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Strong and True with Eric Rosswood

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Eric Rosswood shares Strong, a picture book biography co-authored with Rob Kearney and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. Strong is a fresh, charming picture book that shows there are lots of ways to be STRONG.

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[2:31] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. Let me do one better than that, actually. I am a fan of you.


Today we are talking about a real human being that did something spectacular just by embracing who they are. And what’s so great about that vague description I gave you is that lots and lots of people could fit the bill. I want you to keep that in mind today, because your capacity for greatness and for impacting the world in a positive way is always within your reach. Especially because the most important thing you can be to the world is to just be yourself.


My guest today is a big fan of superheroes, but he is also a big fan of celebrating the super in the heroes around us, just like in the picture book in which we center our conversation.



[3:31] Book Summary


Matthew: Strong by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood; illustrated by Nidhi Chanani



A Stonewall Honor Book!


Strong is a fresh, charming picture book that shows there are lots of ways to be STRONG.


Rob dreams of becoming a champion strongman. He wants to flip huge tires, lug boulders, and haul trucks -- and someday be the strongest man in the world! But he feels like he can't fit in with his bright leggings, unicorn T-shirts, and rainbow-dyed hair. Will Rob find a way to step into his true self and be a champion?


With bold illustrations and an engaging, informative text, Strong introduces readers to Rob Kearney and his journey from an athletic kid trying to find his place to the world's first openly gay professional strongman.



[4:32] Meet Our Guest: Eric Rosswood


Eric: Hi, my name is Eric Rosswood. I am a huge superhero fan and finding ways where people are strong and find their inner strength in various different ways.


I am the co-author of the picture book Strong. I co-wrote it with Rob Kearney, who is the world's first and only openly gay, professional strongman competitor. And the book also has wonderful illustrations by the amazingly talented Nidhi Chanani.



[05:02] Being Strong


Matthew: What do you picture when you hear someone described as “strong”? Let me first ask my kid and current favorite almost-3rd grader.


Julia: Hi. My name is Julia. I am 8 years old. It means, like, you’re brave, probably. And, like, that you’re really responsible. And that you always do things that you’re supposed to do. You never, like… yeah.


Matthew: That’s what strong means? Do you know anybody that’s strong?


Julia: Um… you’re strong!


Matthew: Oh! You think I’m strong?


Julia: Yeah. I think everyone’s strong. If they’re brave, that means they’re strong.


Matthew: Aww. You’re sweet. Thanks, Jules.


Eric, what does being strong look like to you?


Eric: Being strong, for me, I think is being able to challenge yourself to do something that's difficult. That can be physical challenges, mental challenges. It could be being brave. That takes a lot of internal strength. There's a lot of ways we can be strong. And there are a lot of different places we can pull our strength from and, and get our strength.



[6:22] A First At Strongman


Matthew: Eric shared in his introduction that Rob Kearney is the first out or openly gay strongman. Eric is going to talk to you about strongman competitions in a moment, but let me first break down what the phrase “out” or “openly gay” means so that we’re all on the same page.


There are lots and lots of people who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The “G” in LGBTQIA+ stands for “gay”. People who identify as gay are attracted to people of the same gender, like a man who feels romantic love for other men or a woman who feels romantic love for other women, although the term that’s often used for women is “lesbian”, or the “L” in LGBTQIA+.


A 27-country research study conducted by Ipsos in 2021 highlighted that 11% of people surveyed indicated they were only, mostly, or equally attracted to persons of the same sex.


To be “out” or “openly gay” means that you’ve shared this part of your identity with the world. There are many, many reasons why some LGBTQIA+ people choose to not share this part of their identity, including to avoid being the target of hate or discrimination.


Rob Kearney is openly gay, which means that that is something he has shared with the world and that is part of his identity.


Being a strongman? Now that might not be something you’ve heard of before.


Eric: Sure. Strongman is a competition where people are tested in different challenges to show their strength. And it can be doing crazy feats that we don't normally see, like lifting refrigerators, pulling cars or pulling airplanes. Uh, lifting big, huge concrete stones from the ground and putting them on platforms. All kinds of crazy things that could carry frames of cars down the road pulling firetrucks. It's amazing to watch if you get a chance.



[8:35] Being Strong


Matthew: Listeners, is this the first time you’ve ever heard of Rob Kearney? Or of the strongman competitions? It wasn’t so long ago that Eric first heard of Rob Kearney’s story and his accomplishments.


Eric: I remember I was online and I saw an article where an openly gay person broke an American weightlifting record. It was a log lift record. And I remember being so inspired by that story.


And for me, growing up as a kid, in high school I was always last picked for sports. I was openly gay in high school. And I think that that came with a lot of people believing that I wouldn't be good at sports. I wouldn't be strong. And because of that it was like I didn't have that place. So I never put myself forward in that place.



And when I saw this story, it really resonated with me because here is somebody who's breaking American weightlifting records and they're smashing stereotypes as well. And it was really powerful.


I reached out to him and I said, “I'm so inspired by your story and I would love to, if you would be open to it, to help write a picture book and help bring this story to the audience of kids and let them see this because I'm sure they'd be inspired by it as well.” And, uh, he wrote back and said he would love to.


we went back and forth where I was interviewing him and trying to figure out the best way to pull this in a constructive narrative arc and Strong is the result of it.



[10:20] Contacting a Celebrity


Matthew: Can you imagine reaching out to someone who has set records like that? And yet, Eric just asked.


Eric: I mean, what did I have to lose, right? If he says no or doesn't respond, then I'm exactly where I was before I started anything.



[10:42] BREAK


[11:02] Reading Aloud From Strong


Matthew: Here is author Eric Rosswood reading an excerpt from Strong.


Eric: This book is about Rob finding out about the strongman sport and deciding he wants to be a champion and he thinks in order to become a champion, he needs to do what all the other champions do, which sounds like a good idea. But Rob is known for wearing bright, bold colors and he notices all the champions where the same kind of darker outfits and drab colors. So he puts himself in those colors when he competes.


And I'm gonna start there. It says,


Every day before school, when his friends were still fast asleep, Rob would train. He ran, he swam, and he lifted weights. The different exercises helped strengthen every muscle in his body. In the beginning, he was able to lift 150 pounds over his head. Over time, that became 200, then 300, then 400 pounds. That's more than a refrigerator. That's more than a piano. That's more than 800 stuffed rainbow unicorns. That's more than 114 birthday cakes with chocolate frosting and confetti sprinkles.


When he finished training, Rob always changed back to his regular clothes. They were more fun and expressive. They were more… him. On the day of his first big competition, Rob strode into the event. He was muscular. Like all the other athletes, he wore the same weightlifting gear. And he had trained just like the champions. He was sure he was going to win.


Rob watched the other contestants lift and race their way through the challenges. I can do this, he thought, but when it was his turn, he strained and he struggled, but he could not lift as much as everyone else. Rob finished in last place. His feelings now matched his clothes: bleak, miserable, and gloomy.


Things started to get brighter when he met Joey at a weightlifting event. Joey was fun and kind, and he made Rob smile. The two of them fell in love.


They trained together to help Rob get ready for his biggest challenge yet: the North American Championship. But after going to the gym a few times, Joey noticed that Rob always changed into boring colors when he lifted. When he asked about it, Rob simply said, “Strongmen do not wear bright, bold colors.”


“But you're a strongman, and you wear bright, bold colors.”


“But I don't wanna be the only one.”


“Well then,” said Joey. “I'll wear bright colors with you.”


And so he did.


And that part is so important and powerful to me because we can all be strong in our own ways, but sometimes we can help other people be strong just by being there for them and helping them through their own challenges. And I think that's a very important message to keep in mind.



[13:49] Representation and Its Impact


Matthew: Strong won an award last year. It was recognized as a Stonewall Honor Book at the Youth Media Awards by the American Library Association. The Stonewall Book Award is a set of three literary awards that annually recognize "exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience" in English-language books published in the U.S.


This is a huge accomplishment and I love what Eric shared as he reflected on what he, Rob Kearney, and illustrator Nidhi Chanani accomplished.


Eric: Having the Stonewall Honor is a huge honor.


There are very few LGBTQ picture books out there, just as is. And there are even fewer that actually feature real life people. The ones that are out there, a lot of them, are stories, which is, is fine. We definitely need those stories. But we also need to see real life people as role models being open about who they are and thriving in life.


And to me that's really important because like even in the story, Rob has this idea that strong men don't wear bright, bold colors, and, and it's like, where did he get that idea from? And we get that idea in our heads based on what we see modeled in real life. So, if Rob has never seen a strong man wearing bright, bold colors, he's not going to think that's something that happens.


And I think that's really important for all of us a lot of times we don't know we can do something because we've never seen it done before. We don't know openly queer people can do things if we've never seen them do those things before. And having those role models in literature for kids to see is very important. One, for those kids who are LGBTQ themselves. They can see that and they can strive to those goals. But also for people who are not part of the LGBTQ community, they can see queer people doing things as well, and I think that can help break a lot of stereotypes.



[16:13] A Message From Eric Rosswood


Matthew: It is that time: when we say goodbye for now to Eric. I am grateful to him for sharing his reflection on what it means to see ourselves represented in the books we read. I loved learning about the incredible feats of strength at strongman competitions that men and women train and prepare for. And I also really valued hearing strength represented both in what our body can do physically, but also what our brains can do mentally, and what we can do for ourselves and others emotionally. There are so many ways to be strong!


As I prepare my library for the next time it is full of children, and as you prepare for whatever is coming next in your day, I asked Eric if he had a message he would like me to share with all of you.


Eric: I think just that we're all strong in our own unique ways. We all get our strength from different areas. And sometimes it may feel like we're not strong, but I think it's important to remember that when we stick to remembering who we are and being true to yourself, you are strong and you can do anything as long as you stay true to yourself.



[17:37] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Eric? Where can listeners find you?


Eric: My website is ericrosswood.com. That's E-R-I-C R-O-S-S-W-O-O-D, and I'm also on Instagram at EricRosswood. And Facebook, Eric Rosswood Author. And Twitter, for people who are still using it, LGBT_activist.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know how you define “strong” and who in your life you consider strong, for any and all reasons.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


And always, don’t forget to check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack, if you are a fellow teacher or librarian. It’s the perfect podcast to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities. It’s available wherever podcasts are found. And Jordan is a buddy of mine. I love cheering on this show.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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