Archive for the ‘ People ’ Category

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the MLK “I Have a Dream” Speech, I think about the many schools I visit as an author in low income, African American communities and Hispanic Farmworker communities, and I realize we have a long way to go. If racists could experience what I have over and over again, they could no longer be racists. Close your eyes and you cannot discern color or wealth. Listen to the children’s questions, dreams, fears and hopes. They’re the same no matter whether you are at a school for the affluent or at a school with 100% subsidized meals. There are curious kids, kids who hug me, shy kids, misbehaving kids, geniuses and learning disabled kids everywhere I go, no matter the income, no matter the race, no matter the nationality. I’ve discovered the best way to do my part to combat racism is to not tolerate it. I encourage you too to speak up every time someone makes a racist comment. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way yet to go. Thank you MLK for having the courage to speak up. . . .

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

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Ben Franklin Image in the Public Domain

It’s an important day – Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Day. These events bring to mind the many great people who have contributed to America and the entire world. It took me a while, but I came up with my wish list of the Top Three Historical Figures (no longer living) that I would love to interview today (if I could bring them back to life, of course). And if I could interview them, what 10 questions would I ask each of them? No question would be off limits.

Martin Luther King

  1. Where did you get your courage to stand up for what you believed in?
  2. Looking back on your life, is there anything significant you wish you would had done differently?
  3. What are your thoughts on the riots that ensued following your assassination, since you so often spoke about the importance of peace?
  4. What do you think of the state of racism and equality today as compared to the 1960s?
  5. Are you surprised that we first elected an African American US President in 2008?
  6. How would you rate the progress of America as it compares to your “I Have a Dream” speech?
  7. Did you ever imagine that your speech would be so eternally regarded and a national holiday would be established in your name?
  8. Were you faithful to your wife?
  9. If you were alive today, what would you be doing?
  10. What advice do you have for those out there who are trying to muster up the courage to stand up for what they believe in?

Benjamin Franklin

  1. What of your many accomplishments are you most proud?
  2. What is your opinion of the amendments that have been made to the US Constitution since you signed it?
  3. Who in your opinion is the best US President in history and why?
  4. Who was the mother of your illegitimate son, William?
  5. When you discovered electricity, did you realize how much your findings would change the world?
  6. What invention that has taken place since your death do you most respect?
  7. How does your list of Thirteen Virtues hold up in the world today, and would change that list in any way now?
  8. How do you feel about the current state of education at the highly regarded University of Pennsylvania, the school you founded it in the 1700s and the challenges students face today getting into the top universities?
  9. What was your reaction when you learned of the digital age and e-publishing?
  10. If you were alive today, what would you be doing?

Albert Einstein

  1. What happened to your daughter, Leiserl?
  2. Did you know at the time of your theories that you would change the world of science as you did?
  3. Can you explain your theories of relativity in layman’s terms?
  4. What of your many accomplishments are you most proud?
  5. What is your opinion about how the science of physics has progressed (or not progressed) since your death?
  6. If you could change anything you did in your life what would it be and why would you change it?
  7. What most surprises you about the changes in technology in the world since your death and how could that help you with your work?
  8. Why do you suppose there is such a shortage of scientists in America and the world as a whole these days?
  9. What do you have to say about how your brain was taken without permission from your family after your death to be studied?
  10. If you were alive, what would you be doing today?

Those are my top three choices for interviews with historical figures. If I could expand my list, I’d add:

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Abe Lincoln
  • King Henry VIII
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Frederick Douglas
  • Freddy Mercury
  • Rod Serling
  • Ayn Rand
  • William Shakespeare
  • Grace Kelly

Who would you interview if you could, and what would you ask?








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Photo courtesy of Frank Toral

Please read my article on about Frank Toral, an extraordinary Fort Lauderdale attorney who established The Toral Family Foundation to help people and their families challenged by Traumatic Brain Injury.

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Please read my interview with science writer Beverly McMillan, author or A Day in the Life of Your Body. You will learn about all the work it takes to write scientific books and how fascinating the process is to create these educational titles. I now have ever greater respect for people who write these books and educate the world with their knowledge!

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Today is Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. A few months ago I reviewed a terrific children’s book about Dickens on Good Reads with Ronna.

Dickens’ Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth, England has a long list of events to celebrate this milestone.

When I was in England attending the University of London for a semester, I got this amazing poster of Dickens’ characters, which is on the wall in my office. It came with a legend that lists who all the characters are. I cherish this!

Happy Birthday Charles!

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This is a blog worth subscribing to . . . The Jeffrey Gottfurcht Children’s Arthritis Foundation

Jeff and his Sherpa atop the Summit of Mount Everest, May 14, 2011

If you love inspiring stories, you will be thrilled with this one. Jeff Gottfurcht was the first person with rheumatoid arthritis to climb Mount Everest. Right now he is climbing Mount Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America, and his blog is documenting his progress every day. Jeff is the founder of a wish-granting charity for children with arthritis, and he climbs to bring awareness to his cause.

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Darwin, AKA Dardie, Chocolate Standard Poodle XXL

Having a huge and adorable dog is really an attention-getter. Sometimes I enjoy being stopped and answering all the questions people have about Darwin when we walk together. But literally, for every block I walk, I get stopped a minimum of 4 times.

People slow down in their cars and yell stuff out the window at me.  One car’s driver was staring at Darwin and not paying attention to a large curb. She tore a big chunk out of her car and ended up dragging a side panel under the car. Another driver failed to stop at a busy intersection, because he was fixated on Darwin. He almost plowed into oncoming traffic. He stopped in time, but his car spun completely around. Many drivers also pull up behind us (off the road) suddenly and without warning, scaring the heck out of both of us (just to see the dog and ask questions). I know my pup is special and darling and big, but he is not the only standard poodle in this country.

Here’s a few comments I’ve received from strangers:

  • “What kind of exotic breed is that?”  Me: “A poodle, actually one of the more common breeds.”
  • “Now yours is a toy poodle, right? And there are two larger sizes of poodles, right?” Me: “You are kidding, right? This dog is 5 ft. 3 inches from the top of his head to his feet. You believe there are 2 larger sizes – perhaps a pony and a Clydesdale?”
  • “What kind of mammal is that you have on that leash?” Me: “I sure hope it is a canine, or the more familiar word, dog. “
  • “I have to ask, are you a FULL-sized person?” Me: “I have to answer that I am somewhat offended. But yes, I am a small, full-sized person and this is a large, full-sized dog.”
  • “Aren’t you terrified of your own dog? He is humongous!” “Me: “Watch as I pry open the dog’s mouth and stick my head in there. Can you tell that I am not afraid?”
  • “What the F is that? You’ve got some big SHI- there!” Me: “My dog is not impressed with your limited vocabulary.”
  • “What a gorgeous animal!” Me: “Thank you. I work out a lot and watch what I eat, but how do you like my dog?”

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Here at Smart Poodle Publishing, we most enjoy interviewing interesting people of all sorts. Today we are talking to Gemma Sokol, a 17-year-old high school senior from Los Angeles, who shares with us her unique experiences of living abroad as a young child.

Gemma Sokol

Were you born in the US?

Yes, I was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Frankfurt, Germany at the age of 2.

Why did your family move abroad?

My Dad got a job in Frankfurt while working for CitiGroup, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.

Did you attend English-speaking schools in Germany?

I was little, so I went to a bi-lingual Montessori school, where I became fluent in German. My parents took German classes too, so we could all learn together and speak it at home.

You were very young when you lived there, but do you have any special memories of Frankfurt?

Yes. There is a big shopping mall called NordWestZentrum with a spectacular glass ceiling, and in that mall was a cool post office. As a little girl, it was a really special treat to go shopping and then mail packages back to the states at that post office. The indoor swimming pools in Frankfurt are some of the best I’ve ever visited!

How old were you when you left Germany?

We moved to London when I was five and a half and stayed there for six and a half years.

What were the British schools like?

My parents had me switch schools a few times to find the best one for me. One private school I went to had required church services, and we sang hymns. It was a good learning experience, because my family is Jewish, and I had never been exposed to church before. In order to go to secondary school, there is a very long application process. You have to sit for exams, write essays and fill out long and involved applications. It is very competitive and somewhat stressful. But I made it through the process, and it was all worth it!

Gemma and her brother, Coleman, in London

Are the academics different in Britain than they are in the US?

In British schools, students learn foreign languages early. I took French from third through sixth grade. Then in sixth grade, I took German and Latin. Throughout my British education, religious studies were part of the curriculum giving me the opportunity to learn about a lot of religions different from my own. The schools took us on field trips to a wide variety of houses of of worship almost every 2 weeks for educational purposes. It was fascinating to learn about so many fascinating religions this way. I wish American schools did this as well.

So would you say the academics are better in Britain or just different?

Both. For example, in fifth grade, we took a trip to the Isle of White, and in sixth grade we went via ferry and bus to France, where we stayed and explored for 8 days. It was an amazing trip! I’d have to say the academic opportunities are better there. The education is very career driven. You must know what you want to study before you graduate from secondary school; college placement is geared toward specific career paths from day one. Students take exit exams in so many subjects and have to pass all of them in order to graduate and go to college.

Are there any other differences?

The overall environment is different in British schools. They do not have school spirit like we do in the US. I’d describe it by saying it is not as interactive as American schools.

Was it hard to make friends in your schools?

Luckily I’m outgoing and make friends fairly easily, no matter where I am. But every school I’ve been to has one thing in common; there are plenty of cliques. Kids everywhere just want to fit in.

How did you like British cuisine?

Because England has a large Indian population, there are countless Indian restaurants in, and around, London. Our favorite restaurant was family owned, serving Indian cuisine, located just around the corner from our house. There really wasn’t any food I did not like in London.

There are over 200 museums in London. Did you have a favorite?

My favorite is the British Museum. The Ancient Egypt exhibit is the best!

How did you feel about coming back to USA?

I was excited to go back to L.A,, with the thrill of Hollywood and the movie stars. I was only 12-years-old when I came back to this country so I had quite a strong a British accent. But it drew so much attention, and I constantly got so many comments that I made an effort to change it. It took me under a year to lose that accent, though it’s still here inside me. We had to rent an apartment for a while when we came back to the U.S., and I missed the spacious, multi-level house we had in England. But more than anything, I really missed the small town feeling of Europe, with local shops and cafes right around the corner and great public transportation.

Where have you traveled other than Germany, Britain and France?

I’ve been to over 31 countries. I have to say my favorite city in the world is Venice. Even though there are so many tourists there, it is a magical place. I love that there are no cars, there’s so much art, the architecture is phenomenal, and the food is incredible. I also love watching how Venetian glass is made. When I see films shot in Venice I think, “I’ve stood right there!”

What is the most exotic place you’ve been?

Cyprus is a most unusual place. It is extremely dry and also rather barren in parts, but there are many resorts, ancient ruins and groves of olives trees. It’s also not easy to cross the border into Turkey, and we were advised against it because we were staying on the Greek side and the two countries are in territorial conflict.

Gemma on a recent trip to Paris

How did living abroad change your life?

I have had so much exposure to so many different cultures. I couldn’t possibly have that experience if I had not lived overseas. I have great respect for different ways of life, cultural traditions, religions, laws and history.

You are getting ready to graduate from high school and go to college. Do you know what you would like to study there?

I’m looking into studying communications, art or cultural studies.

So do you feel that your multi cultural education gives you an advantage over other students who have not had opportunities to travel?

Yes. I believe the best way to learn is to experience things firsthand. I have learned to appreciate different ways of life, and being open to those ways – though very different from ours – makes life much richer and education much broader. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to experience so many diverse places in the world and meet people from so many unique cultures. That experience really shaped me into who I am today.

What advice would you give to another student who may be getting ready to live abroad?

No matter how different the culture may be in a foreign country, there are people you will meet who have something common with you. You will quickly acclimate to the different environment and learn the cultural traditions there. The people will be just as interested in getting to know you as you are in getting to know them. Visit all the top attractions, try the local food and learn the language, because this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take advantage of all your experience has to offer, and you won’t have any regrets.

Gemma, thank you for sharing your experiences abroad with our readers. It isn’t often that one learns of life as an Expat from a young person’s perspective. Best of luck to you in college. I’m confident your unique cultural experiences will open many doors for you, and your future will be filled with more travel and adventure. Please keep in touch!


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Kindred Spirits

I met (in person) my dear friend and book reviewing partner, Ronna Mandel, for the first time! She is awesome!


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Please read my interview with Jeffrey Gottfurcht, the first person with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) to attempt to climb Mount Everest. You are sure to be as inspired as I was when I heard his story! Jeff is the founder of the Jeffrey Gottfurcht Children’s Arthritis Foundation (JGCAF) and an amazing athlete.


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