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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 | 0 comments

Cookies and Kindness


B and N14A


Cookies and Kindness by Jena Ball

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” –Winnie the Pooh

As a child I firmly believed in magic. Moreover, I knew exactly where it lived and was most likely to flutter, slither, waddle, glide, gallop or swim into my presence. They were the “in between” places where the harsh electric lights and rigid rules of the grown-up world (in which I was always messing up) fell away. Places like the cool, dark shadows beneath the camellia bushes, the tops of certain trees where leaves whispered stories while the branches creaked and swayed, and the liquid edges of rivers, lakes and oceans.

These are places where focus shifts, the all of “me and you-ness” drops away, and it’s possible to look into the eyes of another creature with a smile of recognition. Shall I tell you about some of my favorites?

  • A hot Southern California afternoon at the age of eight. I was comfortably curled beneath one of my favorite bushes watching the pill bugs trundle about their business when a small patch of earth began to shake and shift about a foot away. I had no idea what to expect, but I kept very still so as not to disturb the magic. Moments later a furry, dirt dusted head with bright round eyes and long, very yellow incisors broke through into the world above ground. We were so close that I could see her nose twitching and smell her gopher scent – a combination of damp fur and dirt and something akin to bad breath only nowhere near as offensive. I could feel her surprise as her twitching nose caught my scent, but there was no fear or alarm on either side. We simple took each other in.
  • A deep sea fishing boat on the Pacific Ocean.  My father and his fishing friends are sitting in the cabin, smoking and talking about lures, spinners, jigs and other horrible ways to catch and kill fish. I am standing at the bow, holding tight to the guard rail to keep from being tossed overboard as the boat plowed its way through swells. My cheeks, lips and eyelashes are covered with the salty sticky spray that is blown into my face each time the boat hits a wave, but I hardly notice. I am too busy calling to the dolphins.

These incredible beings, with their watercolor skin and explosive breath have captured my imagination in a way no land bound creature could. It’s all I can do to keep from jumping overboard to join them when they appear, riding the surf created by the boat with athletic ease. When a particularly strong and curious fellow flings himself into the air to get a good look at me, I am beside myself with delight. The dolphin’s flight brings him almost level with the deck and our eyes meet. Surprise, curiosity, pleasure and the eternal dolphin smile. It’s all there and nothing my father and his cronies say later about dolphins being nuisances that scare away the fish can spoil the gift.

Moments like these are why I write and read stories for kids. They are my excuse to slip back into the shimmer of “in between” to find and share tidbits of magic – small reminders of our truer, less separate selves.

The magic doesn’t always work of course. Some days the kids are tired and cranky, or the reality of having to sit in their seats, breathe chalky air, and try to absorb information from adults is overpowering. But on Friday December 13th. at the Barnes & Noble in High Point, North Carolina the magic was palpable. There, watched over by Winnie the Pooh, an Elf on the Shelf, and the approving smile of Ms. Frizzle, we gathered in a circle to read about kindness. The story came from the latest CritterKin book, “Meet the Mutts,” and told the true story of how a tiny, paralyzed dachshund named Ricky Bobby was rescued from a puppy mill and found his forever home. Here’s what happened:

Copyright 2013 by Bethea Productions and CritterKin


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Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 | 0 comments

CritterKin on a Mission


Author Shares Message of Responsible Pet Ownership
December 12, 2013 @ 3:23 PM

Jimmy Tomlin

Meet the Mutts -Book with Ribbon1HIGH POINT — If you think CritterKin sounds like some sort of combination of animals and family, you’re barking up the right tree.

Jena Ball, of Cary, has combined three of her greatest passions — writing, illustrating and animal rights — to create CritterKin, a series of books and children’s products aimed at teaching children and families the importance of being responsible caregivers for their pets.

Ball will be in High Point Friday evening for a presentation she calls “Be Kind: A CritterKin Reading.” The program will be at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, where she will read from her CritterKin book “Meet the Mutts.”

“There are eight dogs in the CritterKin pack, and I gave each one of them a lesson to teach,” Ball said during a telephone interview. “For this program, I’ll be reading the chapter about Ricky Bobby, which focuses on kindness.”

In addition to Ball’s presentation, Jeremy Williamson and Vanessa Kearney Williamson of the Merit Pit Bull Foundation will be on hand with their community ambassador dog, Lizzie. They will share information about volunteering, fostering and adoption opportunities with their organization, which is based in Greensboro.

Ball’s tale of Ricky Bobby is based on the true story of a dachshund named Ricky Bobby that was rescued from a North Carolina puppy mill. By the time the Humane Society rescued him, his back legs didn’t work because of a degenerative disc resulting from neglect. The dog was adopted by Ball’s veterinary technician, Megan Bliss. “She adopted him and built him a little cart that helps him get around, and now he’s happy,” Ball explained.

“Ricky Bobby’s life was transformed by kindness, and that’s the lesson of that chapter in the book. Megan didn’t have to adopt him but she did, and one person being kind and caring and determined has changed not only this dog’s life, but the life of everyone who comes in contact with him.”

According to Ball, during her presentation she will read her story about Ricky Bobby and then discuss the concept of kindness, particularly as it relates to animals.

“I’ll ask the children, ‘What can we do to help the lives of animals in the community?’” Ball said. “So we take the stories and use them as a door to thinking and feeling in real and honest ways, and then we take that learning and apply it in real life.” It’s a concept Ball refers to as humane education, and the idea is to teach children about the important responsibilities that come with being a caregiver for a pet.

The idea for CritterKin stemmed from a conversation Ball had with a 7-year-old girl who was talking about how much she’d like to have a pet dog. The girl told Ball a dog would be fun to play with and could even sleep in her bed with her. “Then I asked her who was going to feed the dog and take care of the dog, and she said, ‘Oh, Mom will do that,’” Ball said. “Of course, the mom just rolled her eyes, but later I told her mother that there could be a really great lesson there for her daughter — a lesson about responsibility.”

That simple conversation ultimately led to the creation of CritterKin, a project Ball said is just getting started. “I want it to become a teaching tool, a way to bring project-based learning into the classroom,” she said. “I want it to be a catalyst for educational change or even a tool for the classroom to make learning real for kids.” | 888-3579

Want to go?

“Be Kind: A CritterKin Reading,” featuring author/illustrator Jena Ball, will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 901 Mall Loop Road.

In addition, Jeremy Williamson and Vanessa Kearney Williamson of the Merit Pit Bull Foundation will be on hand with their community ambassador, Lizzie. They will share information about volunteering, fostering and adoption opportunities with their organization.

For more information about the event, call Barnes & Noble at 886-1331.

For more information about CritterKin, visit

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Everyday Heroes


“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something…” Helen Keller

Megan and Ricky - Brian 400x457
CritterKin’s “Be Kind” mascot, Ricky Bobby, catapulted into the national consciousness this week as the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) released its powerful video of his rescue, rehabilitation and adoption by Megan Bliss. If you haven’t seen the video, treat yourself:

The one thing the video doesn’t capture, that I feel is important to share, is the way kindness is woven into Ricky Bobby and Megan’s day-to-day lives.  There is nothing overtly heroic or unusual about their relationship. They look at each other the way best friends everywhere do, with smiles in their eyes. They are always aware of each other – Ricky shadows Megan’s every move – and careful to be sure the other is close and safe. They are family, which is exactly as it should be.

Likewise, if you ask Megan about why she adopted Ricky Bobby, she is characteristically matter of fact. “We just had a connection,” she says. “He’s my best little guy and I’m his person.”

I mention this because I’ve noticed that as a nation we tend to be heroism junkies. We love hearing about people and animals rescued from the jaws of death; people who overcome incredible physical handicaps; and those who sacrifice everything for a cause they love. While I don’t mean to downplay the importance of these acts, I do think we tend to overlook another, though no less important kind of heroism.

I asked Megan about this on Friday.  We were taking a walk with Ricky Bobby along one of our favorite nature trails. It was unseasonably warm and sunny, with a brisk breeze that lifted Ricky’s ears  from the side of his head like wings. “I call him bat dog when that happens,“ Megan laughed.

“So what’s it like to be a hero?” I asked her.

“I think I work with heroes every day,” Megan said, deftly deflecting attention from herself. “The people where I work donate their time, energy and resources to help animals all the time. I just wish there was a way to share all their stories too.”

I couldn’t agree more of course. Obviously, we don’t have the time or resources to make videos of all the everyday heroes in our lives. However, we can make a conscious effort to cultivate everyday heroism in ourselves and our children, and celebrate it when we see it. That’s the basic premise behind CritterKin’s “Be Kind” campaign – using story and practical, hands on projects that foster and give kids practice being kind.

Ricky Bobby real and illustrated Version2 400x120

“I like the idea of that,” Megan says. She is lying on a wooden bench in the sun and Ricky Bobby is licking her face. “Education is one of the most important things we can do to prevent puppy mills like the one he was in.”

If there was one thing she wishes the two of them could say to kids, what would it be?

“Just remember that dogs are alive. They need food, water, shelter and most of all love. If we would just remember that, so much pain could be prevented.”



Get Behind Be Kind-Framed 1000x830

To learn how you can “Get Behind Be Kind” visit:

 To learn more about how you can start a “Be Kind” project in your classroom, school or community, contact CritterKin at: or call (919) 615 – 0666


Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.


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Posted by on Dec 1, 2013 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – The Sounds of Kindness: Part III


Meet Mutts and Ricky X-mas Poster 667x1000Nothing sounds like kindness. Like the human voice, it has infinite variations, but is instantly recognizable:

– The scratchy, rhythmic sound of the neighbor’s broom sweeping leaves from my mother’s sidewalk at 11.30 pm so she wouldn’t slip on her way to the parking garage in the morning.

– The chemo-roughened voice of my three-year-old niece singing to her roommate at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles so she wouldn’t feel lonely.

– The sudden, almost breathless silence that fell when Don, a middle-aged volunteer at my local animal shelter, opened the door to the kennels and the dogs caught his scent. “They know I have treats,” he laughed, patting the pocket of his jacket. But you could tell by the way the dogs pressed themselves against the wire doors of their runs as he stopped to say hello that they were as hungry for his affection as his treats.

Oddly enough, kindness is not all that easy to define. Just ask the 18 second-graders we spent an hour with a few weeks ago. “What does kindness mean?” we asked.

“Be nice,” said one child.

“Don’t hurt animals,” said another.

“Help your mom,” said a third.

When questioned a little closer, some interesting things emerged. “Are your parents being kind when they make you go to bed even though you want to stay up?” we asked.

A chorus of gleeful “NOs!” was our answer, except for one curly headed boy who raised his hand and said, “But if I don’t go to bed, I’m cranky in the morning.”

Good point!

“Okay, so what about shots? Who likes getting shots?” Frowns and silence were our answer. “Then why does the doctor give you shots?”

“So you don’t get sick and die!”

“Right, so is it kind to give you shots, even though they hurt?”


“Okay, so let’s think of some other examples of how to be kind.”

The most interesting insights to emerge for me were that genuine kindness can’t be faked and involves action. While it’s theoretically possible to simply sit and radiate kindness, every time I’ve experienced it, kindness involved being able to see and empathize with another living creature; genuinely wanting to do something to help, even if all I could do was listen; and the feeling of happiness I experienced knowing I’d made a difference.

These days, as we embark on our “Be Kind” campaign to help kids experience and practice kindness, I’m thinking a lot about the many versions of kindness and the sounds associated with them. Sound sidesteps the intellect and accesses memory in a non-linear way. In particular, I find myself remembering ways people and animals have been kind to me:

  • The soft purr of my ancient tom cat who glued himself to my side for days after I had my wisdom teeth out;
  • The sound of my grandmother’s voice at the other end of a bad phone connection, calling to let me know she was thinking of me; and
  • The soft ping of an email arriving in my inbox with a poem from a friend. “Here’s something to remind you that you’re not alone,” he wrote.

You see that’s the other profoundly powerful lesson kindness has to teach. It’s as important to allow others to be kind to you – to accept, acknowledge and savor their kindness – as it is to act kindly yourself. It’s how we know we belong in the world and how we give back to it.

If you have some sounds of kindness you’ve like to share, please email us at: and we’d be honored to post them


Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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