Regular readers of this blog know Barbara Gruener, the school counselor in Texas who writes monthly installments for us, in addition to maintaining her own blog, The Corner On Character. We’re pleased to announce the publication of her new book, What’s Under Your Cape? Superheroes of the Character Kind, which is available in our online store, her blog as well as on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. When she isn’t writing about superheroic character, she demonstrates it as Counselor and Character Coach at Westwood-Bales School in Friendswood, Texas.
We asked Barbara a few questions about her book and her new life as a writer. She also sent us a brief excerpt, which appears at the bottom of this post.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, but my fervor for it started a dozen years ago after I attended a CHARACTER COUNTS! Student Development Workshop (formerly called a CDS). I wanted a way to share character-development ideas and strategies with the parents at my school and with other educators. My journey began by posting ideas and activity suggestions on my school’s website. In the fall of 2001, Teaching Tolerance magazine came across my “Hey, Little Ant” lesson and invited me to publish an article in their Activity Exchange column. I continued writing ideas and posting them on the website and found that everywhere I would speak, workshop participants would ask if I had a book they could buy. My pat answer was that I’d written more than a book and it was available for free online. After conducting a breakout session this last October at the Character Education Partnership’s National Forum, Marian Nelson of Nelson Publishing and Marketing asked the question in a slightly different way: Why didn’t I have a book? Thankfully, she wasn’t satisfied with my pat answer, so, with her encouragement and help, I compiled my best stories and strategies, infused them with some new content and, voila, this resource guide for character educators came to be.
What do you want readers to get out of your book?
That’s a great question. My hope is that the stories and strategies that I’ve collected over the past dozen years since I’ve been intentionally seeking out character moments will positively influence readers to follow suit. Eric Hoffer once said, “We are made kind by being kind.” To me, it follows that we are made positive by being positive, we are made peaceful by embracing peaceful practices, and we become superheroes by serving as heroes to one another. Ah, the domains of character: Knowing, Loving, Doing. At a time when testing stakes are high, I hope my character-infusion activities help teachers seamlessly weave virtues and values into their curriculum. Character education must not be experienced as an add-on to their already full daily routines, but rather as a crucial thread in the fabric of their character building. Powerful things happen when teachers get intentional about creating a classroom climate in which their superheroes can grow by leaps and bounds — not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well.
Your book is subtitled “Superheroes of the Character Kind.” What were your childhood heroes? My childhood heroes were my parents, my teachers, our church pastor, and my 4-H leaders. I knew I wanted “superheroes” in the title somewhere. Other titles I considered were: Beyond the Character Cape, Superheroes in Your Character Building, Superheroes to the Rescue, Superheroes on a Character Crusade, Superheroes Crusading for Good.
Name a book that you wish everyone would read.
Growing Up With A Bucket Full of Happiness by Carol McCloud. I’d also recommend any of Ron Clark’s books. He’s one of my character heroes. I’ve read some of his works over and over for inspiration.
How about a work that you wish you had written?
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
What’s your greatest challenge as a writer?
Sometimes I just write to think, to process, to reflect, without a specific direction or audience. While writing the book, I found my editor redirecting and refocusing me with the admonition to “remember your audience.”
You’ve been a school counselor for many years. How does this new book change things?
I’ve been asked what it feels like to be an author and I don’t think I know that answer yet. I’ve been journaling routinely since I was in middle school, so writing isn’t new to me. I still can’t imagine myself doing book signings though. I want to continue my job as a school counselor and character coach, but I’m not averse to selling books.
What kind of character education work is on your immediate horizon?
I am doing workshops this summer at the CharacterPlus Conference in St. Louis, the Character Edcuation Partnership Conference in Wisconsin, the Character Matters Conference in San Diego, the Texas Choral Directors Conference in San Antonio and two back-to-school inservice presentations in the Dallas area. And I’ll continue to blog over at The Corner on Character. I have a catchy title and story idea for a children’s book, so we’ll see where that takes me.
Anything else you’d like to add about the book or your work in character education?
I never turn down a chance to thank my support system. I’m so grateful to have a kindhearted husband, three precious children, a caring extended family, a generous school family, and fantastic friends. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” May I always be grateful.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Barbara’s What’s Under YOUR Cape?:
Superheroes must have an amazing capacity for love. Just think about it: they rush in to help, regardless of who needs them. They don’t put any conditions on who, when, where, or how they help. They instinctively think with their hearts and not just feel love,either, but act on it. Superheroes are all about action.
I’ll never forget Hailey. She was in third grade, but she’d decided she didn’t want to knit. In fact, she came by my office to donate her needles and yarn to someone who did. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn’t interested and lovingly added that she wanted someone else to have her stuff. As third grade went on and she saw her classmates making baby hats, Hailey stopped by to ask if I thought I could teach her to knit. She’d gotten some money for the holidays and thought she’d like to buy more needles and give it a shot. It was rough going at first, but Hailey eventually finished a beautiful little blue hat. When she was interviewed for our Knit One, Save One documentary, Hailey said, in her caring voice and with warmth in her eyes, “I knit this hat for a baby, and I knit this hat with love.” No parameters, no conditions. Just love. She knit that hat with love. For a baby whom she’ll never meet. She added that since she survived when she was a baby, those little babies should have the same chance.