Finding Mr. Quigley’s Keys

Today I’m grateful to all of the friends of Mr. Quigley’s Keys who are reaching out to let me know how the book has landed on their hearts. I was so excited to meet my cousin’s son on a recent trip home and we had a BLAST trying to find the camouflaged keys together. It healed my heart hearing him giggle as he showed me that he’d found each of the keys.

I got to check in on him in his bed after he was tucked in and loved how he had the book under the covers in the dark, looking again to make sure he found them all.

I’m also grateful to have been a recent guest on Thrive O’Clock with Mel and Rachelle!

We talked about the book a bit, but I also got to break out the ukulele to accompany Mel’s serenade to Rachelle for her birthday, and my husband jumped on for the Rapid Fire at the end. Such a fun opportunity!

Life continues to be fragile yet beautiful. Our baby brother, the last of five siblings, passed away from a heart attack in late August, so we have had some painful days. Mark was a big fan of Mr. Quigley’s Keys, and the fact that he passed away at the same age as Don Pittman, the unsung hero in our book, is not lost on me; 53 is just way too young. I blogged about him and my last three weeks {here}. His work family at Clear Channel Outdoor sprinkled these digital billboards over the skies of Milwaukee in his memory; the competitors asked if they could also run the boards, to honor him on the day of his funeral. So comforting. Here’s our last sibling picture with our Dad and his wife. Seeing the billboard on our way to church felt like a sign.

So hard to imagine life without our baby brother, but we press on and carry on his legacy of connection and love now that he has passed the baton. In the words of Ram Dass, we are all just here walking one another home.

I’ve also done an author visit up in IL recently; what a gift to talk with budding authors and read my book to them!

Have YOU found all of Mr. Quigley’s Keys yet?

Mom’s Choice Gold Award Recipient

We are grateful and proud to announce that Mr. Quigley’s Keys has been selected as a Mom’s Choice Gold Award Recipient. Such exciting news for us!

I’ve gone back to school now, but I’ve also been busily sharing our story’s backstory. In case you missed it, I was blessed to join Maria Dismondy on her podcast last week. She is such a beautiful ray of sunshine in our world; I hope you’ll be able to tune in and maybe even leave her a review.

I’m also super happy with how my classroom came together; here’s an SEL display designed to uplift, encourage and support, in both languages, of course.

And our Peace Corner is ready for when my learners need to PAZ (see what I did there?). I’m not certain how much my 8th-grade amigos will use this area, but it’s complete with breathing exercises, fidgets, essential oil options and more for if and when they want to press PAZ.

Happy new {school} year; I have a feeling that the BEST is yet to come!

Mr. Quigley’s Keys On The Radio

Feeling so SO grateful to The Lisa Show at BYU Radio for giving me some air time to share the story behind our story. What a joy it was to talk about our journey from a seed sown to the published product.

Readers of all ages are enjoying lap-top time with Mr. Quigley’s Keys. This toddler in WI loved searching for the camouflaged keys with my beautiful sister, Debra. Aren’t they adorable?

And I’m super excited for this week’s event at the Friendswood Library; if you’re in the area, join us this Thursday at 3 pm CST.

Finally, a can-doer quote I recently came across; happy August.

Key Feedback

Happy August! Today, some pictures and feedback as Mr. Quigley’s Keys makes its trek into the hands and hearts of its readers everywhere. Read our backstory {here}.

First up from WA via Twitter, a key leader’s kind words about Keys.

Leona’s mom says that she’s loving the ASL section and practicing it up in WI.

And down under, Lis from Ripple Kindness Project posted this beautiful review.

Finally, back home in TX, the hardback displayed next to the flag that the book’s inspiration, Don Pittman, was given for his service in the Korean war.

Where in the world are YOU reading Mr. Quigley’s Keys, dear reader?

Back-To-School Book SELections

First things first; thank you, Barbie and Betty, for posting those promising practices about teaching empathy on our previous post. You BOTH have a book coming your way since I decided to match my publisher’s gift. Reach out to me at bgruener5 (at) with your postal address and I’ll pop those into our next shipment. Congrats and happy reading.

Speaking of reading, I curated a Back-to-School SEL calendar around school-themed books that can help you foster a caring climate and classroom community with your learners of all ages. Click {here} for your freebie download.

What are YOUR key read-alouds as you help your learners transition back to school, get acquainted with one another, make those compassionate connections, and settle in to a new school year?

Mr. Quigley Down Under

Can YOU feel the frisson of JOY at seeing this passionate educator with our story in her smile and hands down under, in Australia? Chill bumps deep in the heart of TX.

I’ve been overflowing with gratitude and love as Mr. Quigley’s Keys jingles into the hearts of people everywhere. Our PLN friend Carolyn in CA included it in this post of her picks for the Best Books to teach empathy, inclusion, kindness, friendship and love. My heart could burst that KEYS has a place at the table with these epic books, like Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by my friend Carol McCloud. Bucket at its brim!

My daughter made us a beautiful book trailer, CharacterStrong is looking to add it to their list of book recommendations that enrich our empathy arsenal, and a colleague in WI is potentially adding it to a curriculum she’s writing for a non-profit that showcases acceptance around differing abilities. Deep, heavy sigh.

What’s your favorite way to teach that empathy is all about switching places with another person? One of mine is the empathy switch. It’s so much fun to watch the productive struggle at they put “you” on one hand (pinky up) and “themselves” on the other (thumbs up) then attempt to switch them simultaneously.

Too easy? Try putting the peace sign on one hand and a high five on the other, then switch. Get ready for groans of “this is too hard” or “I can’t do this,” the perfect setup for your response that empathy is hard at first, too, but with practice you get better at listening to understand, at feeling with without trying to fix, at holding space and letting another know that they aren’t alone.

With all of these good vibes, it feels like the perfect time for a giveaway, courtesy of our publisher, EduMatch.

For your chance to win an author-signed copy of Mr. Quigley’s Keys, simply leave a comment on this page between now and Friday, July 16th at noon {CST} telling us your favorite book or enrichment activity for elevating that glorious skill of empathy within your orbit, at school, at work or at home.

This giveaway is now closed; BOTH of our commenters have a book coming their way!

KEY Strengths On Display

If you’re looking for an activity that will spotlight signature strengths, you’ve come to the perfect place!

Piggybacking off of this KEY template that we shared at Thanksgiving 2015, to thank our staff members for being key to unlocking so many doors for our students and their families …

… I created this from one of Audrye’s illustrations that didn’t make it into the book. Click {here} to download. Put copies on the table at your back-to-school inservice and ask staff members to write words and phrases that describe who they are and what they bring to your school family. Use it to talk about humility and a healthy pride, something they’ll model to the learners in their class family every day.

When the masterpieces are finished, consider attaching a picture of each staff member on his/her page and post it on a Wall of Fame at your school’s entrance. Won’t that make a beautiful visual? But don’t stop there! Ask your students to complete one as well. Better yet, put blank templates out at Open House and ask families to fill them out. Or send them home in the first-week folder and get everyone involved.

Do send me a picture when your KEY strengths are on display!

Because Freedom Isn’t Free

The other day when I was out and about, I stopped by my friend’s house, to return her power washer and share some fresh tomatoes from our garden. Her darling daughter was waiting for me at the curb with her autograph book as well as with the family’s copy of Mr. Quigley’s Keys.

After I signed both of the books, we got to talking about being an author and guess what? She’s a writer, too, currently working on a cookbook. How cool is THAT? She told me that her favorite part about Mr. Quigley’s Keys is the sign language; her favorite page is when the book changes alignment and opens up vertically to a saluting Mr. Quigley as a young soldier in the Navy.

It’s actually one of my favorites, too. Didn’t our talented artist Audrye do an incredible job with his likeness! And the poppies on the page? Well, I think they just make the page pop. What’s even more poignant about all of it is the stark reminder that freedom is never free. Don Pittman, the man who inspired our special story, was just 19 years old and off serving in the Korean war, fighting for our freedom, when he lost his hearing. That meant he never got to hear his own children’s voices; isn’t that a steep price to pay? I often think of the brave men and women who serve so that those of us back on hallowed ground can go about our lives safe and free. And I’m humbled and grateful.

Happy birthday, America; may we never forget that you are the land of the free because of the brave. And may your colors fly high, not only on parade day, but each and every day of the year.

The KEY To Connecting By Heart

What an exciting month June has been as Mr. Quigley’s Keys jingles its way into the hearts and souls of so many readers. I’m told that it is especially popular with Grandparents who are reading it to their grandchildren; people from all over are sending me these precious shots to show me how much fun they’re having reading together, finding the camouflaged keys and learning some American Sign Language.

It made my heart skip a beat to see the book in the Back-to-School display at our local Barnes & Noble earlier this week, even though we did end up locking the keys in the car and waiting for two hours for the storm to pass to get a locksmith out. Talk about a KEY opportunity to connect with my husband over how silly we feel about aging sometimes!

Perhaps the happiest my heart has been is in this magical empathy moment, when I put a copy of our book in the hands of my friend Jennifer Quigley, whose father inspired this special story.

He will always hold the key to her heart, so watching her slowly turn the pages and sink into his story was truly beyond anything that words can capture or describe. I just savored every second and pray we made her family proud as we worked with intention to keep his legacy alive.

I’ve also beamed at hearing what our young readers think about the book.

THIS fifth-grade imitation of one of my favorite illustrations really makes me smile.

As you read the book with your loved ones, look on every page for examples of the twelve keys to connection: Where do you see gratitude or gentleness? Empathy or joy? How about work ethic, creativity or self-control? Perseverance or peace? Which trait do you see that could be painted on the key behind his knee in the mural?

So much goodness and love as our book makes its trek around the world. And I’m grateful! If you’ve read the book and would like to share your feedback, we’d love your comments on this page and/or over at Amazon. It’s always helpful to prospective readers to hear from other friends what they thought about the book and how they’ll use it to help sharpen SEL skills for our future.

Oh, and the KEY to connecting by heart? I’m convinced that it’s empathy.

And love, of course.

Mr. Quigley Makes Front-Page News

Extra! Extra! Read all about it; what an incredible day Tuesday, June 1st was. And just when I wasn’t sure it could get more exciting, the celebration continued with this beautiful post on the front page of the Friendswood Reporter News. Can you hear the clanging cadence of Mr. Quigley’s Keys?

We had such a fun launch Tuesday evening; I’m so grateful that first-grade Friendswood teacher Jennifer Quigley, whose daddy inspired our story, could jump on for a bit and bring that beautiful affective side of empathy to our story, and that Dr. Michele Borba, my empathy hero, and Toni Mullins, my friend of Teacher Toni fame, could also add their impressions of the book during the launch!

Here’s our press release in case you want more information; visit to go straight to Amazon. The book is also available at Barnes & Noble as well.

After reading my book aloud the a great group of fourth graders in Houston last week, I received some insightful notes; aren’t these the best reflections?

We’ve had a few publishing delays, so if you’ve ordered the book, thank you and hold tight; Mr. Quigley’s Keys will be jingling your way very soon, hopefully in time for Father’s Day.