Study Guide for Danger: Long Division

by Janet Gingold

Table of Contents

About the Author

Janet Gingold grew up in a big old house in Pennsylvania with five brothers, three sisters and two very busy parents. After graduating from the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan Medical School, she completed a pediatric residency at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. She was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in 1982. As a pediatrician in suburban Maryland, she developed a keen appreciation for the daily struggles of ordinary families. Her interest in how kids learn to think led her to look for solutions through education rather than medication. Now, she divides here time between teaching biology and writing stories for young people.

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About the Inspiration

Much of the suffering seen in a pediatrician's office arises from difficulties with feelings, thinking and communication. A sick child brings along an entourage of parents and siblings,each with his or her own struggles. The doctor can write a prescription for the latest inhaled medicaiton to treat the wheezing baby, but the rest of the family has to figure out how to cope by themselves. Why do some families strengthen their relationships during times of stress while other famililes fall apart? How does the parents' preocupation with the needs of a sick child impact the other children in the family? How do uncorrected thinking errors grow into a pattern of cognitive distortion that interferes with interpersonal relations and enjoyment of life? How can positive interactions promote resilience in children by fostering the development of internal dialog that will help them through difficult times? Danger: Long Division grew out of an exploration of these questions.

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About the Story

Danger: Long Division tells the story of a particularly bad week in the life of a latch-key kid in suburban Maryland in 2003. Unable to make sense of long division without knowing her times tables, Becca Long suddenly finds herself failing math. Her friends turn mean. Her father is on the other side of the planet, risking his life in his couountry's service. A lung infection puts her baby brother, Will, in the hospital. Her mother is so busy worrying about Will, her work and the war, she barely notices Becca's struggles. As Becca faces her failure without family support, she finds new allies in her teacher and her neighbor, Troy. Conversations with a threadbare puppet help her think about her own thinking and feelings. Using a variety of thinking and learning strategies, she memorizes her time tables, learns to braid her own hair, and develops new art techniques. Her mother's continued criticism of her efforts heightens Becca's anger and frustration. The resulting clash clears the way for new perspectives on her relationships with her mother, her brother and her peers.

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The Characters

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Questions for Discussion

1. When we first meet Becca, she is home alone, working on her homework. What kind of student is she? What are her strengths and weakenesses? How do you know?

2. Becca usually stays home alone until her mother gets hme from work. How to you think she feels about this? Why?

3. On Monday, Becca's mother doesn't pay much attention to her in the car or at the hopital. Why? How does Becca feel about this?

4. When Mrs. Long and Mrs. Davis talk, they share their worries about leaving their children home alone. What are they concerned about? Why? How might the setting (just outside Washington, D.C., shortly after 9/11) affect their concerns?

5. How would you feel in a hospital waiting room surrounded by strangers with different problems? What did Becca do to make herself feel better while she waited?

6. On Tuesday, Becca studies Troy as he makes and eats a sandwich. Do you make your PBJ the same way Troy does? What is the same? What is different?

7. Becca is eleven years old and she talks to her puppet. Does she really think the puppet talks to her? How does talking with Ruffles help her? Do you ever have pretend conversations in your head? Why?

8. Becca is failing in math. Does this mean that she is not good at anything? Make a list of things Becca is good at. Cite evidence from the text for each item on your list.

9. When Bcca braids her hair while looking in the mirror, she gets confused. Why? If you were coaching Becca about this, what helful hints would you give her?

10. List three things that happened at school on Wednesday that hurt Becca's feelings. Do things like that happen at your school? What do you do about them?

11. How does Becca feel about Will? How has his arrival affected her relationship with her parents? Why does she wish that she could be little again? Do you ever feel like that?

12. Becca uses several tricks to help her remember the times tables. Describe three of them. Have you tried any of these? Did they work?

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13. Why is remembering something like putting something in a drawer? Describe three different drawers that are mentioned in the story. In which one would it be easiest to find what you are looking for? Why?

14. Why is remembering something like hitting "save" on your computer? What happens if you don't hit "save" for something important?

15. How does her father's absence affect Becca? Why are his letters important to her?

16. Becca hates watching news about the war, but her mother watches it all the time. If you had a loved one serving our country in a war zone, how would you feel about news reports?

17. The author uses italics to show what is going on in Becca's head. How does this change your understanding of the character. How would the story be different if the author showed you what Becca does without showing what she thinks?

18. During the story, Becca makes some thinking mistakes. Find three thinking errors that Becca makes. Does Becca realize her mistake? How? What advice might you give Becca to help her recognize and fix each of these thinking errors?

19. Do you think you can tell what people are thinking by what they do? Could Becca's mother tell what she was thinking by her behavior? Give examples.

20. Becca can predict many of her mother's actions. Find three examples of Becca's predictions that proved true. Does this mean that she always knows what her mother is thinking? Support your idea with examples from the text.

21. Find three examples in the text where someone misunderstood someone else. Why did the misunderstanding occur? How was the problem solved. Has something like this ever happened to you?

22. What is a metaphor? What is a simile? Why is the outside of Becca's head like the inside of Becca's head? Elaborate.

23. On Friday, Becca's teacher speaks w ith her mother. What do you thnk Mrs. Simmons says to Mrs. Long? How does this change Mrs. Long's ideas about Becca? What happens on Saturday that suggests a change in Mrs. Long's ideas?

24. On Sunday, Becca lets her mother know how she feels. How did Becca's explosion make you feel? How do you think her mother felt?

25. Choose a character in the story who remids you of someone you know. How are they similar? How are they different?

26. How did Becca change during the story? What has she learned that will help her solve problems in the future?

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Topics for Research and Discussion
Topic #1: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

1. Danger: Long Division is an example of contemporary realistic fiction. How does it differ from fantasy? How does it differ from historical fiction?

2. What other contemporary realistic fiction stories have you read? Why might a reader be interested in reading a story about a regular kid with everyday real-world problems?

Topic #2: Brain Power: Metacognition and Memory

1. Our brains are busy thinking all the time. Some of our ideas are better than others. As kids grow, they develop the ability to think about their thinking, to test their ideas, and to recognize which ideas are good and which ideas are not so good. How do you test your ideas?

2. Give an example of a time when you changed your mind about something. What was wrong abouut the old idea? Why did you change to the new idea?

3. Becca has trouble with long division because she doesn't remember the multiplication facts. Many other tasks require us to use facts that we remember. People have developed various tricks to help with memory, called mnemonic devices. Find out about three new mnemonic devices and use them to help you memorize something you want to learn.

Topic #3: Latch-key Kids

1. Many school-aged kids are home alone until their parents get home from work. When is this okay? When is it not okay? What skills should children have if they are going to be home alone? What information do they need?

2. What problems can occur when children are home alone? How can these problems be prevented?

Topic #4: Bouncing Back After Failure

1. Failure hurts. Sometimes when we fail at something we want to do, we are afraid to try agian because we don't want to fail again. Find out about someone who failed at something and then came back to succeed. How did they find the courage to try again? Did their success result from their own hard work, from the help of others, or from a stroke of good luck?

2. Many parents have no clue abouut what goes on in their children's lives outside the home. Many teachers have no clue about what goes on in their students' lives outside school. When kids fall short of adult expectations, they often get criticism when they need support. Describe a situation where the response of a caring adult made a child's problem worse instead of better. What would you do differently to improve the situation?

3. Lots of kids have trouble with long division. Some of them decide that they aren't good at math and stop trying. Some of them manage to find the piece that they are missing and go on to put the puzzle together. Some of them just get a calculator. Ask several adults what they remember about learning long division. How did their experience influence their attitude about math?

Topic #5: Mean Kids

1. Sometimes kids hurt each others' feelings because of thoughtlessness. Think about a time when you saw a child who was sad or angry. Put yourself in their shoes. Why did they feel that way? What might make them feel better? What might make them feel worse?

2. Sometimes kids go out of their way to pick on other people in an attempt to impress others, show off their strength or cleverness, or make up for their own bad feelings. Such bullying harms both the victim and the bully, and even innocent bystanders. Learn more about bullying at".

3. How can the behavior of classmates interfere with learning at school? Propose some solutions to these problems.

Topic #6: Military Families

1. Many kids have to deal with the absence of a parent. This can be even more difficult when the parent is in danger. Find out about military families in your area, or visit How can parents and children help each other cope with separation due to military deployment?

2. Where are American soldiers stationed outside the U.S.? What dangers do they face? How do they communicate with family and friends at home?

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