Questions about Danger: Long Division

So many kids hate long division. If they can get the answer by punching numbers into a calculator, do kids really need to learn how to do long division?

Absolutely. It's like boot camp for the brain. It requires not only math concepts, but also memory, sequencing, spatial organization, and eye-hand coordination. It's no wonder that so many kids with different strengths and weaknesses shudder at the mere mention of it, and so many intelligent grownups identify long division as the root of their math phobia. It's full of potential pitfalls. You can't fake it. But once you master long division, you're ready for all kinds of complex mental operations that require attention to detail, patience, persistence, use of pertinent facts, estimation and cross-checking.

By why would anybody want to read about it?

Kids need lots of different kinds of books. These days we see lots of books about kids with magical powers, kids from the future or kids from the past, kids from different countries or kids from different planets. I think kids also need stories that are closer to home, about real kids with real limitations--kids like themselves. For every wand-waving kid in the world, there are thousands out there lugging heavy bookbags home to empty houses, struggling with their homework, spending too much time alone. They do the best they can, but often they don't get the help they need. If they can't see solutions to their problems, they are likely to quit trying to solve them. By spending a few days with Becca, readers can see their own stories validated. They can see that even a regular kid with no magical powers can subdue the terrors of their everyday lives.

The mothers in your story worry about leaving their kids home alone. Why do you think latch-key kids are at risk?

Parents I've known do their best to make sure their latch-key kids are safe. They have rules against going out to play and having visitors. They check in by phone. Still, kids who are home alone often get worried or depressed.

Kids aren't just short adults. Their thinking patterns change as they grow. By the time they get to the late elementary grades, kids have developed some ability to see things from another's perspective, and they are beginning to be able to make generalizations. As they approach adolescence, they develop the ability to think about thinking. However, they're not necessarily very good at these cognitive skills yet. If kids spend too much time inside their own heads, they don't get the feedback they need to refine their ideas and correct thinking errors. Just as they need to know why they got a math problem wrong so they can get the next one right, they need to find out if their ideas about themselves and about other people are on target or not. When a kid says something like, "I never do anything right," he needs somebody to come back at him with, "Sure you do. Just this morning, you made your own breakfast, packed your lunch, and got to the bus stop on time with everything you needed for school." When she says, "Everybody hates me," she needs to hear, "Not true!" with a specific counterexample. Without that kind of feedback, kids can easily fall into negative thinking loops that interfere with their motivation and joy in life.

How can Becca's story help?

In Danger: Long Division, readers get to see what happens inside Becca's head as well as what is happening around her. Becca makes lots of thinking errors in this story. I hope that by recognizing Becca's errors, both in her math problems and in her assumptions about what others think, readers will learn to examine their own thinking for similar errors. This is one step toward developing an inner dialog that will help them through tough times when everything seems to be falling apart.

Reading Danger Long Division made me wonder about what's going on in my daughter's head. Do you think there are messages here for grown-ups, too?

Usually, parents have little idea what really goes on in school, and teachers have little idea what really goes on at home. Especially when everybody's bustling from one activity to the next, grownups might know what the child does, but they might be totally clueless about what the child actually thinks. Too often, when kids mess up, they get criticism when they really need support. Adults who listen can make a critical difference in kids' lives by acknowledging their struggles and helping them to test their ideas as they try out new ways of thinking. Maybe grownups who share this book with their kids will be prompted to find out more about what's going on between those young ears.