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Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 | 0 comments

Going Awry

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How many of you have direct experience with of the old adage, “The best made plans of mice and men often go awry?”

When it comes to teaching, I think that saying should be changed to read, “The best made plans of educators will almost certainly go awry at some point.”

And I would argue that’s a good thing! Here’s why.

Human beings are storytellers and trial and error learners. We’re hardwired to need excitement and challenges to grow. So when life becomes routine, or the outcomes of our stories predictable, we get antsy and bored, and start looking for new adventures.

When I first met Gloriann two years ago, my latest plan (and I’ve had many in my life) had not only gone awry, but morphed into something I barely recognized.

I’d just completed the 4th book in my children’s book series, CritterKin, and was all set to begin the 5th, when I started getting requests to do video conference calls with classrooms outside the United States.

The next thing I knew, I was planning and hosting an eight-week, global reading, writing, and creativity challenge with 169 schools in 16 countries, and 99% of it was done virtually.

Being a dutiful teacher, I had a three-part plan all laid out for those eight weeks.

  • I wanted to help kids fall in love with reading and writing;
  • I wanted to use story and creative projects to help kids experience and explore topics like being different, bullying, and perfection; and
  • I wanted to use technology to teach some important 21st century skills like empathy, collaboration, and creative problem solving.

But of course the students and teachers blew my plan out of the water. They didn’t just read and write about the themes in my book, they explored them by creating rap songs, games, and videos. They took selfies, wrote slam poems, and taught themselves how to use all kinds of programs and tools so they could meet and learn from each other.

It was one of the most astonishing and eye opening experiences of my life and has redefined how I see myself and my work.

You see, if you’d asked me two years ago what I do for a living I would have said I’m a children’s book author and illustrator.

Now, I say I’m a creative advocate for kids. I still write and illustrate books. I still do author visits and encourage kids to read and write, but now it’s with the goal of empowering them to find and develop their passions and discover what makes them each unique.

In our increasingly complex and conflicted world, in which 65% of the jobs our kids will hold have not yet been invented, I am committed to helping them grow into kind, creative and competent adults who are comfortable with change and understand that even the best made plans are meant to go awry.

If you’d like to know more about my work and join me on my latest adventures, please visit the links below. I’m especially excited about a new podcast I’m launching called CritterKin Kids and would welcome your thoughts and suggestions. You can learn more at


Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by on Jul 2, 2017 | 0 comments

Your Reputation Precedes You

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Launching new fundraisers makes me nervous.  I’ve created a project I’m excited to share, but what’s the best way to do that? We’ve all encountered entrepreneurs who can’t seem to stop talking about their ideas, and the thought of going to one more small business networking breakfast makes me cringe.

Fortunately, I have an alternative this time. CritterKin has been in existence for almost eight years now. Therefore, as I launch my new Patreon support page, I’ve decided to let those who have experienced CritterKin firsthand do the talking for me. Here’s the link:

“I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the work Jena Ball is doing with kids and Emotional Intelligence / Self Awareness. If you are in the giving spirit, give her a boost. It’s a great way to support art, literature and kids!”  – Allen Partridge, Adobe Systems

“CritterKin was really the most enjoyable experience I have ever had in my 17 years as an educator. I wouldn’t change what we did, and I’d do it all over in a heartbeat!” – Erin Preder, head librarian, John R. Tibbott Elementary School, Bolingbrook, Illinois

“I am so very impressed at the changed mindset of our students! Proud Principal!” – Vicki Lofton, Principal, Citrus County, Florida

“This has been one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in education. Jena, YOU are truly AMAZING and a very gifted writer. My students were glued to their spots on the floor every time I read to them, and they cheered like CRAZY when the story came to an end. Thank you!! Thank you!! Thank you!!!!” – Gloriann Heikes, 1st. grade teacher, Minnesota

“Jena Ball is one of those people who you meet rarely in a lifetime. The ones who make a great impact on the way you are as a person. Jena is one of them. Heart of gold, empathetic to the needs of others, a celebrated author and someone whose focus is solely on the child being at the heart of the classroom. I have learnt from her that to make a difference, you have to be the change. She is continuously involved in making education better for everyone. Thank you Jena for showing me that life is all about sharing and caring. That surely is the trick to making the world a better place.”  – Sunny Thakral, The British School in Kathmandu, Nepal

“Can’t thank you enough for what you are doing! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” – Christina Luce, Second grade teacher, Nate Perry Elementary School

“The work that you are doing is critically important and almost totally lacking in elementary curriculum. It is sooo important that kids get a solid foundation in emotional intelligence and appreciate their value as individuals. I firmly believe that the work you are doing with these adorable and enchanting books, visits to classrooms, and seminars with teachers is improving lives for entire communities.” – Allen Partridge, Adobe Systems

Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by on Apr 26, 2017 | 0 comments

Nothing Better

Erika Renee Kids1A

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when a kid opens the package containing your book and says, “I love it!”  Makes me grin every time. I hope you guys enjoy and will look forward to your thoughts as you work your way through Lance’s story. Hugs!

To get your copy of Lead With Your Heart, the story of a misunderstood pit bull who must overcome prejudice and bullies to find his forever home, visit:

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2017 | 0 comments

For Love of Oscar


Rescuing Oscar Collage

This past week has been singularly stressful and eye opening. First, my kitty jumped from my second floor balcony and disappeared into the apartment complex’s storm drains. Then, hundreds of people went out of their way to help me rescue him. Some were people I know, but most were strangers I met by posting to online forums. Some emailed suggestions and encouragement, others showed up and offered to post flyers, set traps, and baked me cookies. Still others picked up their phones and called just to say they were thinking of me. There was even a gestalt group out in California that held a vigil on the day we executed our rescue plan.

Now, as I sit here with Oscar purring in my lap I am struck again by the power of love. The plight of one small orange cat opened hearts and brought all these people together. Best of all it didn’t feel forced or difficult. People who cared showed up and did what needed to be done. They did it willingly and patiently, even when there were snags; even when the hours dragged on and on, and they probably needed to be other places. On that day, love trumped everything and a small orange cat named Oscar came home.

Many Thanks To:
– Christa and Hayden Reich – Who helped map the storm drain system
– Shelly Smith – Cary’s amazing animal control officer
– April Allen and her team – Animal rescuers extraordinaire
– Paul Jones – Cary public works officer
– Jovan Dance – Cary public works officer
– Carol, Carolyn, Ann Marie, Mark, Susan, Betsy, Kristin, Linda, Kerri and Austin, Josh, Michael, Kristina, Debbie, and Cindy of Crescent Arbors
– Lost and Found Animals Facebook Group
– The Nexdoor Lochmere Lost and Found Group
– Lisa Poet and friends
– Amanda Lamb and WRAL for chronicling the story
– Care First Animal Hospital
– Unleashed Pet Supply Store
– Animal Eyecare Center
– VHS Emergency Vet Center
– Grace Park Animal Hospital
– Jan Hill of Wake County SPCA

I can’t thank you enough, but I can and will continue to sing your praises and support you when I can.

To read a blow by blow account of the adventure from start to finish visit:


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Posted by on Apr 24, 2017 | 0 comments

Rescuing Oscar

Oscar the Great Portrait1B


April 13th – LOST

I am devastated. Last night around 8:30 my cat (Oscar) and I were sitting on the second floor balcony together. I went in for a few minutes to use the facilities and when I came out he was gone. The balcony has a high rail and in the two years we’ve lived here he has never jumped onto or over it. I have been up all night wandering the complex (Crescent Arbors) calling his name, but no luck.He is a big cat (18lbs.) so I doubt an owl got him. If any of you see him, please call me. He’s very friendly. Thank you!

April 16th – Still Looking

You have all been very kind and supportive, so I thought I’d just let you know that as of 8:30 am Monday there is no sign of my kitty Oscar. I know you all know what it’s like to lose a creature you love. Oscar has been an extraordinary friend, there through some very difficult times. Oscar’s chip is updated, I’ve called my vet and local vets, and submitted a “lost pet” form to the Wake County Animal Shelter. I will go in later today I will keep walking around shaking his treat container and calling his name.Please continue to be on the lookout for him. I can be reached at:




April 17th – Found but NOT Rescued

I FOUND HIM! So glad he is alive, but he is in my apartment complex’s storm drain system. It is a whole series of interconnected tunnels with 250-lb. grates over the openings. The apartment management doesn’t want to have the grates removed, so there is really only one opening (very far from where I spotted him) where I can put a trap.

Oscar is clearly terrified, even of me. The grate where I saw him is about 20 feet from my apartment. I can see the opening. from my balcony. It’s SO frustrating to know he’s there but I am unable to reach him.

The fire department and animal control were out here yesterday. Fire department says it’s not allowed to remove the grates over the drains either 🙁



April 18th – Media Coverage

WRAL came out to interview me and the extraordinary people who have so kindly helped me with Oscar. Although he is not yet in my arms, we are much closer to actually getting him home thanks to Shelly Smith of Cary animal control, April Allen (rescuer extraordinaire) and her team, the city workers of Cary, the Cary fire department and police, and the kind residents of Crescent Arbors where I live. It really does take a town to rescue a cat ;-)You can hear Oscar’s story and meet these amazing folks at 12:25 today on WRAL. Thank you to Amanda Lamb of WRAL for taking an interest in my sweet orange kitty. To be continued…

WRAL Interview:


April 19th – The Plan

The quest to find my beloved Oscar continued today. He jumped from my second story balcony last Friday and has spent the past five days in the storm drains at my apartment complex. The storm drains are a complex, connected set of tunnels that run beneath the property. Except for an occasional sighting, it has been impossible to locate him so we could pull him out. Oscar is clearly terrified, disoriented, and unwilling to come out of hiding. Things are complicated by the fact that the drains are covered by 250-lb grates that require the help of the city’s public works folks to move them. Whenever they get close and start lifting the grate, he runs. Traps have also failed because we didn’t understand the drainage system well enough to know where to place them.Thank to Christa Reich, (the exceptionally resourceful woman who works on the maintenance team at my apartment complex) that may have changed today. She and I came up with a plan that just might work:

Step 1 was to map the drainage system. We needed to know how all the tunnels are connected and where Oscar might be hiding. Christa and I believe we finally have a good understanding of the part of the system where Oscar has been hiding.

Step 2 will be to take the grates off of each drain, check to see that Oscar is not in the tunnel that connects it to the next drain, then position someone over the grate to keep him from running back.

Step 3 will be to drive him towards the dead end we found in the system. It is basically a large cement hole with a grate over it that has only one way in and one way out. We suspect he has been spending his time there.

So….we will be carrying out this plan tomorrow morning at 9:00 am with the help of animal control and Cary’s public works people. If you have the time and wouldn’t mind being one of the 10 people stationed at the drains, please call or text me at (919) 454-9917. Please do NOT come if you have not checked with me as I don’t want to disturb the other tenants in the complex. You will need sturdy shoes, a flashlight, and patience.

If you cannot come, please send good thoughts. I can’t tell you how much your support and kind words have meant to me over the past five days. Truly…

P.S. Many of you have sent me private messages offering to help. I don’t have time to go through all of them tonight, so please forgive me for not responding directly. I will need you to text or call (919) 454-9917 to let me know you are coming. THANK YOU!




April 20th – Rescued

What saga! This morning at 9:00 am Shelly Smith from animal control, Paul Jones and Javon Dance from Public Works, April Allen (rescuer extraordinaire) Kerri and her son Austin, and a host of student volunteers brought by Ashley Van Wormer spent the whole morning locating and flushing Oscar out of hiding.

When I say flushing I mean literally flushing. Once we finally located him (a feat in and of itself that would not have been possible without the radical skills of Christa Reich), we had to resort to running water through the tunnels to get him to move into an open drain. Remember that each drain is covered by a 250-lb grate, which meant Paul and Javon had to repeatedly lift and replace them each time Oscar moved. They did this with endless patience and professionalism, for which I am immensely grateful.The first attempt failed because Oscar slipped past the trap and into another tunnel. After a lot of non-repeatable words we regrouped and came up with another plan. We blocked all openings with traps, blankets, and carriers, and positioned volunteers with brooms beside the drains so he couldn’t slip by again. We also tried sending two different Jack Russell terriers down the tunnel to chase him out, but they flat out refused to go when he hissed at them. I don’t blame them!

Finally, we ran a hose down the drain Oscar was in and turned the water on. This time he ran right into the trap and Shelly was able to grab him by the scruff of his neck and put him in a carrier! Relief doesn’t begin to express what I was feeling at that moment. I just stood there with tears running down my face.

To say this was a team effort is an understatement. Many neighbors in the apartment complex (Carol, Kristin, Ann Marie, Betsy, Carolyn, Debbie, Linda, Susan, Josh, Kristina and Michael to name a few) stopped by to check on me, give me food, pass out posters, and ask if they could help. April, Shelly and Christa were my physical rocks. You know you have encountered special people when they will dig up drainage ditches, bait traps with nasty smelling fish, and don’t mind if you text them at 3:00 am to help release a feral cat. To each and every one of you I send my heartfelt thanks. There’s no way I can ever repay you, but I CAN and WILL sing your praises and support you any way I can.Last but not least I have to thank the hundreds people who shared not only Oscar’s story but their own experiences and knowledge as well. They were unfailingly positive and supportive (sending prayers, good thoughts, and kind words) in the face of all that was happening. Thanks to you I was reminded I am not alone and love trumps everything.

As a children’s book author I write stories about how animals can open our hearts and bring people together. I think my next book may have to be about how an orange-striped cat whose journey into an underground maze brought thousands of people together. Thank you all again!

Oscar Sleeping4



Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.


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Posted by on Nov 13, 2016 | 0 comments

Cracking the Foundation of Education


Leonard Cohen famously said, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” If anyone had told me I’d form a company devoted to chipping away at the small but widening crack in the foundation of education, I would’ve laughed. A journalist by training, I spent the first 30+ years of my career writing features for national publications. If I thought about education at all, it was to marvel that my mother survived 35 years as a teacher.

Then six years ago, my life and the universe conspired to change all that. In rapid succession I was introduced to a six-pound dachshund with paralyzed back legs from abuse suffered in a puppy mill;  was asked to write a book for IFAW’s “Cats, Dogs and Us” education program; and began working with the humane educator at my local SPCA. Overnight the importance of making emotional intelligence a cornerstone of education became unavoidably clear. What could I create, I wondered,  that would help kids learn and practice kindness?

The answer to that question was the CritterKin book series. By 2013, I’d written three books, and was visiting elementary schools across the U.S. It was during these visits that I began hearing an unsettling meme. Seven, eight and nine-year-old children were telling me their work was ugly, bad and “not perfect.” When I finally asked what “not perfect” meant, the kids replied, “Stupid, messed up, dirty, broken, nasty and loser.” Clearly being “not perfect” was a very bad thing, even though the kids understood no one is perfect.

I spent the next two years writing the fourth CritterKin book – The Not Perfect Hat Club – and developing a global reading and writing initiative to go with it. Since their launch in 2015, the response has been overwhelmingly positive:

“This has been one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had in education. Jena, you are truly AMAZING. Thank you!!!!” – Gloriann Heikes, 1st. grade teacher, Minnesota

“Thank you Jena for inviting us to this wonderful initiative.” Avnita Bir, R.N. Podar School, Mumbai, India
“I’m so very impressed by the changed mindset of our students thanks to NPHC. Proud principal!” – Vicki Lofton, Principal, Citrus County, Florida

“Amazing! I love it. NPHC is changing the world one perfectly not perfect kiddo at a time!” – Karly Moura, Sun Terrace Elementary School

“You’ve organized this so much more professionally than any curriculum I’ve ever used. I love that it is global too.”  – Susie Reilly, 4th grade teacher, California

As of November of 2016, the NPHC initiative has grown to the point where I require partners.  It’s time to reach out through LinkedIn’s wide and diverse network to build a team that can help me crack the foundation of education wide open. I’ve already reached out to several companies through LinkedIn, but plan to take advantage of ProFinder to find creative professionals as well.  Thanks to LinkedIn, this process promises to be both engaging and educational. Thank you for putting business connections and tools at my fingertips.  – Jena Ball


Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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