2014-12-24 / Front Page

Fun and Adventure at Redwood Children's Library

By Pat Blakeley


Blake Corbishley engages readers-to-be and moms during story time at the Redwood Children’s Library. All very young children’s activities are tied to literacy development. Blake Corbishley engages readers-to-be and moms during story time at the Redwood Children’s Library. All very young children’s activities are tied to literacy development. At a time when libraries nationwide bemoan dwindling patronage, decry the forsaking of books for electronic media, and indeed question their very relevance, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum’s Children’s Library is experiencing record growth in both programming and attendance.

The Children’s Library has opened its arms to the public, embracing the outreach model adopted in recent years by the parent library – offering intellectual programming with wide appeal and inviting all to attend. The response has been tremendous, with a threefold increase in attendance at the Carol & Les Ballard Annex since the summer.

The phenomenon is due in no small measure to Blake Cameron Corbishley, who joined the team in August. The well-traveled educator wants to share her love of literature and adventure with young people – and it shows. Both teachers and students feel so much pressure to perform, she says, and her goal is to develop a young person’s “aptitude for joyous learning” by engaging their interests at any age.

The library’s preschool story times have always been strong, Corbishley reports, with a devoted cadre of parents and children at the Tuesday morning sessions. The program has enjoyed an open door policy since inception, but an uptick in attendance necessitated a request for registration. She recently added a Thursday afternoon story time, at 4 p.m., to enable more youngsters to attend with working parents, an audience dear to her heart. Story times are all themed, and each element focuses on literacy development with child-centered fun.

During Wednesday's Reading and Art, children ages 4-8 are introduced to advanced literary and artistic themes through simple age-appropriate stories and activities. Introduced in October, the afterschool series, running 3:45- 4:30 p.m., now rivals the Tuesday morning story time in popularity.

Next on Corbishley’s radar is programming for 8-14 year olds, developing intellectual pursuits relevant to a child’s life, focusing on themes like heroes and villains to pique the tweens’ and young teens’ curiosity and excitement. An Adventure Writers Workshop will be offered Wednesday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 7. The six week workshop will help budding adventure writers give form to the wild stories running around their imaginations.

Also on tap is a family Outdoor Adventure Workshop to be held at the Norman Bird Sanctuary on Saturday, Jan. 31, providing hands-on experience and inspiration to create vibrant stories. Multisensory indoor and outdoor challenges will involve fort building, natural practices, and problem solving techniques. An outdoor adventure workshop in January? “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” she laughs, adding that they will go outside “no matter what.”

And that’s only programming for next month. February will see a new family workshop on bullying, along with Shakespeare and theatre.

The Redwood Library and Athenaeum has been serving the intellectual needs of Newport and beyond since 1747, and is a treasure trove of literary and artistic gems predating the library itself. According to the founding charter, the library was built for “the propagation of virtue, knowledge and useful learning, having nothing in view but the good of mankind.” In a similar vein, the Children’s Library, Corbishley relates, will “have nothing in view but the good of children,” all children, she adds, whether they are children of members or the public at large.

Redwood has always had a children’s section as part of the main library, but the recent restoration of the Victorian building, funded by the Ballards, has given the Children’s Library a beautiful setting in which to expand.

Corbishley, the mother of three children under three - a two-year old and year-old twins – says she “fell into the job.” Her twins were eight months old last summer and she began taking her twoyear old son to story time at the Redwood. When the children’s librarian left, she asked if she could apply, even though her background was in education, not library science.

She is the first educator to hold the youth programming position. Multilingual, Corbishley studied at the Sorbonne and received a Master of Arts with Honors in English Literature and Classics from the University of Edinburgh. Most recently, she was an adjunct professor at Assumption College, teaching literature and composition. In 2010 she taught English at the University of Costa Rica in Liberia, Guanacaste, and language arts at the International Christian School in the same city.

Her interests are many and varied. On the island, she wrote the Aquidneck Island Peace Project for the Pennfield School, served as a lacrosse coach at Middletown High, and worked for Sail America. While in college, she was a writer for the online Crocodile Clips, developing Bunja, a story based game that teaches math. Her passion for travel, education and experiences all seem a precursor for this “dream” job.

“Our dream is to have the Redwood Children’s Library serve as a haven,” she said. “We want to provide intellectual and artistic sustenance for young people.”

With outdoor adventure, theatre, music, literature and fun on the agenda, how can they miss?

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