Books Fairy Tales, Romances, and Happy-CYBILS-After Picture Books Reading Ruminations Reading Themes

[Saturday Reads] Have You Ever been to Norman Messenger’s “The Land Of Neverbelieve”?


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.
Widget Handcrafted by Iphigene for GatheringBooks.

I was excited to discover this gorgeous picturebook in our public library – primarily because it just fits our current reading theme so exquisitely – what with our focus on fairy tales and enchantment.


The Land Of Neverbelieve

Explored and Documented by: Norman Messenger
Published by: Candlewick Press, 2012
Book borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I am often in awe of children’s book creators who create such astoundingly creative books that simply defy classification. I think this can be considered one of those genre-bending books – as it can not really be neatly categorized as a picturebook (it doesn’t have a discernible storyline/ a clear plot that one can follow) nor can it be summarily pegged as a middle grade or a young adult book. Clearly, this is my kind of book: those square pegs in round holes that are simply delightful in all their oddity as they represent their very own thought, feeling, sentiment in whichever form they so choose.

As can be found in the book cover – think of this as an explorer’s notebook, an adventurer’s journal as Messenger painstakingly documents the many creatures that he befriended, the many moving islands he visited while in The Land of Neverbelieve.


Messenger’s Introduction provides an overview to this enchanted place:

The island has the unexpected ability to produce legs sporadically. These enable it to silently rise, dripping water and sand, and walk off to a fresh location, where it will settle for an indeterminate period, from a few days to several months. It moves purely on whim and leaves no trace of its path behind.

This is a gypsy-faery island – one that is carved after my own whimsical spirit! The book is divided into 12 parts (or XII plates as Messenger would like to call them) – marked quite nicely here in this greenish hue of a map. Each full-page spread also has little side-folds that open into more exquisite discoveries – see how the inhabitants of Neverbelieve look like:


Take careful note of that typography that captures the fleeting, floating element of this island – and the muted earthy palette that Messenger decided to use: none of those flashy, bright, eye-sores; just peaceful, almost-diaphanous pastels of quiet greens and browns.

Trees in Neverbelieve

Since I consider myself a dryad in my parallel life, I was smitten by the strange trees found in this place of enchantment:


Look at that Forgetful Tree.


Or this mightily eerie Tree of Horrible Hands – they don’t produce leaves, just those sharp fingers growing out of the branches – this might be a distant cousin of the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter.


My absolute favourite, of course, is The Chocolate Tree. And since Norman Messenger is nothing if not thorough, he also oftentimes includes cross sections of the species he encounters: take for instance this chocolate tree, with a cross section of its trunk with the peppermint fondant center. I don’t know about you, but this made me hungry.

Peculiar Creatures 

I think what makes this book work even more for me is the fact that Messenger makes use of things that are already familiar to the reader and combines them in the most unusual ways possible: it’s like a permutation of a nightmare and a dream, a marriage of phantasm and the corporeal – chimera made flesh. See samples below:


Now, that’s a real catfish!


Look at that long-nosed pliers cormorant – I wouldn’t want this bird to bite me, nosiree.


Then he goes absolutely bonkers with this metamorphosing, Kafka-esque wildebeests made all the more beautiful by their strangeness – and see how the juxtaposition of familiar elements go together quite enchantingly.

A few Islands in Neverbelieve

While quite a few were intriguing, these are the two that stood out for me:


Naturally my flirtation with darkness made me wonder where the scary spaces are – as can be seen in the spooky dark mountains above. They do look creepy.


This, however, is the place I want to retire and spend the rest of my days: Book Mountain. And yes, it reads you a story every night, made all the more special during the time of the new moon:

At the time of the new moon, a second moon appears, which doubles the length of the night. I was fortunate to experience one of these nights and to enjoy a long, luxurious uninterrupted sleep.

I will have to find more of Norman Messenger’s picturebooks. He sounds like my kind of man. How about you, fellow readers? Have you been to Messenger’s Land Of Neverbelieve yet? You have to pay this place a visit, clearly.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Have You Ever been to Norman Messenger’s “The Land Of Neverbelieve”?

  1. Pingback: [Monday Reading] Mervyn Peake’s “Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor” and Norman Messenger’s “Imagine” – Gathering Books

  2. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] A Fantastical Alphabet by Norman Messenger – Gathering Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: