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Perfect is NOT an Option

Posted by on Nov 23, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Perfect Not an Option1

Meet Newton. The main character in CritterKin’s newest book, “The Not Perfect Hat Club” due out in the new year.  As plans for the book launch get underway, we’d like to introduce to the idea of what it means to be “Not Perfect” and invite you and your kids to become members of the Not Perfect Hat Club. After all, no one’s perfect and there are so many wonderful things to be learned when we stop worrying about getting things “right” and focus on exploring things that pique our interest and inspire us to grow and learn.

To learn more about the book and related project based learning go here:

To become a member, simply email Jena a phot and we’ll post here:

As you can see, you are in good company ;-)

CritterKin Picks #3

Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in News | 0 comments


This was a stellar week for The Not Perfect Hat Club photos. So stellar in fact that we couldn’t stick to just three images. So here, without further ado, are this week’s picks!


 Julie Szaj is Picture Perfect in her Not Perfect Reindeer Hat

Kory Graham-Framed

I Spy Kory Graham Looking Uniquely Not Perfect

Not Perfect Antics1

 Owen in Tammy Massman’s 3rd grade class (top) and the fabulous group of five in Monica Evon’s 4th grade class (bottom) showing off their Not Perfect hats!


Three wonderfully Not Perfect teachers – Starr Sackstein. Erin Preder and Doug Robertson – Proud to Know Them!



CritterKin Picks #2

Posted by on Nov 14, 2014 in News | 0 comments


Photos from visits to classrooms across North America that gave us a giggle, touched our hearts, or made us pause and think. Enjoy!

Lead with Your Heart1

 Click HERE to see more  more examples of the students’ work 

Meet one of Erin Preder’s terrific students at John R. Tibbott Elementary School in Illinois. She and her classmates have been reading “Lead With Your Heart” and learning about kindness and empathy with Ms. Jenaia through stories, drawing, writing and storytelling of their own. Well done!


Click HERE to learn more about the #NotPerfect Hat Club

Meet Admiral, an admirably #NotPerfect member of the CritterKin #NotPerfect Hat Club. Admiral is a rescue dog whose person is a champion of all breeds, but Great Danes and Pit Bulls in particular. Admiral regularly dons a variety of hats and appears at adoption and donation events to spread the word about the importance of kindness and empathy. Way to go Admiral!

Click HERE to learn more about the 4th graders’ newspaper and donation campaign

So proud of the 75 fourth graders at Delaware Elementary School in Iowa who are not only creating a newspaper about kindness, but have launched a donation campaign to collect much needed supplies for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa as well. Great work kiddos! We can hardly wait to see the newspaper!



New(sy) Vision for Education

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Altoona Article Framed1

CritterKin and Delaware Elementary Article 

CritterKin has partnered with the fourth graders and their teachers (Jennifer Houlette, Julie Campbell and Kendra Carlson) at Delaware Elementary School in Iowa to produce a new kind of newspaper focused on kindness. Entitled “The Des Moines Doggy Daily: News with a “Canine Twist!” the project is designed to teach not only reading, writing, vocabulary and collaboration skills, but emotional literacy as well. The work the students are doing to create articles for the paper and collect food, bedding and toys for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, is generating a lot of excitement in the community. Read all about it in this wonderful article from the Altoona Herald.

Highlights below:

“About a year ago Ball began a program called the “Be Kind Initiative,” which took the CritterKin series and expanded it to help implement projects like, The Des Moines Doggy Daily, into classrooms nationwide to give kids a chance to not only read and write, but experience and practice emotional literacy.”

“It’s not an old-fashioned sit-and-read: the author is connected to the kids from Google’s video-sharing technology called Google Hangouts, which allows her to talk, interact, share and record the sessions with the students from her residence in North Carolina.”

“We’re teaching them to be kind to animals, which is teaching them to be kind to one another,” she said.

Stay tuned for updates as the newspaper gets closer to publication!
























You’re the Best!

Posted by on Nov 8, 2014 in News | 0 comments

JenaBlue - Framed 300A dpi

This is me…

Profile 3

and so is this…

Jena Hugs1

And so, I am proud to say, is this – Ms. Jenaia!

My metamorphosis into Ms. Jenaia has been much like a caterpillar’s and I have children to thank for that. When I began writing the CritterKin series I was following an urge. Any writer will tell you that when an idea captures your imagination it’s best to pay attention. Everywhere I looked I suddenly saw dogs doing what dogs do – being a best friend to a homeless man sleeping on the street; acting as a matchmaker between two strangers, giving them an excuse to stop and talk to one another; joyfully playing fetch with kids in the park; and it suddenly hit me. Dogs are our emotional teachers. They are in our lives to model and give us the chance to practice empathy, compassion and love.

The characters in the CritterKin pack – a goofy  bunch of mixed breed dogs – were appearing right before my eyes. I started writing. I started drawing, but I still had no idea that there was something more in what I was penning. I was working cheerfully in the little box that I had been assigned. Because you see, just like most adults living today, school was not a happy place for me. I was not encouraged to discover or pursue what I loved (drawing, writing and the natural world). Even more disturbing, looking back, was that every subject I was “taught” seemed to exist in a vacuum. I was not taught to see connections, to understand that the hundreds of facts I was expected to memorize in world history were intimately linked to the anatomy and physiology I was being force fed in science class, which in turn had important links to the French grammar and pronunciation I was struggling to master in my foreign language class. But hardest of all for me was the way the education system actively discouraged me from being creative. I was repeatedly told that I was wasting my time and would never amount to anything if I became an “artist.” My parents actually sat me down once and said, “You’re so good with your hands. Why don’t you become a dentist? They make good money.” The memory of that conversation still gives me goosebumps.

What I didn’t understand, and the kids are only now beginning to help me see, is that accepting the label of “artist,” or “writer” or any other label no matter how flattering has the potential to become  limiting, confining and stale.

It took my business partner, Marty Keltz, himself a survivor of a brutal education, and hundreds of children between the ages of 5 and 12 to convince me to not only write, illustrate and read the CritterKin stories, but use them as the catalyst for our collective discovery. It was Marty who encouraged me to don Ms. Jenaia’s baggy overalls, stuff my pockets with poop bags and dog treats and embody her character for the kids. It gives me and them a chance to be more than any label – to play, act and express a part of myself that has no label.

In CritterKin visits kids are not passive listeners. As Ms. Jenaia I lead them “into” stories, asking them to help me keep those stories going by repeating words and sounds, answering questions and singing. Once the story is “finished,” we discuss, draw, research, write stories of our own and take what we’ve discovered back into the world for a test drive. Can being kind to a dog help us be kind to one another? Can we find and tell stories of our own to help other people want to be kind? What kind of projects can we think up that might let us share what we’ve discovered? A newspaper? A quilt? A giant wall mural? A book of photos? A garden planted with kindness stones?

In short, I want the kids I meet to do what human beings do best – make connections while following their hearts as well as their minds. I want them to self-identify as artists, mathematicians and pilots and not see those labels as mutually exclusive. Does that mean that I want my doctor to have been off flying a plane instead practicing how to do surgery? Of course not. But neither do I want him or her to have become so focused on being a doctor that it has become “just a job.” I want my doctor to be an alive, awake and engaged life-long learner; to be as intrigued and passionate about the impact being a doctor can have on the world as any artist.

These days the highest compliment anyone can pay me is not “you’re a good writer,” or “you can really draw,” or even “you’re a good teacher,” though I’ll cheerfully accept all of those. It’s what a second grader said to me at the end of a recent visit as we were sharing the drawings of dogs we’d made with one another. “Ms. Jenaia,” she said, “you’re the BEST!”

CritterKin Picks #1

Posted by on Nov 7, 2014 in News | 0 comments

Photos from visits to classrooms across North America that gave us a giggle, touched our hearts, or made us pause and think. Enjoy!

Color Their World With Kindness4

Led by Ms. Jenaia and their fabulous librarian, Erin Preder, second, third and fifth graders at John R. Tibbott Elementary School in Illinois have been drawing and coloring local shelter dogs to help get them adopted.  See all their amazing work here:

Tammy - Every Kind

Tammy Massman’s third graders in Iowa crafted acrostic poems from the letters they’re using in their Kindness Quilt. We asked them to do three things: Color their letters; think of words that begin with those letters; and use the letters in sentences focused on kindness. Well done kiddos!  See all their great work here:

Working on DMDD1

This picture of the 75 fourth graders working on their newspaper, called “The Des Moines Doggy Daily,” makes us smile every time we look at it. The kids have been such dedicated reporters, artists, photographers and book reviewers that we fully expect the first edition to sell off the stands.  Bravo! See more of their work here: