From Deep In The Heart

Happy holidays from deep in the heart of Texas; while up in WI, I got to sit with Owen and find the keys again. Fun fact: Did you know that there are actually 13 keys hidden in Audrye’s illustrations?

And though 2021 has been a year fraught with deep grief as a result of losing three beloved family members, it has also brought great joy with the release of Mr. Quigley’s Keys. My brother, Mark, was the book’s biggest fan. After his death, one of his neighbors and best friends decided to buy a class set for his sister’s classroom up in Green Bay, which resulted in an online author visit and forged a friendship between WI and TX. Read all about it {here}.

Additionally, I’ve had the blessing of Zoom chatting with a class in OH, at a conference in TX, and with residents of an Assisted Living place in WI this semester. I also traveled to WI in November for a three-hour pre-con {IN-PERSON!} session on Kindness as The REAL Global Warming. It was such a fun morning together with the state’s school counselors and my sister, who was able to join us for the workshop.

Grief and joy can co-exist, and life goes on for those of us left behind. I continue to look for the blessings in the burden, the gifts in the grind. Oh, and focus on gratitude, every single day, because it’ll take you to amazing places, deep in the heart.

Happy New Year, sweet reader. If ever you’d like an author visit or to connect by heart via Zoom, please drop me a message and let’s get it on this year’s calendar.

Be blessed as you bless, Barbara

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?


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.