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.


Tuesday. June 1st falls on a Tuesday this year. But what, exactly, is so special about 6/1/21? Well, dear reader, provided all goes as planned, that is the day that our picture book, Mr. Quigley’s Keys, will be launching. Coincidentally, it’s also my sixtieth birthday; what an incredible gift the providential timing of our book’s born-on date will be. And while it’s only about six weeks away, it feels like it has been a long time coming, so while we wait, here’s its beautiful backstory.

It was nearly a decade ago when my friend, Jennifer Quigley, got to meet my father and subsequently told me the story about hers. Our dads had so many similarities: Both had enlisted in the military as young men, both were handymen, both were great men of character who regarded their handshake as their bond. Two of the differences were that her dad was deaf and that he had passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 52. Then she shared the part that really stuck with me, the part where he was the maintenance man for the same school district where she got her first teaching job and the part about how she and her students would get SO excited when they’d hear his keys coming down the hallway toward their classroom, keys that he couldn’t even hear because of a war injury from his time in the Navy. I distinctly remember telling her that that would make a fascinating picture book and that I could hear the title in my head: Mr. Quigley’s Keys. I encouraged her to write it, but she quickly declined with, “I’m not a writer, but I know someone who is.” Full stop.

Wait, was she really giving me permission to write her daddy’s story? If only I were a fiction writer. And that’s where that stayed, with just an occasional, distant jingle of those keys off and on over the years, until October 2019, when a young Art teacher from Bales Intermediate, the school from which I had retired the previous year, reached out to me and asked if I might want to connect over a cup of coffee. She said she’d heard good things about me and was wondering if I could help her find a way to combine her love of art with her love of people. It wasn’t until the morning after that meeting, during which I’d agreed to be her mentor, that I realized the illustrator for my picture book had just found me. The moment that landed on my heart, I called and left her a voice text; when she got back to me, I’d learn that it was, indeed, on her bucket list to illustrate a picture book. Now all I’d need to do is write it.

That, and find a publisher.

Because the pandemic pause that Spring put many of my mentoring and speaking engagements on hold, I had a lot of time to write and sharpen the story; by the summer of 2020, I’d met with Audrye several times via FaceTime to discuss the vision for the book so that she could start the illustrations which would bring my words to life. I reached out to EduMatch Publishing with a proposal in June and, within the month, I heard back that they loved the story and would like to offer us a contract. Since I’d heard that most publishers prefer to use their own professional illustrators, I let Sarah know up front that I had an illustrator in mind and kindly asked if they’d consider us as a package deal. Thankfully she agreed, and, in a serendipitous twist, we signed our contracts on the 35th-year anniversary of the passing of Jennifer’s dad, Don Pittman, the hero handyman who inspired our story.

More in a future post about the process from that joyous moment until our book’s release; until then, here’s a peek at a page from the back of our book.