Columbia University 101: My First Text-Board-Book
Edited by Brad Epstein
Michaelson Entertainment, 18 pages
A surprising amount of the Columbia swag peddled by the campus bookstore only fits the under four-foot demographic. Heaps of onesies, booties, and bibs bear a lion or crown. Clearly, the market for new parents is particularly ripe.
Recently, the bookstore has also begun targeting this demographic in its literary selections: see its newly-arrived stock, Columbia University 101: My First Text-Board-Book.
Prominently displayed alongside other children’s books about New York City, My First Text-Board Book exists to bring Alma Mater and the rest of her cadre alongside Goodnight Moon in the hearts of infants. Billing itself as “the required primer for every future Columbia Lion™,” the book consists of pictorial campus trivia and lore, presumably functioning as a platform to introduce the university to an impressionable child. Pause to consider the depiction of a toddler as a “first year.”
Editor Brad Epstein has no personal ties to Columbia. A serial producer of baby books, he is also responsible for such classics as UCLA 101: My First Text-Board-Book, Michigan State University 101: My First Text-Board-Book, and University of Michigan 101: My First Text-Board-Book. All have a similar format, with the same cover photo of a baby who clearly has yet to learn the meaning of brand loyalty.
The book has little actual writing. It’s comprised of mostly stock photos with captions to be read aloud and pointed to. Each section of treats a different facet of college culture: “Pride & Tradition” includes photos of Roaree the Lion, the school motto, and Tree Lighting. “Sports and Athletics” features 12 photos of the University’s most high-profile sports, a quarter of which are devoted to football (unsurprising, given the publication date in 2006, prior to the team’s losing streak).
The book’s lack of Columbia-specific material—along with its shoddy production values and questionable use of Photoshop—has not gone unnoticed. It’s rated a paltry one star on Amazon, with the only reviewer chastising the lack of Columbia-specific information.
This lack of attention to detail is where My First Text-Board-Book falls flat. Sure, a children’s book can’t attempt realism: instead of showing a picture of a typical beer can-laden Carman double, in the ‘dorm’ page, innocent generic stock photos are sloppily pasted onto the white background: chair! crayon! book! (The pages of the book just consist of the alphabet.) College is rendered in G-rated form rather than simply cleaned up, and Columbia seems more like an elementary school.
Moreover, Epstein ultimately misses the details that make Columbia unique. Consider the emphasis on football on the “Sports and Athletics” pages—perhaps such a position of prominence would be appropriate at Michigan State, but its inclusion, when so many other aspects of Columbia student culture (e.g. performing arts, activism, literary magazines) are left out, points to Epstein’s lack of familiarity.
Despite being a disappointing read, My First Text-Board-Book is a worthy collection to a current student’s library, at least for the sense of perspective it gives. Regardless of the quality of our experience at Columbia, all of our children will be legacies.