A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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What is the problem and solution in the book A Long Way from Chicago?

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A prominent problem at the beginning of A Long Way from Chicago is that neither child really knows, understands, appreciates, or even wants to be with their Grandma Dowdel.  They see their grandma as someone who doesn’t really care for others, especially not her neighbors.  Soon Joey sees that Grandma Dowdel cares about injustices and does her best to right wrongs through her own independent means.  We see this problem being resolved when Joey grows up to be a man who deeply respects his grandmother and what he and his sister have learned about treating others with respect and compassion.  Also, his sister, Mary Alice, grows up to be a self-assured young woman. 

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What is the problem in 'A Long Way from Chicago?'

The story is a series of vignettes, each with its own small problem that needs to be solved depending on what is happening in the town that summer. But there are a couple of overarching conflicts that you could expand upon to answer this question.

One conflict is the tension between the life that Joey and Mary Alice live in Chicago and the life they live while they are with Grandma Dowdel. There are a number of allusions to those differences, such as the picture show they attend in town that is put on by the Lion’s Club versus the way they are used to going to a movie in Chicago. These things both surprise and educate the children, as well as cause them frustration.

Another conflict is the inner one that the children wrestle with over their understanding of their Grandma. They are both confused and amused by her antics. At one point in the middle of the book, Mary Alice says, “I don’t think Grandma’s a very good influence on us.” But later, Joey notes that their Grandma has positive traits, saying, “From Grandma, Mary Alice was learning thrift.” Their understanding of her, and of themselves, grows throughout the years and is resolved beautifully in the last chapter.

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What is the problem in 'A Long Way from Chicago?'

There is no real "problem" in this story other than Grandma's compulsive lying, and even this is portrayed in a humorous way.

The lact of a real conflict and the meandering story line (events really aren't that tied together) is one reproach critics make of this otherwise very entertaining children's book.

Maybe this lack of cohesion is the "problem" your teacher is hinting at!

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What is the main problem in the book A Long Way from Chicago?

A Long Way from Chicago chronicles the adventures of two siblings and their Grandma Dowdel. Joey and Mary Alice, the city kids, are not pleased to spend their summers in Grandma's small town. They prefer their lives in Chicago, where something is always happening. Moreover, Grandma is not a doting or pampering grandmother. She values her privacy, hates small-town gossip, and does not suffer fools lightly. After the first summer, she expects Joey and Mary Alice to find their way home from the station.

Soon the children realize that there is more to Grandma than her grouchy side. She catches criminals, outwits rowdy neighborhood kids, helps lovers to elope, and strong-arms a banker. The sheriff of the town calls her a "one-woman crime wave." From seeing their first corpse to helping Grandma trespass, Joey and Mary Alice have seven unforgettable summers.

Each summer Grandma teaches the children something about life. The kids learn to appreciate her and take on some of her unique characteristics.

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What is the main problem in the book A Long Way from Chicago?

Although this is work filled with humor, prejudice is probably the main problem in Peck's novel.

The following excerpt from the analysis at eNotes should help explain the issue for you. Follow the link below for more information on social sensitivity and other issues Peck addresses.

"The townspeople are prejudiced towards the homeless men who ride rails seeking work. Prejudice is the result of misunderstanding, lack of education about other people and their ways, or emanates from a mean spirit and selfishness. If readers identify areas of prejudice in themselves, they can find several instances where Joey and Mary Alice learned from Grandma Dowdel how to treat others with compassion. She came to the defense of Shotgun Cheatham's reputation, Mrs. Wilcox's dignity, Aunt Puss Chapman's material needs, helped rescue seventeen-year-old Vandalia from her abusive mother, and fed hungry people. When we do not know the circumstances surrounding a person's life, we might prejudge that person. Peck's characters show a better way to treat others."

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