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The Land of Never Believe: Explored and Documented by Norman Messenger and Imagine by Norman Messenger

Norman Messenger is an amazing illustrator who employs flaps, folds and optical illusions in a very painterly fashion and sadly, you will pretty much have to take my word for it. I could find very few images for the two book I am reviewing here and am grateful to the blog 366 Books: My Year of Reading for snapshots of interior images from The Land of Neverbelieve. Looking a bit like a cross between the illustrated journals of Charles Darwin's voyage on the Beagle and a DK Eyewitness book.

The Land of Neverbelieve begins with an introduction from the author in which he tells the story of his accidental visit to this mysterious, fantastical island. While "quietly puttering about at sea" in his boat, the author comes across a "spectacular-looking island" he had never seen before. Compelled to approach and investigate. While exploring and recording the amazing specimens on the island, he learns from the inhabitants that it 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." In light of this striking news, our intrepid explorer hastens his endeavor, returning to his boat when he has archived most of the island's oddities to make sure it is still there. After unloading his souvenirs, he looks around and finds that the island has disappeared. However, after making his way back home he documented his finds here in The Land of Neverbelieve.

Fist off is a map of the island, seen below, which notates the various places that will be given closer examination in the book.

Messenger intricately, lovingly details the flora and the fauna of the island. From the Tree of Horrible Hands to the Brick Tree (the trunk and branches appear to be made of bricks and mortar) to the Pasta Tree that grows vigorously and must be picked regularly to the Cutlery Tree, which needs large amounts of water but is also prone to a "characteristic rusting of the trunk," which eventually chokes the tree. There is the Frustrated Slim Eel, which spends its life in a knot and the Multi-Winged Parrot, which is remarkable. The Flowering Meadow, the Crop Garden, the Hamlet and the Magical Lake are also explored. Messenger goes on to visit the Spooky Dark Mountains that are the home of the unfortunate Horseshoe Bats and the Bat-Faced Ravens as well as the Screaming Night Moth. A stroll along the coastline reveals more wonderments and allows for a visit to the even stranger strung of islands nearby. The Happy Forest Clearing presents metamorphosing creatures that gather around a genuine Alphabet Tree. But my favorite spot on the island has to be Book Mountain, which "closely resembles a pile of books. When mature, the unusual book-shaped rock formations split open to reveal book pages." The islanders make their homes in a ring around Book Mountain because, at night, the mountain quietly tells stories!

Imagine by Norman Messenger

Imagine is less of a narrative, in as much as The Land of Neverbelieve can be called a narrative, and more of an interactive, puzzle-tyoe book, as the cover, which has a half-sleeve that should be slid up and down, illustrates. The upper corner of almost every page in the book has a brain teaser that involves rearranging dots, sticks and shapes and can be seen in the images below. Imagine begins with Messenger asking his readers to imagine a stepladder without steps, a teapot without a spout, a chair without legs, a padlock without a keyhole and a house without windows. At times, Messenger echoes the masterful surrealism of Rene Magritte, from the realistically rendered objects to the curious changes made to them. This holds true for the illustration below in which Messenger asks the reader to "imagine a world where things are not quite what they seem. Look - and look again." It's probably too hard to tell with this picture, but Messenger is messing with perspective, among other things.

He also messes with reality on several gatefold pages where one thing turns into another. In the image below, there is a flap and two folds that allow you to change the appearance of these already altered creatures over and over. 

Another page has six people arranged around the page like numbers on a clock. In the center of the page is a spinning wheel that allows you to change their faces from the eyes up. There is so much more in this seemingly slim book that I could go on and on, but I won't. However, if you want to give a stunningly beautiful gift that will also keep readers busy for hours, I highly recommend The Land of Neverbelieve and/or Imagine.

Can you find the hidden giants in this picture?


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