Kashama Leo-Henry: Representation Matters

For two years, I have read books and interviewed their authors in my weekly bookchat. Sometimes the authors are my friends and sometimes I meet them for the fist time when we go LIVE!

That is how I met the amazing Kashama Leo-Henry. She reached out to me in the spring of 2021 and sent me her first children’s book: Daddies and Uncles and More, Oh My!

I was so impressed by how many of her friends and family tuned in to support her by listening to our bookchat. It was easy to see why, as Leo-Henry cares deeply about her community in North Carolina and the place of her birth, Saint Lucia.

Her first children’s book focused on the importance of father figures, Black male figures specifically, in the lives of her children and those in her community. Representation matters and now more children can celebrate the important roles that good men play in their lives.

Sand Castle Books Expands!

After publshing her first children’s book and diving into the publishing world, Leo-Henry’s new publishing company, Sand Castle Books, published their second children’s book! Leo-Henry partnered up with educator and author Abigail Edmunds and brought forth I Can! Just Not Like You.

This beautifully illustrated children’s book highlights inclusiveness, equity, and tolerance and shows how friends navigate through life in their own special way. I was touched how Edmunds was inspired by her family and writing this book was an act of love for the many children in her life who have inspired her and others, despite having different abilities.

Edmunds’ book features children who many people have writen off as incapable because of their different abilities.

You Have A Friend In Me

Two books in a year for a first-time publisher sounds like a large undertaking, but Kashama Leo-Henry wasn’t finished!! Her third book came out in 2022 and is called, You Have A Friend In Me.

You Have A Friend In Me draws readers in through rhyme and more beauitful illustrations from the same illustrator as I Can! Just Not Like You, Nana Melkadze.

Parents and teachers can use this book to start conversations around empathy and equality. In fact, starting these kinds of conversations shows high expectations that young children are capable of making friends who seem different.

Kashama Leo-Henry’s latest book can help young readers understand friendship and treating others with fairness and kindness.

What Will She Do Next?

Kashama Leo-Henry is a talented woman, educator, leader, and entrepreneur. She has found talented women to team up with, and amplifies meaningful messages through prose and thoughtful illustrations. I have loved every conversation we’ve had. I can’t wait to see what she publishes next.

If your goal is to develop a culturally responsive library, include Leo-Henry’s books! Children need to see themselves in books, and they need to see people who are different as well. Leo-Henry has found an organic way to elevate women, children, Women of Color, and children with different abilities. If you are wondering how to teach your children sincerity and compassion, her books area great way to start.

Yaritza Villalba: Diverse Books Matter

Check out my BookChat with Yaritza Villalba

My first bookchat guest author of 2023 was the incredible Yaritza Villalba. She is known internationally as a rockstar educator, leader, and Microsoft Flip Innovative Lead Educator.

For years, Villalba has created and shared resources to help educators be more culturally responsive. She’s been on a mission to make sure every child feels seen, especially those who have been historically magrinalized.

Fortunately for all of us, Yaritza Villalba’s passion to ensure top notch education has only grown since she’s become a mother. Her words for students, teachers, and her baby girl included in her first children’s book, McKenzie’s Time Machine, are absolutely precious and uplifting.

It was such an honor and privilege to have Villalba on my bookchat, especially to start off a new year. Check out the FREE PearDeck Lesson Plan that goes along with McKenzie’s Time Machine and the resources shared on her website. All of Yaritza Villalba’s books would make great additions to your personal and school libraries.

Be Good To People

(a microblog)

It’s easy to be rude. It’s easy to take offense. It’s easy to blame others. 😩

It’s not easy to forgive, it’s not easy to take ownership, and it’s not easy to move on when you know you’ve made mistakes that have hurt others. 👣

But everyday, I strive to be good to people. To be better than I was the day before. To make amends when I am wrong. 🙏🏼

That’s what really matters and that’s what grows deeper connections. ❤️

Back To School Prayer

“Dear Lord, as teachers, students, and families begin this new season, please grant them patience, wisdom, and protection.

Patience among the chaos,

Wisdom to see all as whole people,

And Protection against anyone seeking to harm.


I wrote this prayer a few nights ago. A part of me wanted to go into more detail, but I decided to leave it simple and broad because I know we can trust God with the details.

Patience Among Chaos

While this season can be fun and celebratory, it’s also a challenge to get back to routines. For some, new routines are just beginning.

The first time parent sending their child to kindergarten comes to mind. The parent who has multiple chlidren at multiple schools, trying to balance new schedules.

Educators are also enduring chaos. The first weeks of school set the tone. New students, new procedures, making sure all kids have lunches, a way home, and making sure their own children are off to a good start.

So many forces are coming together and chaos ensues as everyone struggles to find their equilibrium in the midst of it all. Knowing we each play a vital part in our school communities makes patience so important. We often run short on sleep and energy. That’s why this prayer request was on my mind. I know what it’s like in both roles and how easy it is to snap.

Wisdom to See All as Whole People

You and I are not one dimensional. We are not just teachers. We are not just parents. We are not just students. We are humans with interests and skills. We bring in worries. We bring in joy.

We are also scared… sometimes more often than we’d like to admit.

If we can keep this perspective in check, we know that our connectedness is paramount. We know that we can offer insight into solutions needed to help our community.

We know when we hurt each other, we are hurting those attached to us, as well.

Protection Against Those Seeking Harm

More than ever, we enter a school year with the pain of how the last one ended. We are nervous to send our babies off, knowing that some parents have endured their morning goodbyes as the final one.

Lord, protect us all. Stand in the gap and keep those wanting to hurt our loved ones away. Stop the plans from being carried out. Allow our children to learn with joy and not fear. Let us have each new day with our loved ones.

Keep In Mind

Four years ago, as a public school teacher, I entered into a new grade level after a summer where my husband had life-altering surgery and our youngest was still breastfeeding. I remember dreading back to school. I remember wondering how I would serve everyone in my life, my family and my students.

Our students might have had wonderful summer breaks or the exact opposite.

The tired parents on Meet The Teacher night might be doing their best to put aside grief and be present as much as possible.

When we see each other as humans, not just a label, we are filling this universe with love. It helps us to be more compassionate and empathetic. We even end up modeling that for our chilren and students.

I wish you the best this new school year. I hope you feel plugged in to a supportive community. We all need to feel like we belong. Our faith can help us with the details.


Melody’s Makeup Musts:

For Beginners Like Me….

How It All Started

One of the worst experiences I had with makeup was at a middle school dance. I had too much foundation on and when I went to the bathroom to wipe the sweat off my face, I took all of the foundation off as well. We didn’t have YouTube or Instagram tutorials when I was growing up. All I knew was lipstick went on the lips, blush was for cheeks and so forth…. I’ve never felt confident about my makeup skills.

When I turned 39, I treated myself to a Vegas trip where I spent the day in a spa. Besides getting a pedicure and my hair styled, I made an appointment to get my makeup done professionally. My skin had been breaking out for months at that time, from my nose, around my mouth, to my chin. The esthetician covered all that up and I felt so beautiful! She suggested I get some facials when I went back home, to help heal my skin. I took her advice and after three facial treatments, a month apart, my skin was healed. In fact, three years later, I may get a few tiny little pimples during PMS, but they are barely noticeable and are gone in less than two days. My skin looks better than it has in years. 

A selfie I took that I used as my professional headshot. This was taken after getting my makeup done in Vegas!

During the pandemic, there was no one open to get my makeup professionally done again. So I started watching Instagram reels about applying makeup. I learned about contouring and smokey eyes…and the more I watched, the more I played around, and the more confident I felt about how I apply my makeup. 

I like showing the Before & After because I love myself even without makeup! The transformation that takes places is pretty epic, I think!

My favorite makeup tutorial influencer is Ashley Steading. I was following quite a few people, but her tips felt the most doable. Also, I just like how she is not over the top. She seems to be for every woman. I really admire that. Plus sometimes she even checks out my Instagram haha! That always makes me feel good. So if you are looking to learn from someone, check her out first. She uses Seint makeup. It’s cream makeup and one of these days, I’m going to invest in her brand and buy from her. But before I spend some serious cash on makeup, I wanted to see if cream makeup was even for me. That’s why I bought a basic cream kit off Amazon. 

Regardless if you buy the brand she sells or not, she still has great tips. I no longer use eyeliner, which is great because it always made my eyes itchy. She shows how to use eye makeup for liner and even though mine is not cream, it still works. She also shows how to use different makeup brushes to be able to do that! She knows all the hacks!! FOLLOW HER! 😉

This is NOT perfect placement, but it all works together when I blend. I can place the different shades in less than two minutes.

I’m sharing my makeup musts in this post. Everything is pretty inexpensive. You can get most of the items from Walmart or your preferred drugstore/pharmacy. (If you do decide to purchase from my Amazon shop, to be completely transparent, I do make a tiny commission that does not increase the price.)

Almost in same place in this before and after. Lighting is not different and I’m not using a filter. Makeup can enhance features and this photo really highlights that!

Here are my steps:

  1. Moisturize daily, I prefer Oil of Olay Regenerist.
  2. Prime your face (I use a pore minimizer primer) so the makeup stays! 
  3. Use the Youngfocus cream as your contour/foundation. It comes with a pamphlet to show you how to apply color, but short tutorials from Ashley Steading will help you, too.
  4. Apply Bronzing pearls all over with a large blush brush. 
  5. Use the Wet ‘n Wild Ultimate eyebrow kit to enhance or fill in your eyebrows. Use the lightest shade to apply right under your brow. The directions come with this kit as well. 
  6. I use the lightest taupe color from the eyebrow kit as my bottom eye liner, using a very fine makeup brush, on the end of the brow brush. 
  7. Apply makeup. I learned a hack from Ashley how to make it smokey. Darkest color goes on edges, then middle color, and the lightest (and most sparkly in my preference) goes in the inside corder to middle lid. Blend like hell. If it’s crap, start over! Or add some lighter shades. 
  8. Use the darkest color (I use black) as your top lid liner. 
  9. Add a heart shape of your favorite lip color to your apples or cheeks for blush.  
  10. Add lip color, if you use the matte, apply a gloss if you don’t like it to be so matte. 
  11. Finish with a setting spray. 

Practice Leads to Confidence

It’s okay if you make a lot of mistakes! I do it all the time, but I love the process of transformation! A good hype song always makes it more fun, too. Right now, Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” on repeat gets me going.

I listen to this on repeat when I’m getting ready!

After some practice, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can do this!!! 

Someone DMed me after I posted a reel that I didn’t need to wear makeup and I know they had good intentions, so I’m not mad. But I don’t wear makeup because I need to…I like to! It brings me joy! That may sound silly to you, and that’s okay, no one is forcing you to contour! LOL!! 

In fact, no one needs to wear makeup. I’m sharing because as a forty something, I’m just now feeling confident about my makeup skills. I’d love to help others like me get that confidence, too, and it’s not as hard as you think! 

I love a good selfie! I use the Lensa App to give me that soft lighting with the shadows. I do not feel the need to correct my face or take away my wrinkles. Filters can be fun! I was getting ready for date night to see Top Gun: Maverick. I felt so hot that night, Ladies!

Let me know if you want to learn the basics!

Email me or comment on this post: mjmcalliwrites@gmail.com and use heading “Melody’s Makeup Must Haves Basic Tutorial” and I’ll make it happen!! Let’s just have some fun!

DISCLAIMER: I still consider myself a Beginner. I can teach you basics to help you grow in confidence.

Seeking Peace

Love this message from TobyMac’s social media that showed up in my Facebook memories a few days ago. The older, and hopefully, wiser that I grow, I realize that my peace means more to me than being right.

You know, some people are never going to follow you. Some people are never going to LIKE you. Some people are never going to accept that you have changed. And maybe the most painful is that some people will be your people until one day they decide that you’ve changed too much for their comfort level. You might not even see the breakup coming, but when it does, it shatters your heart.

All I can offer is wish them well and keep moving forward.

If you can, work on forgiving what you can’t change, that which has caused you grief. Remember that your peace is worth fighting for, but winning an argument, or trying to keep someone in your life who doesn’t want to be there anymore, is not.

Learning From [my] Example

Usually when I blog, I try to focus on the great stuff I’m doing! But, truthfully, I probably get it wrong more than I ever get it right. When I’m getting it right, it usually comes from being wrong, A LOT. That’s okay. That’s real learning. But when raising children, it really sucks when we have to look in the mirror and realize we are falling short, and our kids are imitating us.

This quote from James Baldwin doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy. It challenges me to my core.⠀

It’s hard to own up to something you’ve done that was super hurtful to another human being.

Recently, my oldest child confronted me with something I had said to her that she was holding on to, and it was truly a mean comment. I don’t remember saying it, and first reaction in my mind was denial, but it definitely sounded like me when I’m being sarcastic. Quickly, I made the choice to apologize.

I’m ashamed that I hurt her. The very kind of comment I’m trying to help her not to say to her siblings was something that I said to her. I am guilty of modeling ugly comments, but I hope I’m just as guilty of modeling sincere apologies… and changed behavior. There is no quick-fix here. ⠀

Not one of us is perfect, but we can do better and we can help others heal when we face our mistakes with sincerity. ⠀

Every, new day we have the choice to grow and do better. I pray my core beliefs of loving others without agenda and standing up for what is right is something my children are learning from me the most, but I know I can’t hide my flaws from them. They see it all… my attitudes and words are just as much a part of their thinking/learning as they grow, learn, and decide to be who they would like to be. ⠀

For those of us who are doing the best we can for our children and students, thank you! We are making this world a better place, and it’s not easy! But the whole piciture demands the truth, the good and bad. We may not always get it right, and that’s why I thank God for forgiveness. ⠀

Presence Over Perfection

Covid has drastically slowed us down and we are on the mend, but it’s also taught me a few things:

1. I’m strong enough to let go of things that don’t fulfill me. Being busy doesn’t sustain me nor help my family. It definitely doesn’t help the healing process.

2. Simplifying my life has allowed me to be more present with my kids during their schooling. The rush is gone and has been replaced with more art, more design, more conversations, and more learning.

3. There’s no need to feel badly for not having a perfect routine. What we have is a routine and it works for us, and my kids are enjoying what they are learning about. I know this because I can hear the excitement along the way and it’s refreshing.

4. I want to live life fully and I haven’t been. I will be exploring this more. Just glad that being present with my family has led to deeper moments of learning and connection. I hate that sickness had to stop us in our tracks to see it, but I’m going to hold on to this.

If you are reading this, I hope you are well and wish you the best.

Veterans Day BookChat

Listen to my bookchat with Barbara Gruener and her read aloud of Mr. Quigley’s Keys.

This year has been one for the books. I mean that, literally. I have had so many wonderful bookchats with incredible authors. It’s a blessing that they would send me their beautiful work and allow me to talk about it with them on a LIVE platform. Sharing your work is hard. Going LIVE is no small thing. The authors on my weekly bookchat are brave and it’s been an honor to share their work with others.

Although I had a full November, there was a cancellation for the first week, which turned out to be a blessing for me as my family and I dealt with and continue to heal from Covid. I have decided that this bookchat will be my last bookchat for 2021. I had already decided to take December off to just be with my family, but Covid has shown me that being able to simplify is a true gift.

Mr. Quigley’s Keys

Please listen to the replay of the special bookchat I had with guest author, Barbara Gruener, and our Veteran’s Day broadcast. It’s special because her newly published children’s book, Mr. Quigley’s Keys, has a beautiful messsage. The first time I read it with my own children, it gave me goosebumps and tears. I am not surprised at all that it has already won an award!

Mr. Quigley is based on a true veteran, who after serving in the military, continued to serve his community. This story emdodies love, perseverance, work ethic, empathy, goodness, and peace. It is the perfect time for this message and a wonderful way to end my year of bookchats.

Thank you!

At this point, as I update this blog post, Veteran’s Day has come and gone. If you are a Veteran, or the family of a Veteran, I want to especially thank you for your service and sacrifice. Not everyone understands what it means to do what you do, and we are grateful for you all.

For all the people who tune in weekly to my bookchat, or who tune in whenever they can to learn and support others, please know it means so much to me and the guest authors. You can find all of my guest authors’ books by clicking the button below. I will return in January with more bookchats!

#ImSorryStory Bilingual Read Aloud with @BiscottiNicole

Click on this picture and it will take you to my Instagram where Author/Educator Nicole Biscotti and I read the #ImSorryStory aloud in English and Spanish!

Inclusion Matters

When I wrote the #ImSorryStory, I wanted it to be inclusive I wanted every child to see themself in some way because I know how much representation matters. As a fifth grade teacher, I had quite a few students who were tested for Dyslexia when they were in my class. It was amazing to watch these students blossom when they were getting the help they needed to make sense of the written words in front of them. This is also why I asked my publisher, EduMatch Publishing, to print the I’m Sorry Story using Dyslexie font. This font was invented from a person who also has Dyslexia.

Recently, my neighbor who has Dyslexia, picked up my book and said she liked how the letters were spaced and that she could decipher the words better.

If you are looking for a children’s book that will help build empathy, inclusivity, and social emotional skills, I invite you to tune in to my Instagram and listen to the I’m Sorry Story in English AND Spanish. This is one more way to be more inclusive. Nicole Biscotti is also the translator of my book, so it was such a privelege to have her join me!

I love this quote from Carly Spina and all that she shares about English Language Learners.

Children of All AGES Are Welcome

While I wrote this story for my fifth grade class many years ago, students and adults from kindergarten, high school, and beyond have shared with me that they’ve never read a book like this on making sincere apologies. They share that the #ImSorryStory is a great conversation starter and that they wish many of the people in their lives understood this process more.

So tune in with your child, family, or by yourself. I’d love to hear your feedback. I also include activities and discussion questions at the end of my book.