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Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 | 0 comments

Going Awry

Audio version:

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 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 Jul 21, 2015 | 0 comments

Teaching Kindness Little by Little

Poco a Poco Collage1A
Click HERE to Get Your Free Copy of Poco a Poco

When I first heard about the dogs being left at the garbage dump in Cozumel, Mexico I was horrified. Then the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) introduced me to the people who were saving those dogs lives and I realized there was a story that needed to be told. It is a heartbreaking story, to be sure. No one likes to think of dogs being left at a dump, but for every act of abandonment there has been an equally compelling act of kindness and courage, often by those in desperate straits themselves.

Poco a Poco is based on actual events and was written to support the IFAW’s new “Cats, Dogs and Us” program, designed to educate people worldwide about the unique relationship between human beings and their pets. I hope you will get your free copy today and help spread the word about how best to care for our furry friends.  To get your Free copy, click HERE.

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Posted by on Dec 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Drawing Their Way to Kindness

Finnick 800x666This month, as part of our “BE Kind” campaign, the CritterKin pack of mutts and Ms. Jenaia visited more than a dozen classrooms, shelters and bookstores. There, we read from “Meet the Mutts” and gave kids a hands on taste of kindness. The program is simple:

  • Read Ricky Bobby’s story, “I Wanna Go Fast” from “Meet the Mutts;”
  • Use real life photos and video to let the kids know that while Ricky’s story is fictional, his suffering and rescue are not;
  • Discuss what it means to be kind and what happens when people are not;
  • Bring actual photos of dogs from local shelters for the kids to see, draw, and tell stories about;
  • Discuss how they can make a difference in the lives of shelter dogs;
  • Make a “Be Kind” plan with the kids to help dogs get adopted; and
  • Execute plan in subsequent visits.

Depending on the age of the kids and the amount of time we had, the 7 steps above can take one to three sessions. The one thing that never fails to happen is that the kids get the message loud and clear: even one small act of kindness can make a difference. They leave feeling excited, empowered and ready to use what they’ve learned.

I guess we don’t have to tell you that none of this would have been possible without the enthusiastic support from and collaboration with some outstanding teachers, librarians and bookstore owners. We also want to thank the kids, whose willingness to jump into the stories, bark with the dogs, laugh with Ms. Jenaia and share their own stories about dogs made every class a blast. We learned as much as we taught, and that’s the real gift.

The picture above is by a 6th grader at Endeavor Charter School in Raleigh, NC.  As you can see, the kids had fun and showed us they have some pretty impressive drawing skills.  We’re including more below and will post more to Facebook, Twitter, and the schools’ Pinterest boards. See for more images.

Copyright 2014 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.



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Posted by on Nov 23, 2013 | 0 comments

Jena Ball – Thoughts to Chew on #2: Who Rescues Who?

Ricky Bobby real and illustrated Version2 1000x300Who Rescues Who?

Chapter 8 of the latest CritterKin book, “Meet the Mutts,”  is about a tiny black and tan dachshund named Ricky Bobby who was rescued from a puppy mill. He is loosely based on an actual dog who now lives with my friend Megan Bliss. Megan has been commended time and again for her kindness in adopting Ricky Bobby (and rightly so), but you have only to see how being involved in his rehabilitation and efforts to educate the public about the horrors of puppy mills has enriched and broadened her life.

My point, of course, is that animals give as much as they take. They are emotional teachers and touchstones. Stories about and by them are not only fun (each of the mutts has some quirky personality traits), but give kids an important glimpse into other ways of seeing and being in the world. And every time I read Ricky Bobby’s story to them I am struck by the insightful questions they ask and how quickly they relate his challenges to their own.

There’s also an “Exploration” guide at the back of “Meet the Mutts” that’s my way of saying, “Let’s play and learn together!” I hope you’ll grab a copy of the book for your kids, read it to them, and dive into the art projects and role playing exercises. Let me know what works, and any additional ideas you may have for making the CritterKin pack not only  fun and engaging, but a great tool for teaching empathy, compassion and respect as well. Or as Ricky Bobby would say, “I wanna go fast!”

Email me at:


Copyright 2013 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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Posted by on Nov 9, 2013 | 0 comments

Meet the Mutts is Here!

Meet the Mutts - Book Cover 612x792

The latest book in the CritterKin series has hit the shelves and our tails are wagging! You can get your own copy of the book here:


Then stop by our Pinterest page to see the remarkable images from the dozens of classroom visits Jena has made to read stories from Meet the Mutts:




Copyright 2013 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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