Volumes of imagination line the shelves in new Medfield children's bookstore.
Jim James is putting the finishing touches on his new bookstore for children, and already the Shabanoff sisters are poking through shelves looking for favorites and sprawling on the floor figuring out a puzzle.
"There's so many books here," squeals bright-eyed Lilly, a third-grader at the Ralph Wheelock School in town. "There's all these crafts you can do."
After assembling a brontosaurus puzzle, her sister Katherine rushes to the aquarium and presses her nose against the tank to watch a bright red clown smooch the glass.
"Eeeeeeech," shouts the 7-year-old. "This store is really fun."
Unpacking a carton of books, James pauses and smiles.
This is why he is opening Park Street Books in downtown Medfield.
"Children like that are why I've opened up here," he said. "I want to have a store where kids and their parents can get top-quality new and used children's books, toys and art supplies that stimulate the imagination."
An Army veteran who has taught in progressive schools and preschools, James said he is stocking books, games and art supplies that encourage creative learning for all ages.
"I want books that are fun to read but help develop reading and social skills. We'll have toys and puzzles that are open-ended. Nothing electronic. Nothing that does the playing for you. My goal is to provide books and games to teach children the fun of using their own imaginations," he said.
While a May 10 grand opening has been scheduled, the store is open for business. James said 20 percent of all opening day proceeds will be donated to the Friends of the Medfield Library.
Occupying a 1,200-square-foot storefront, James' new store reflects his belief in the value of children's literature and games that "inspire creativity."
He has stocked his first-floor shelves with about 10,000 children's books, with the front room offering new books and the side room containing thousands of volumes of "gently used but clean" secondhand books at bargain prices ranging from $4 to $2 and even less.
James said his shelves are organized to help parents choose books that suit their children's interests and reading levels.
The books are arranged from "board" picture books for toddlers to more difficult "step level readers," usually a series like Cynthia Rylant's "Henry and Mudge" tales. They progress to "Chapter" books like Suzy Kline's "Horrible Harry" series to books aimed specifically at "young adult" audiences like Lisi Harrison's very popular "Clique" series which mix a penetrating analysis of adolescent life with moral lessons.
Hoping to attract a multi-cultural clientele, James has stocked Spanish language books and hopes to increase his supply. For adult customers, there's a small section of current and used novels and books on parenting.
"I really want this to be a fun place for children to discover reading good books at really good prices," said James.
He estimates he is storing another 20,000 new and used books in the second-story annex. For more than a month, James and his 14-year-old daughter, Courtney, have been unpacking boxes of books and stocking the shelves with a broad range of books from classics like Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" to Jim Benton's sassy "Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist" series.
Lilly Shabanoff grew wide-eyed leafing through a thick, first edition of J.K. Rowling's most recent "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" while her sister looked at the pictures in Suzy Kline's "Horrible Harry and the Ant Invasion."
Once his store gets rolling, James hopes to sponsor monthly visits by authors of the children's books he's offering.
With his formal opening just a few weeks away, James hopes his new venture, his second bookstore, succeeds by serving parents, children, teachers and others, like himself, who just love children's literature. While widely read, he named his favorite book as Kate DiCamillo's new children's novel, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane."
From 2005 until February 2008, James owned and ran Walpole Center Books, which sold new and used books with a smaller section devoted to children's books.
"A big part of this store is aimed at teachers," he said.
Born in Liverpool, England, the son of a career U.S. serviceman and a British mother, James took a circuitous route to Medfield. After living in England until he was 8, he returned with his family to the United States, moving around the country depending on his father's posting. He graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in economics and served two years in the U.S. Army as a supply and transport officer, and 10 years in the reserves.
More recently, he's taught at Explorations preschool in Medfield and the Jewish Community Center in Wayland. Now 44, he and his wife Teresa live with their daughter in Medfield.
For his newest business venture, James said opening Park Street Books brings together two of his deepest interests, childhood education and children's literature.
And as an added benefit, it lets him spend more time with his daughter, an avid reader who helps by suggesting new authors to young customers and sometimes just playing with them on the floor.
While Courtney helps Katherine with a puzzle, Lilly shows what she has learned in her karate class, demonstrating her "leopard claw" technique and a series of side kicks.
"I'm going to be a veterinarian or an illustrator when I grow up. Our mother always reads to us," Lilly announced. "Katie, we got to tell Mommy about this store."
Park Street Books is located at 26 Park St., Medfield.
It will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 508-242-3083.