by Yukihisa Tokuda
illustrated by Kiyoshi Takahashi
Kane/Miller paperback 2006
originally published by Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Japan 2003
Do you know why the pill bug lives near humans?
Do you know how a pill bug deals with an ant? What about a frog?
True or false: a pill bug eats concrete.
True or false: a pill bug eats its shell once it's shed.
True or false: a pill bug sheds half it's body at a time, each half on a different day.
Did you know pill bug poop was square?
The book opens with the pill bug speaking to us. Hello! Do you know what this is? Do you know who I am? And from there it's a quick study into the life and habits of your average pill bug. Using simple torn paper collage and the occasional drawn line the book takes on a quiet, unassuming portrait of an insect never before (as far as I know) given a starring role.
We used to call these things roly-poly bugs, but I heard pill bug just as often and until this book I never really understood what their purpose was. They are recyclers, eating dead and decaying organic matter. They also apparently eat concrete for its various minerals and, like the crab and shrimp to which they are related, can swim for a bit if necessary.
It is one of those strange truths that occasionally you can learn more from a single read through simple children's picture book than a week's worth of science lessons. I don't mean to suggest that everything that can be taught should be reduced to clear picture book format lessons, but books like this would certainly do more for retention that most dry textbooks. The Kane/Miller website is slight when it comes to the book's background, offering that the illustrator "Kiyoshi Takahasi was working as an oil painter when he began to create picture books about insects and plants with the detailed and real life drawings for which he is widely known."
I can't fully explain this book's charms beyond noting that it's just a neat little book all around. Can I hope there are more quaint books like this in the future?