Carmel Valley student spearheads ‘Bookfair’ benefit at Barnes & Noble in Del Mar Highlands

By Karen Billing

The Del Mar Highlands Barnes & Noble will host a “Bookfair” Nov. 16-23 in which a portion of the proceeds on any purchase will go toward a girls book club at Nativity Prep Academy started by Canyon Crest Academy sophomore Emma Halpern.

Halpern, a Carmel Valley resident, started the book club four years ago as part of her service project for her Bat Mitzvah. She was connected with Nativity Prep through the community service resource center at her then-school La Jolla Country Day.

Nativity Prep provides a college preparatory education for students from low-income families who will be the first to graduate from college. The school is located in downtown San Diego.

“Sometimes people put less time into their Bat Mitzvah projects as time goes on, but I decided to keep it going, the girls and I wanted to keep at it,” Emma said.

“We are very grateful to Emma for sharing her passion for reading with our students and for this more recent gesture of support with the Bookfair,” wrote Principal Brendan Sullivan on the school’s website.

Emma meets with the girls once a month depending on the length of the selected book. She and her mother provide all of the books for the club members, which has grown from six members at the first meeting to 12. They are hoping through donations and support from events like the Bookfair they will be able to provide more books and to expand the program to include a second book club for more girls who are interested in joining and perhaps a boys book club.

When Emma first started the club as a seventh grader, she was the same age as her fellow club members. When the students graduated eighth grade, she started a new club with sixth and seventh graders.

“I definitely enjoy getting to know the girls and seeing how they change over the years,” Emma said. “I can see how much they grow, I can tell the difference from the comments they have at the beginning of the book club from the comments they make toward the end. Their comments have more substance and they’re more analytical. It’s great to see them grow as readers.”

The first book her club read was “Shug” by Jenny Han. Her club is now finishing up “Rules” by Cynthia Lord, about a young girl who has a brother who is autistic and a new friend who is paraplegic. Emma aims for her book club selections to inspire the girls to overcome adversity by reading books where central characters face difficult situations.

Emma gives each of her club members jobs for every meeting, such as “Literary Luminary,” “Discussion Director” and “Language Lover,” so everyone has an assignment to bring to the club, at least two to three discussion questions or research on the book’s author or topic.

“I’m just kind of in the background making sure the girls stay on task,” Emma said. “I really want them to be in charge of the book club.”

The book club’s faculty monitor at Nativity, English teacher Kelly Determan, has praised the way Emma runs the club.

“(Her) approach gives all the girls a sense of belonging and allows them to be truly invested in the reading process,” Determan wrote on the school’s website.

Emma also tries to incorporate a project into each meeting. For a book they read called “The Adoration of Jenna Fox,” which dealt with a young girl being recreated out of bio-gel after an accident, Emma had the club members draw a picture of how they would look if they were made of bio-gel and what their new personality traits would be.

Even though all this sounds like the humble beginnings of a career in education, Emma insists that is not her goal. While she loves working with children, she would like to be a neurosurgeon.

To participate in the Bookfair, make any purchase at the Del Mar Highlands Town Center Barnes & Noble during the week of Nov. 16-23 (the fair excludes Nook purchases). To participate in the Bookfair with an online purchase during the week, use the Bookfair ID number 11223500 (