Once upon a time, there was a mouse named Strauss who lived in a little bakery in a little village in a little country. Strauss lived a good life by mouse standards, and mice only have three standards. One, get enough to eat. Two, find a safe place to live, and three, make enough friends that you’re not lonely but not so many that you’re overwhelmed.
Strauss had as many friends as he cared to have, but he didn’t have to share the bakery with any of them on account of they were all afraid of the baker who had a reputation for swatting mice. It’s not that the baker was a mean person, but he did have a business to run after all, and it wouldn’t do to have mice nibbling holes in the treats you’re trying to sell. The baker was well aware of Strauss to be sure, but since Strauss left the baker’s goods alone and only ate the crumbs that fell on the floor the baker left him alone in return.
Even though Strauss had everything he needed, he still had big dreams…big mouse dreams that is. He longed to eat an entire bowl of pudding, or lick all the frosting off of a cake or suck the filling out of an entire tray of jelly doughnuts. Any one of those feats would make him the envy of all the mice in the village, and the stories of his conquest would inspire future generations of mice children. In fact, it just so happened that these were the things Strauss was dreaming about when he was woken up one morning by a commotion in the front of the bakery.
Still half asleep but curious, Strauss left his little mouse bed to investigate and was surprised to see a large group of children crowding around the center table in the dining area. Strauss crept along the wall until he found an angle where he could see what exactly all the fuss was about, and when he finally caught sight of it he let out a little mouse gasp. The baker had stayed up all night making a chocolate elephant the size of a large pumpkin. It was the most wonderful and delicious thing any mouse had ever seen.
In an instant, Strauss forgot all about pudding, frosting, and even doughnuts. This was his dream come true. He was so happy he could have cried until he remembered that he couldn’t eat the food on display or else he wouldn’t be able to stay in the bakery anymore. When Strauss realized that he was heartbroken.
But just then the group of children, who were all jostling each other to be at the front of the circle, lurched forward and bumped hard against the table. Then everybody froze as the elephant teetered back and forth once, twice, three times before tipping over and falling to the floor.
When it hit the ground its trunk broke off along with two of its legs, and wide crack split right down the middle of its back. It was the baker who ended the silence with an angry shout that sent all of the children scurrying out of the bakery like mice running from an alley cat.
The baker knelt down and fumbled with the pieces of the broken elephant. He tried to put them back into place, but the pieces wouldn’t stay together. So the baker piled them back onto the tray his masterpiece had fallen off of and started to carry it towards the garbage can. To Strauss’s surprise though, the baker only took two steps towards the garbage and stopped. He shifted his feet a few times as if he couldn’t decide which direction he wanted them to take him. Then he walked straight towards the hole in the wall that led to Strauss’s den, knelt down and sat the plate right in front of it.
Strauss watched the baker walk slowly back to the kitchen, and when the kitchen door shut behind him Strauss turned his gaze back to the elephant….the elephant the baker had given to him. Strauss was sad for the baker’s loss, but then again, the baker could always make another elephant. In fact, he was probably in the kitchen this minute preparing the ingredients for a new one. For Strauss though, this was a once in a lifetime dream come true.
Strauss raced to the elephant, leaped on its trunkless head and buried his face in the deep, delicious chocolate. He ate and ate and ate and ate until he couldn’t eat anymore. Then he fell asleep right there on the platter, exhausted from eating so much chocolate. When he woke up he tried eating some more, but there wasn’t any room in his stomach.
Strauss spent the rest of the day in his bed recovering from his battle with the elephant. As he lay there he thought about how impossible it would be to eat the entire elephant. Of course, if he didn’t it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Life would still go on, but this was his personal dream and his shot at greatness. If he gave up and let the opportunity pass by him he would have to live with that the rest of his life. With these thoughts in mind, Strauss decided he was going to eat the entire elephant no matter how much work it took.
Over the next few days, Strauss went back to the elephant and ate and ate and ate until he couldn’t eat anymore. Then he rested until he could eat some more and went back and ate and ate and ate again. The baker noticed what the mouse was doing and would make it a point to stop by every once and a while to check on his progress, but the baker wasn’t the only one to notice. Eventually, the customers began to notice as well and would come to watch him. Then the rest of the mice in the village noticed how many people were coming to the bakery, and they came to watch the spectacle as well, but they didn’t go inside because they were still afraid of the baker.
In no time Strauss was the biggest attraction in town. The newspaper even printed a story on him, and after that, people came from other villages to see the mouse who was trying to eat an elephant. People and mice began making bets as to whether or not Strauss could do it. Some people believed in him, and some people said he was a fool and his dream was impossible.
Strauss certainly had shown strength and determination, but he was only just finished eating the head when his strength and determination began to fade. He had been working very hard, but he wasn’t making the progress he thought he would have by now. Despite the early support, he received the other mice were starting to doubt him, and he found this very discouraging. At any rate, he just didn’t know if he had the willpower to finish such a daunting task. So as the days went by he ate less and less until he stopped eating at all.
This caused a commotion, and some people, as well as mice, thought Strauss had finally failed. However, the baker did not remove the elephant because he believed in Strauss, and the spectacle was bringing him a lot of business. The baker tried to encourage Strauss, but Strauss was incorrigible. The baker was smart though and knew just what Strauss needed. He put the elephant in the refrigerator and made Strauss a tiny bowl of warm soup with a tiny piece of warm bread. He closed the bakery for a few days and let Strauss relax.
After Strauss was feeling better the baker cut a little piece off of the elephant and put it on a golden plate in front of Strauss’s hole. When Strauss saw the little piece of chocolate he ate it hungrily, and after he had finished it he was still hungry because it was such a small piece. However, instead of giving Strauss any more chocolate that day he simply gave him a little piece of muffin and some milk.
The next day Strauss found another little piece of chocolate sitting on the golden plate in front of his hole. He ate that hungrily as well, but he didn’t get any more that day. The next day he got another small piece, and it this went on the same way for months and months until Strauss had finished the whole elephant.
On that day there was a big celebration, and the baker baked elephant cakes, elephant candies, elephant pastries, and another chocolate elephant twice as big as the first. People came from all around to have their picture taken with Strauss and the baker and the new chocolate elephant. The people who had bet against Strauss lost their money, but they weren’t all sad about it because they were happy for Strauss. Already the other mice in town began boasting to their children about how well they never doubted Strauss for a moment and what an inspiration he was to mice everywhere.
At the end of the day, the baker shooed everyone out of the bakery and cleaned up all the mess they had made. To Strauss’s relief, the baker had sold the second elephant to someone from out of town. The baker made Strauss some warm soup and laid some extra soft cotton at his hole for him to add to his nest. That night Strauss had the best sleep of his life.
Not long after that, the baker took down the old sign that used to hang outside his bakery to one with a mouse eating an elephant. From then on any mouse who wanted to come to the bakery was allowed to come in without fear of being swatted, and none of them ever ate anything that wasn’t given to them.
As Strauss got older he would often have young mice come to visit him and listen to him tell the tale of how he ate an entire elephant, and when the young mice asked him how he did it he would smile a sly, jolly smile and say, “One bite at a time.”
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