For Eliza Sarlos, the creator of picture-book Amazing Babes, the stories we hear when we’re small hold the keys to big dreams.
Eliza Sarlos knows that if we want to live our best story, we need to hear the right ones first. A few months before her son Arthur’s first birthday, the creative producer, broadcaster and writer dreamed up the ultimate present – an illustrated storybook that proved how inspirational women could work as guideposts for an extraordinary life.
“I was really conscious about there being so much in the world about the achievements of men,” says Sarlos. “I wanted him to grow up in a world where he was aware of women striving towards really amazing things. Obviously, he was too young to understand the achievements of the women in the book but it was a starting point for him to look further into what they’ve done and frame how he views everyone in the world, rather than just focusing on men.”
Sarlos whittled down a list of her 10 favourite female idols – everyone from Riot Grrl Kathleen Hanna and Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to modern-day icons such as Tavi Gevinson – before enlisting Tokyo-based illustrator Grace Lee to capture their essence on the page.“Grace is a friend of mine and I’ve always loved her drawings,” says Sarlos. “When I asked her initially, she said no as she’d never drawn people before – she said ‘I only draw animals.’ But I convinced her she should do it. I sent her some references images and she just wove her magic.”
Magic, a quality that makes the impossible seem simple, is a good word to sum up Amazing Babes. The technicolour portraits and accompanying text combine child-like optimism with wide-eyed aspiration and shows that marvelling at what’s possible can bring hidden dreams to light.
For Sarlos, whose obsession with the Dr Seuss classic The Places You Will Go helped inspire a career trajectory that includes stints as board member of FBi Radio and as director of Music NSW and Underbelly Arts, maintains a sense of wonder can have real-world effects.
“When I first got the pictures back from Grace, we did a crowdfunding campaign and Scribe Publications got in touch the second day,” Sarlos remembers. “We were so honoured. All within a year, we’ve gone from not having a book to having a book. Last year it existed as an idea and nothing more and now it exists in stores, which is incredible.”
Released last month, the official version includes the likes of Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, Burmese political visionary Aung San Suu Kyi and actress-turned-inventor Hedy Lamarr – a rollcall of female achievement spanning race, talent and class.
“I wanted to make sure that I represented women from different times and different skill sets. I wanted to be clear about the fact that there are different ways to be amazing,” says Sarlos.
“In the last couple of years, feminism has kind of mainstreamed. I think it’s great that young boys and girls are growing up during this time and I can’t wait to see what the world will look like in 10 years.”
Amazing Babes (Scribe Publications) is available to purchase online.