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Posted by on Mar 25, 2014 | 0 comments

Sillyicious – Do the Wiggle Waggle

Wiggle Waggle

Watch the Wiggle Waggle

We all need the occasional reminder to be good to ourselves. This is particularly true if you are in a profession like teaching, where you give constantly to others, or are intensely focused on sharing a dream like CritterKin. The work is engaging, demanding and fun, but as the saying goes, “all work and no play makes Jack or (insert name) a dull boy.”

Last week I was well on my way to becoming a dull girl. I was busily engaged in blogging, Tweeting, reading to classes, posting updates to Facebook and cropping images for the new CritterKin Flipbooks and slideshows. Then two things happened. First, a series of charming photos of socks began appearing in my Twitter, Facebook and email feeds (see below). You have to admit that there’s something delightful about a bunch of feet wearing mismatched socks; or as my niece used to say when she was three, “socks are sillyicious!”

The photos turned out to be part of the “Lots of Socks Campaign” being held to raise awareness about Down Syndrome. This reminded me of my little friend Maggie whose fondness for bright pink tutus and cowboy boots and spontaneous giggles never fails to brighten my day. Maggie is proof that difference is a good thing and should be celebrated. Besides, aren’t we all a little different in one way or another?



My second dose of sillyicious came at the end of a reading to third graders at Bellevue Elementary  in Nebraska. I’d been playing around with the idea of a CritterKin dance for a couple of weeks, but felt a little self conscious. But there was something about those kids – their open smiles and willingness to bark, squeak, whine and howl like the dogs as the story unfolded – that told me they were all in. If I wanted to be silly, they were right there with me.

“How would you guys like to help me figure out my new dance called the CritterKin Wiggle Waggle?” I asked

“YES!” they responded with glee.

The kids and I danced our way through two hilarious rounds of the song, stopping and starting  when I forgot the words or they got tangled in one another’s feet and tumbled to the floor. It was deliciously silly and kept me smiling for the rest of the week. See us Wiggle Waggle:

So just a reminder to dance, smile, sing  and get a little silly. And if you and your students are interested in doing a little Wiggle Waggling, just drop us a line at or give me a call: (919) 615-2923.


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Posted by on Mar 23, 2014 | 0 comments

Start with the Heart


Start with the Heart - page from PPT1Click link to see visual summary of Start with the Heart:

Something delightful is happening at CritterKin. Our goofy pack of mixed breed mutts, led by their intrepid if slightly offbeat person Ms. Jenaia, is inspiring teachers, students, parents and community organizations to work collaboratively to create projects centered around kindness. The initial catalyst for these projects is the CritterKin series of books, but the kids and their supporters are cheerfully taking the creative baton and running with it.

The result is learning that is at once engaging, entertaining and relevant – giving children the opportunity to learn and practice core intellectual skills (reading, writing, math, etc.) while acquiring the emotional intelligence needed to become respectful compassionate and responsible adults.

Visit our Pinterest boards

To Find Out How You and Your Students Can Get Involved Contact:

Jena Ball: (919) 454-9917 or

Find Me on Twitter

CritterKin: @CritterKin
Jena Ball: @jenaiamorane

Find Me on Facebook

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Posted by on Mar 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Technical Denial


Jena Black and White 1
I have spent most of my adult life in a love-hate relationship with technology. Trained as a graphic designer and illustrator long before anyone had heard the word Photoshop, I was appalled when I learned that people were manipulating and even creating images using a computer. My first reaction was that they were cheating. Using a machine to draw was NOT art. My second was that there is no way anyone was going to get me to cheat using those programs.

I was saved from the inevitable wake-up call by an offer to teach English in Japan. I boarded a plane and ended up in a remote, conservative town where children would gawk and follow me around whenever I set foot outside my door. For two years I taught English to adults at companies where pencils and paper were as high tech as it got. Then SONY Corporation offered me a job writing technical papers and Akio Morita’s speeches. I wasn’t wild about the idea of technical papers, but couldn’t resist the chance to meet and hob nob with Mr. Morita and his SONY co-founder Mr. Ibuka.  My days of technophobia were about to come to an abrupt end.

On my second day at SONY, a researcher arrived carrying a very large JumboTron. He placed the set on my desk and said he was there for help with a paper he was writing about the JumboTron’s CRT technology . He spoke almost no English and my Japanese lessons had not included technical jargon. For one long moment we looked at each other with dismay. Then he shrugged, opened the back of the set  started pointing at the various parts and looking up words in his dictionary. It was a long and arduous process but I learned by doing – taking things apart, pushing buttons and turning dials until I understood exactly what the TV did and why. Seeing the resulting paper in print was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never been intimated by technology since.

Intimidated or not, the idea of creating art with a computer program did not appeal to me.  I was in Japan almost 10 years and still hadn’t looked at Photoshop by the time I returned. I might never have learned how the program worked if it wasn’t for a Photoshop teacher who hired me to edit her book on the program. She liked my work so much that she recommended me to Osborne McGraw-Hill where I edited a series of manuals on everything from Pagemaker to Dreamweaver.

Of course writing about a program is very different from  actually using it, and I might still be in denial if I hadn’t discovered what they could do for me. I now use Photoshop, Corel Draw, Autodesk Pro and a whole host of online photo and video manipulation tools like Pic Monkey, Camtasia and Animoto to get the results I want. However, it might interest you to know that each and every one of my illustrations begins with a pencil and paper. They are my favorite technical tools, hands down.

And that’s really what I have to say to anyone who is leery of technology. You must approach the programs the way you approached more traditional tools like scissors, crayons and glue sticks when you were first learning to use them. Once upon a time you had no idea how to use those tools either, but you learned. And that’s exactly how you must view technology.  Be willing, curious and selective. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is an endless array of gadgets out there. Find and use the ones that speak to you.

Oh, and one more thing? Never, ever drag yourself kicking and screaming to a computer screen because someone said you “should” learn something.  Learn what makes you smile at the pace that fits your schedule.  The rest will take care of itself.

About Jena
Jena is a writer, illustrator and educator with more than 35 years penning everything from technical papers and marketing collateral to personal essays and online classes for writers. Her latest endeavor is the CritterKin series of books designed to help kids learn that animals (critters) are family (kin).  She is aided and abetted in her efforts by a very large orange cat named Oscar. To learn more about Jena visit

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Posted by on Mar 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Review – Lead With Your Heart 1

Lead with Heart and Download 200x229Empathy and pit bulls — what a perfect combination!, March 16, 2014

By Amazon Customer

Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: Lead With Your Heart: A CritterKin Tale (Kindle Edition)

This is a wonderful story about a rescued pit bull named Lance, a loving family who took a chance on him, an amazing teacher of kids and dogs named Jenaia and a really scared woman who learned the truth and overcame real terror to find the bridge over her fear.

This story focuses first on Marshall, the brother, but it’s Reny, the shy, sweet, quirky girl who is often bullied, who steals the show. Lance is her support (burying 1/2 half per pair of her hated shoes), her strength and courage. When she’s bullied at school for her shoes, Ms. Jenaia and the school principal decide it’s a great idea to bring dogs to school. It’s then that her schoolmate’s mother sees that Lance is a pit bull and, in terror, suggests breed-specific laws banning pit bulls. How they used empathy to overcome prejudice and fear is something every kid (and adult) should learn.

This book is about positive reactions to difficult situations, about empathy for people who may seem adversarial, how fear is based on bigotry and ignorance and how bullying — of dogs or children — is never okay. While it may seem like it covers an awful lot of topics, they all blend into a seamless whole and all written appropriately for nearly any age of children to easily grasp and still not come off as oversimplified. This is a book that people should get for children they love and, as I believe that empathy is a topic that should be part of every school’s curriculum, I feel this book would be a very good place to start.

I cannot recommend this enough!


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Posted by on Mar 15, 2014 | 0 comments

Watch the Kindness Unfold


Kindness Heart1

I couldn’t be happier about the fact that the latest CritterKin book Lead With Your Heart has finally hit bookshelves everywhere. As an author, there’s nothing better than seeing the characters you worked so hard to bring alive become real for others as well. I actually took my advance copy into the Starbucks where I do most of my writing and said, “See, I was talking to myself for a reason!” They gave me their long suffering stares and when back to steaming milk, but I didn’t care. Lance the misunderstood pit bull and his goofy pack of people and mutts was finally out of my head and into print.

All that said, it really isn’t enough to stop with the book. Giving kids a great story and characters that allow them to flex their emotional as well as intellectual muscles is a great first step. But you have to ask yourself, how will the lessons they explore in the pages translate to their everyday lives? How can you make the learning real – give them ways to apply what they’ve explored and understood to actual situations and events in their communities? Because unlike memorizing a fact or mastering a mathematical concept like addition, developing emotional skills like empathy, compassion, teamwork, honesty and respect require interaction with others.

The answer my business partner, Marty Keltz, and I have come up with is project based learning. We’ve already had great success with the “Be Kind” campaign we created for the launch of our second book, Meet the Mutts, but we knew that Lead With Your Heart had the potential to be and accomplish more.

Lead With Your Heart Book Bound1For one thing, the entire book is devoted to a single character and his struggles to understand his new family and overcome the prejudice and stigma associated with being a pit bull. For another, Lance’s lessons will be very familiar to any child who has been bullied, made a mistake, felt left out or different. But even more important is the theme of teamwork and collaboration that runs throughout the book. Lance is rescued, adopted, taught, and ultimately defended by not only his family, but everyone in his community as well. In the end, Lance’s victory over ignorance and fear is the entire town’s victory because everybody led with their heart.

We’re calling the PBL activities connected to Lead with the Heart, “Start with the Heart.”  They include working with individual teachers, schools and communities to create collaborative spaces (both physical and digital) where kids can practice their emotional skills. If you’d like more information, visit Start with the Heart and/or stop by our Pinterst board where we are chronicling our first project with the wonderful educators at Warren Independent School District in Warren, Texas. We’d love to launch a “Start with the Heart” initiative with your school.  – Jena Ball


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