Ashley Ballai wrote "Little Miss Mismatched" about her daughter, Bella

2022-06-04 01:36:49 By : Ms. Sofia Zhong

She rushed toward the box that would change her life.

Ashley Ballai will never forget that day.

The contents of that box represented getting past all her obstacles — a disbelief in herself, a cancer scare, a rocky attempt at movie fame and a fear she would never be able to have a child.

"I was almost in tears when I saw that box," said Ballai, 35, of Franklin. "I have overcome a lot of the anxiety and fear that has held me back."

Inside the box was a book. Actually, 150 copies of the same book with the cover she had designed: A purple sky, yellow wildflowers, a little girl with a pink umbrella and purple letters "LITTLE Miss Mismatched."

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Ashley Ballai was the kind of kid who wanted to paint on the walls. And she had parents who let her do it.

Her father, Kevin Thomas, was always painting on easels around the house. Ballai thought it was so cool.

"I inherited his creative genetics," she said.

When she was 14, a Starbucks opened near her home, and she got the idea to make her bedroom into a coffee shop. So she painted the walls dark mocha with a rust-colored flower.

Then she asked, "Can I paint on the walls in the basement?" When her parents said yes, she went to work on a mural inspired by Van Gogh's Starry Night.

"I was an art geek," she said.

The only problem, she said, was that her abilities were confined to her house. She was afraid to take her talents out into the world, afraid people might not like her work.

"I was worried about criticism," she said.

As a young adult, she and her boyfriend moved from Tennessee to the place you should never go if you are afraid of criticism.

It was 2008, and she had a dream of making it in the movies.

She started a career with credits as art director in small films with titles like "Journey to Planet Sanity," "Noobz" and "Walk Away." She had a small role in the film "All About the Money" with Eddie Griffin and Danny Trejo.

But the boyfriend and the movie career didn't last.

In 2015, she said, she made a pledge to herself to stop dating for a year.

She was invited to a party in Las Vegas. She reluctantly went. She met a guy. His name was Miad Ballai, born in Iran, raised in Sweden.

"He was vibrant, a big personality," she said. "He was cute. He was nice."

He might never have become her husband, if she hadn't lost the key card to her Vegas hotel room. At 3 a.m., locked out of her room, she knocked on his door.

They've been together ever since.

On their first date, he made her stuffed pork tenderloin with goat cheese. She was smitten.

They were set to be married Aug. 26, 2017, but there were complications.

Four days before the wedding, she got a call from her doctor. She had recently gone in for a routine checkup.

On Aug. 22, 2017, a nurse from the doctor's office called. "We're sorry," the nurse said.

She had tested positive for invasive squamous cell carcinoma (cancer of the cervix), a potentially fatal disease.

She thought to herself, "Is this going to be it?"

Ballai didn't cancel the wedding. But she and her new husband canceled the honeymoon. 

Instead, they bought a home in Franklin and moved back to Tennessee.

"I wanted to be close to my mom," she said. Her mother, Julie Johnson, lives in Franklin.

She went to Centennial Medical Center, where she had a portion of her cervix removed.

Then she got a phone call, another apology.

Her original diagnosis had been based on a sample that had been mixed up in the lab. A positive test result from another patient had been switched with hers.

Ballai, after a surgery she didn't need, sued the doctor and won a large settlement.

"It all worked out," she said, knocking on wood.

A weird thing happened when she thought she had cancer. She lived, for a time, like she was dying.

"I had the opportunity to live life," Ballai said. "I became more in touch with my feelings. I didn't care what people thought. That was my cosmic lesson."

She feared that the surgery would prevent her from getting pregnant. But those fears ended when Bella was born.

Ballai became a mom, and she was happy. She painted. She wrote poetry. And then in 2020, she got an idea.

She heard the word "mismatched" on television. She doesn't remember what the context was. She just remembers thinking it would be interesting to write about a girl who everyone called "Miss Mismatched."

Around the same time she noticed that whenever Bella dressed herself, she loved to choose wild, mismatched outfits.

"She would wear red polka dot rain boots with paisley leggings and shirts with kitty cats or unicorns," Ballai said. "And a white tutu."

Ballai wrote a poem that began: "Little Miss Mismatched would put on her clothes, and nothing would match from her head to her toes."

Miad Ballai read the poem, and said, "This should be a book."

So she wrote a book. This is what she wrote for the dedication: "Cheers to the wild ones, the weird ones, the ones that break the mold. The ones who make others live more authentically. The ones who never apologize for being who they are. The ones who step bravely out of the box. The ones who blaze the way ..."

"This book is dedicated to my daughter, Bella."

In the book, Little Miss Mismatched gets laughed at by other children, who eventually discover the joy of being mismatched, too. In the end, all the kids are mismatched, inspired by a girl who refused to conform.

When the words were done. Ballai started painting, but not like she had done as a child. She had to teach herself how to paint with a water color program on a computer.

The artwork in the book is spectacular.

Her husband laid out a plan to self-publish the book. They spent their own money for 150 copies and sold them all.

The book is available at Landmark Books in Franklin and Brilliant Sky Toys and Books in Brentwood. She's working on deals with other bookstores in Middle Tennessee.

The book is also available on, where the reviews have been positive.

One review says: "As a mom of 2 young girls, I’m so excited about this book! The vibrant colors and watercolor-style illustrations really shine. It’s one of those books that both kids and adults are instantly drawn to because it’s just so pretty.

The message is so inspiring as well. In a world where kids are told they need to “fit in,” this book encourages them to stand out and be themselves. This is the exact type of book that I want to read with my girls!"

The important point is that Ballai did the writing and the artwork for all the world to see.

"I have overcome a lot of the anxiety and fear that has held me back."

Reach Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.