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University of Missouri

A Winning Story

College of Education senior wins storytelling contest.

“Smiling is always a good thing,” says senior education major Grant Johnston.

It sure has been a good thing for Johnston, who used smiles as a concept to win the Hallmark Storytelling Challenge.

Born from a collaboration between MU and Hallmark, the contest asked students: “What can be given (gifted, passed on or paid forward) over and over again, leaves a piece of itself (an impression, tag, memory) behind, but never gets smaller?”

The students were prompted to answer the question in a short story, using a medium of their choice. Johnston wrote a children’s poetry book.

The story is about a little girl who visits a dreary forest full of darkness and gloom. She gives it her smile, which leads to a change in the forest.

“I just tried to think of something creative that was not tangible,” says the St. Charles, Ill., native.

His story was selected as the winning entry, earning Johnston a two-day trip to Hallmark’s corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., where he met with the creative minds of the company to build his “smile” concept into a brand, possibly leading to the publication of a children’s book.

The Smile

There once was a forest, surrounded by frowns, never a laugh, not even a sound.  The sun would not shine, the flowers would not grow, if anyone was happy, nobody would know.

The squirrels did not climb, the birds not sing, and those three skunks, they were oh so mean.  The frogs did not jump, the lion did not roar, until a little girl, went to explore.

She had pig-tailed hair, a backpack too big, her shoes were untied, and had a pet stick named twig.

She skipped through the forest, with a beautiful smile, a smile so big, you could see it for miles.

She climbed up a tree, a tree very tall, the squirrels took notice, and sprung up in awe.

She sat on a branch, and looked down below, gave the squirrels a smile, and their faces would glow.

She climbed down the tree, and started to sing, about all the beautiful things, this forest could be.

The birds flew down from the sky, her voice rang through their ears, they hadn’t heard anyone so happy, in all of their years.

The girl spotted these birds, and asked them to chirp, she gave them a smile, and said it was their turn.

She danced on a log, that three skunks lived under, what was above them, the skunks would discover.

Angry at first they seemed, as they were oh so very mean, and then she gave them a smile, the largest they have ever seen.

Their hearts lit up, the skunks were filled with joy, not a mean bone in the body, happiness they would enjoy.

She hopped over sticks, and rocks by the river, a smile to the frogs, she would deliver.

They smiled right back, frowns they no longer had, they leaped up with joy, hopping across lily pads.

She laid down in exhaustion, where the lonely lion would lay, she gave him a smile, and asked him to play.

The lion smiled back, and let out a giant roar, with a smile like that, this lion was to adore.

And when the little girl left, their smiles would remain, the forest that was, would never be the same.

The smiles they had, would be the smiles they would share.  From the monkey in the tree, to the old koala bear.

The sun always shined, the flowers were all grown.  Everyone was happy, this was always known.

The smiles that she gave, were shared around the world.  Who would have thought, it could start with the smile of a little pig-tailed hair girl.