O is for Oystercatcher.
A is for albacore…
B is for blue crab…
C is for cattail…
And all the way to Z, which is for zygoptera.

O is for Oystercatcher

A Book of Seaside ABCs

By Barbara Patrizzi

Beautiful art and enlightening text make this coastal primer a delight for children of all ages.

7.5" x 7.5"
55 pp., 25 illust.

ISBN 1-59322-008-1

Artist Barbara Patrizzi's first memory of kindergarten is "standing in the playground at the base of a big tree, allowing several fuzzy caterpillars to walk up my arms and through my hair. Our teacher was aghast at this, and the other kids continued with their games, oblivious to what I considered these fascinating, mysterious little creatures." As she was growing up, the natural world held her interest much more than the malls, TV or school.

"It was my grandfather who taught me so much about the natural world," Patrizzi said. "He was the kind of guy who found real joy in nature. It was a real gift to be able to spend time with him and learn from him in such an informal and loving way.

"I collected stuff down at the creek near our house. We always had tadpoles, turtles, grasshoppers, bees and whatnot. I kept them at the house for a day or two for 'observation purposes,' and then made sure to return them to where I found them."

This fascination with wildlife has coalesced in Patrizzi's first book, O is For Oystercatcher: A Book of Seaside ABCs (Down The Shore Publishing, $16.95). Each letter – from "A for albacore" to "Z for zygoptera" – is illustrated by a hand-colored linoleum block print. The images of shore species include the blue claw crab, egret, turtle, jellyfish and horseshoe crab; plus plants such as cattails, Irish moss and pitch pine. Her affection for the coast is evident in the graphically beautiful depiction of the plant or animal in each color print, reminiscent of Gauguin’s woodblock prints.

Although A-B-C books are usually considered for children, the short stories with each letter in Oystercatcher are written more to read with children, but have enough information to satisfy the adult, beginning naturalist. This is from Oystercatcher: "The oystercatcher gets its name from its favorite food, the oyster. It uses its large bill as a tool to pry open these and other bivalves. Oystercatcher chicks are able to see, walk, and feed themselves within hours of hatching from their eggs. This self-sufficiency is just one example of how resilient these maritime birds are … This wading bird is easy to identify along the shoreline, jetties and tidal mud flats. Look for its long, bright orange bill, and listen for the loud kleep of its piping call."

Each image in the book is from an original relief print, one of the oldest of all printmaking techniques. A design is carved into the surface of a material, ink is applied to the remaining raised areas and paper is then pressed against the inked surface. The black part of the resulting image was the raised, or inked, section on the block. For this book, the non-inked white areas were hand-colored with polychrome pencils.

When asked if she considered herself a naturalist in addition to an artist, Patrizzi responded, "I suppose that I am, in the sense that I look, see, and consider my world in the way that a naturalist does. We are a part of this amazing living organism that is the Earth. If I want one thing from this book, it is to get folks to appreciate all the incredible things that our shoreline has to offer. It is truly a place of unbelievable beauty and value. There is so much more to experience than just hanging out at the boardwalk and the beach – not that there's anything wrong with that!"

Patrizzi's work has taken various forms – sculpture, painting, box assemblages – but "always having to do with our relationship and/or perception of the world we live in." Her work has been included in exhibitions in Anchorage, Alaska, which evolved around the Exxon-Valdez oil spill (1993); at Rutgers, Camden in a show called "Message from the Planet: Artists Work to Save the Earth" (1995); and "Undercurrents: Women Artists Focusing on the Beauty and Vulnerability of Aquatic Ecosystems" (1993) at the Noyes Museum in Smithville.

And in the future? Patrizzi is considering two other book projects: one about the Pine Barrens and another illustrating "Fisherman's Wife," a Depression-era story set on Long Beach Island.

O is For Oystercatcher is dedicated to her grandfather and to her artist friend, Connie Jost. Jost's input "was more the shore and ocean influence. Her art was all about fish and ocean ecology. These two important people in my life both died in a fairly short period of time, and in that stage of mourning this book began to take shape. It's kind of my love letter to them, and to New Jersey – or at least the start of one."

Author Barbara Patrizzi wants her new
A-B-C book to get folks to appreciate
all the incredible things
our shoreline has to offer.

Reprinted, with permission, from The Beachcomber,
August 6, 2004, Long Beach Island, NJ.
Copyright© 2004 Jersey Shore Newsmagazines.

P.O. Box 3100, Harvey Cedars New Jersey 08008
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