Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Eating the Elephant," A #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Tess, how’s your school research project going?” her mother asked.

“Not well.”

Tess had three weeks to finish a research paper for her seventh-grade social studies class, and she had made no progress in her first week.

“What’s the problem?”

“It seems like more than I can handle!”

“The topic is Native American tribes of New York State, right?”

“Yes, The Iroquois Confederacy, the Five Nations: Mohawks, Oneidas, Onandagas, Cayugas, and the Senecas.”

Tess’s mother taught in her middle school. “There’s a lot written about them. They had a form of democracy and their women owned the land and taught the children. Lakes and a river were named after the tribes.”

“My problem is not too little information, but too much!”

“How much more time do you have before it’s due?”

“Two weeks. I’ve already wasted a week. I’m a mess!”

“No. Don’t say that. You just need to get organized and get started.”


“Plan to do a section on each tribe and then a final section comparing them. Figure out what you want to include, like where they lived in New York, how big they were, what they did for food and shelter, what they contributed to Indian and later colonial culture…those kinds of things. For each tribe, you will have to look up the information. Sources in books and on the Internet will have information about several tribes or details about one or more tribes. It won’t be that hard.”

Rick came by. “Still worrying about that project, Tess?”

“Yes, of course.”

“As our basketball coach says, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“Thanks, bro, you’re a big help.”

“Well, you do have to get going on it, and I’m going to get going…out.”

Mr. Williams chimed in, “Slow but steady wins the race, Tess.”

“I can do slow, but I am not winning.”

Her dad, always helpful, added, “The Chinese wrote that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You just have got to start and then keep going.”

The only family member who did not tell Tess how to do the work was Tim, but as a fourth-grader, he did not think of himself as an expert, as one or two or three of the others thought themselves to be.

“OK, everybody, I’ve got the picture. Rick, will you give me a ride to the library?”

“Sure, it’s on my way.”

Tess did finally finish the project, got an A, and promised herself she would start earlier next time.

“Oh, Rick,” she said when the work was finished, “I was given one more piece of advice on handling big jobs: ‘Eat the elephant one bite at a time.’” She added, “And that’s what doing this project tasted like!”

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