only 5 at the time, so this isn’t that good — but I put words to my pictures. That’s how we wrote the book,” Sophia said.
The two would imagine situations and daily routines of Isabella while she was enjoying heaven. Jeba and Sophia wrote about countless situations and events, all drawn on scratch paper. Not all of them made the book, but they’ve kept those scraps of memories and ideas just the same.
“There were a lot of crazy things that didn’t end up in the book,” Jeba said. “At one point we wanted to incorporate a water park, where Isabella would be sliding down from the clouds.”
The Pandians’ earthly experiences naturally found their way into the book, and Sophia’s personality and spunk especially shine through on every page.
“I literally wrote most of [the book],” she said. She also claimed that all the “stuff that got cut was Mommy’s idea.”
As a reader, I noticed elements of the book that were adorable and imaginative but seemed out of the ordinary. That’s all Sophia.
“I put kind of funny elements into the book. There’s a part of the book where there is a cat on Isabella’s head,” Sophia laughed and laughed. “Cats just fall out of trees and land on angels’ heads.”
Jeba added, “There are definitely elements of her in this book, such as that cat on Isabella’s head. I’m sure people will be like ‘Why is it in there?’ but it’s just so Sophie!”
Bits and pieces of Sophia’s personality made its way to the surface as our interview progressed, despite her initial shy disposition. She proved to be quite the storyteller, and I grew more and more aware of her talents as we talked. She’s a smart, funny little girl with big dreams and aspirations.
“I want people to know I’m the co-author of this book because I want to go to Harvard [University] someday,” she said, with a smile the size of her personality creeping across her face. “Harvard and me go together perfectly. I’ve only gotten one B. It’s just a really good school. After Harvard, I want to go to Texas A&M. Then I’ll become a vet.”
Sounds like a plan.
The colorful illustrations also incorporate Pandian personality throughout the book. The illustrated version of Sophia wears a vivid red shirt with a bumblebee design across the front, which corresponds to Sophia’s family nickname, “Bumblebee.”
“There was a bumblebee in her straw [one day], and she sucked it up and got stung in the mouth,” Jeba explained. “It was actually my husband who came up with the nickname. Ever since she was tiny, we were trying to stick nicknames at her, but nothing stuck but ‘Bumblebee.’”
Other personal touches include a mention of Lilly, the family dog who passed away shortly after Sophia and Jeba wrote the book. Isabella takes care of all the pets of heaven, but Lilly is by far her favorite of all the animals she cares for.
“I will definitely talk about that dog!” Sophia said. “She was my No. 1 companion. What touches me about the book is that we made sure to put her in heaven, even though she hadn’t died yet. She was getting old. A few weeks or months after we wrote the book, she died. I’m glad she’s in the book.”
The illustration of Lilly is spot on, according to Jeba.
“It’s like [the illustrator] was in our heads,” she said. “Lilly looked just like that — the folds in her neck and the pink nose. Everything.”
The Pandians spoke highly of the illustrations, crafted by Cynthia Meadows. They found Meadows through their publisher but were delighted to learn she was a fellow Texan. The colorful pages are just what the co-authors envisioned. Even the portrayal of a hummingbird — an important piece of the story — is spot on.
“While we were writing the book, we were taking a tiny break, and outside there was a hummingbird at that feeder,” Sophia said, pointing to a bird feeder that hangs on the Pandians’ back porch. “[The hummingbird] was like a greenish, orangish, reddish hummingbird, just like the one [Meadows illustrated]. Isabella sends the hummingbird to check on us. He usually comes in the spring,” she said.
Other illustrations had a profound effect on Jeba.
“I thought we were writing this book for Sophia,” she said. “But when we saw the illustrations for the first time — on page two we see Isabella so happy with ice cream and other treats, and her grin and her eyes closed. That was so healing to see her so happy.”
“My Sister is My Guardian Angel” is not only a catalyst of healing of past and present wounds left by Isabella’s passing, but it’s also a platform for reaching out to other families who have experienced the same situation.
“It is such a difficult thing to go through. It feels like the world keeps moving, but your world has just crashed to a halt,” Jeba said. “I would be totally fine some days, and then some days I would be breaking down and crying. I didn’t understand why I was such an emotional basket case. I want to tell people that that’s OK. It’s OK to have up days, it’s OK to have down days.”
Often it was other people in her life who brought healing to Jeba.
“One thing I tried to explain to Sophie was that Mommy’s heart was broken, but people came and put Band-Aids on my broken heart,” she said. “God sent different people at different times to help me through this process. People would be sent through the last 10 years for a reason, and you don’t realize it until you’re looking back.”
Consider this book one of those Band-Aids for those who have experienced grief — grief for a deceased son, daughter, mother, father, grandfather, grandmother or even pet. This book offers something so important to those who have lost a loved one — hope.
“There’s always hope,” Jeba said. “I don’t want people to just sit there and give up and to think that their world is coming to an end. Hope is very important. If we didn’t have hope, we wouldn’t have Sophia. We wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The message of hope is instilled throughout the book, even if it is a subconscious message. It reiterates the notion that those who’ve passed on are with us every day. It calls to mind a quote from the musical “Into the Woods:”
“Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood. Do not let it grieve you — No one leaves for good.”
Isabella didn’t leave the Pandians’ lives for good, and neither do any of our loved ones.
A very deliberate message of hope was added to the overall design of the book, however, and audiences can see it right on the interior and back cover of “My Sister is My Guardian Angel.” Little purple footprints hover above the word “hope,” written carefully by a child.
Those footprints are Isabella’s, and the word “hope” was written by Sophia herself.
This stamp illustrates the connection between two little girls who have never physically met. When you speak with Sophia and with the entire Pandian family, that connection is palpable — Isabella arises in conversation effortlessly. She’s with them always, and she was with us on the day of the interview.
“She must be watching this interview right now and popping popcorn into her mouth,” Sophia said. (Popcorn is a favorite treat of Sophia’s, and, in turn, it’s a favorite treat of Isabella’s.)
Near the end of the book, readers discover the most important part of the guardian angel’s day — she sits on Jesus’ lap, listening to his stories.
“I knew I wanted to end the book on Jesus’ lap,” Jeba said. “We think it’s really important that people know that heaven isn’t just a place where you can play all day; it’s a holy place.”
Those values are instilled in the entire Pandian family. Sophia proudly proclaimed the true aspiration of her life and her family’s lives:
“God created us because he wanted us to share the word of Jesus,” she said.
I think you’re doing a great job, Sophia.
What’s next for the authors?
“We are thinking about doing a series of ‘My Angel’ books, if we can get it to work out,” Jeba said.
Sophia added, “I’m thinking the next ‘My Angel’ book should about Lilly!”
I’d be one to read “Our Pet is Our Guardian Angel,” no doubt.
“My Sister is My Guardian Angel” will be available for purchase beginning June 11 from various vendors, including Amazon and the book’s website, myangelbooks.com.