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KS2 Book Topic – The Land of Neverbelieve

The Land of Neverbelieve’s weird and wonderful wildlife will have children’s imaginations overflowing with world-building ideas...

  • KS2 Book Topic – The Land of Neverbelieve

Download this lesson plan as a free PDF here.


Pablo Picasso once said ‘Everything you can imagine is real’, and having been completely absorbed into Norman Messenger’s The Land of Neverbelieve, I hope this is true.

Part journal, part naturalist’s report, this fascinating book takes the reader on a journey into Messenger’s imagined world – an island he discovers whilst pottering at sea in his boat.

Spellbound by the plants, creatures, people and landscape, he painstakingly catalogues his amazing adventure, wary of the island’s ability to produce legs and walk off on a whim to settle in a new location.

This book has an almost magical ability to intrigue and astonish children and adults alike through its carefully crafted words and delightful illustrations.

Possessing a richness of language that will challenge children throughout Key Stage 2, and a breadth that promotes plenty of opportunity for cross-curricular work, this text makes an excellent focus for a book topic.

1 | All creatures great and small

Engage children in the text and harness their natural curiosity by watching this short animated overview of the island.

Capture their initial response to this through a KWLW grid (four columns with the headings – what do I know?/ what do I want to know?/ what have I learnt?/ what new words have I found?).

Through paired talk they should generate comments on Post-its and add them to the first two columns. Then, as they learn more about the island and its inhabitants, Post-it responses can be added independently to the third and fourth columns.

The Land of Neverbelieve is beautifully illustrated and attractively presented, so as part of this project give children the opportunity to create their own ‘special book’ where they can spend time transforming their written work to presentation standard.

Use thick cardboard to make a hardback cover for a sketchbook, bind with heavy-duty craft tape and later in the project give children the opportunity to illustrate their own front cover.

But leave the first page blank – like Norman Messenger, they will use this to write an introduction to their own island. But first, they need to imagine and create it!


2 | Nature trails

As a naturalist, Norman Messenger takes a great interest in the new creatures he encounters on the island, painstakingly illustrating them and noting their often-peculiar habits. The multi-winged parrot is shy and extremely old.

He does not enjoy flying, but his many wings help him to hover when foraging for nuts.

Use the parrot’s picture and notes to help model writing a detailed report on this amazing creature. This will give some great opportunities to expand children’s vocabulary through a description of the colours of this vibrant bird, and the textures of different body parts.

Using this model, children then write their own report on a creature found on their imagined island.

If stuck for ideas there are plenty of other examples from the book to provide inspiration, such as the long-nosed pliar cormorant, a coastal dweller in constant pursuit of the secateur crab, or the clown fish who pops his head from the sea to pull hilarious expressions ‘just for fun’.

Getting persuasive

The crop garden on the island appears familiar at first, but on closer inspection the produce is a little ‘strange’. The fruit and vegetables grown there are mostly familiar, but their colours are not. Cherries are ‘semi-transparent, not unlike milky glass marbles’ and the rainbow-veined cabbage is aptly named.

Discuss with your class why differently coloured or shaped fruit and vegetables might be unappealing to the public.

Draw upon news reports linked to Jamie Oliver’s recent campaign to cut food waste and get shops to stock ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables (at the time of writing, Asda has just started selling the ‘Beautiful on the Inside’ range).

Explain they are going to market this new range of produce and therefore need to put together an argument to persuade your local supermarket to stock them. Start by together generating points in support of the argument.

Once these ideas have been gathered, children work in pairs with sets of language pattern cards of appropriate challenge. Using the cards to structure their speech they develop an oral argument. Cards might include terms like:

  • ‘An argument for … is …’
  • ‘I understand some people’s point of view might be…, but I disagree because…’
  • My second important reason for… is …’
  • ‘I’m sure you’ll agree that…’

Share these initial attempts aloud, enabling children to play with the language of persuasion and to start to embed the language patterns prior to writing. Once created, these cards make a useful classroom resource to return to and reuse.

Now use this learning to write letters to the supermarket and produce persuasive materials to market their range to the public through things like posters, leaflets and radio adverts.

Stranger than fiction

Despite its non-fiction format, the theme of storytelling is firmly embedded within this text. The islanders build their homes at the foot of Book Mountain, which quietly whispers bedtime stories at nightfall.

This phenomenon is thanks to its geology: book-shaped rock formations split open at night to reveal pages. Use this as an opportunity to get the class to write some stories suitable to be told by Book Mountain.

Many children struggle to come up with a good central idea to drive the story, so help them by introducing the simple plot device of basing their story around either meeting someone/thing; losing someone/thing or finding something.

Start by deciding on a setting (for example, a forest), then the children generate ideas linked to meeting/ losing/ finding someone/thing in this location.

Having selected an idea, they then decide on how their story will finish (and this being a story for telling by the mountain, it had better be a happy one if we want the inhabitants of the Land of Neverbelieve to sleep soundly in their beds).

Now they have the central idea of their story, they can plot how to get from this to their happy ending.

There is also the opportunity for more adventurous story writing.

The Dark Spooky Mountains are located in the north of the island, far from their gentler cousin. This is a dark, menacing area ‘so horribly horrible and so full of never ending nastiness, that to have deep feelings of trepidation [on visiting] is understandable’.

However, to write about this sinister region, Norman Messenger had to explore, and the children will write the story of his adventure.

Share together the double-page spread detailing all that the author learnt there, identify potential dangers, such as the mountaintops that are liable to suddenly break off, float away and vaporise.

Now create individual story maps marking the dangers Norman Messenger encountered and decide on what actions he took to overcome them. This is a great opportunity to introduce the techniques writers use to create tension.

These would include using: short sentences (‘I hid.’), ellipsis (‘My hands were slipping, I felt each finger in turn begin to fail…’) and use of similes and metaphors (‘the water roared like a menacing beast’).


3 | Room for change

At the foot of Book Mountain lies The Hamlet, where the islanders live in their colourful, fanciful and quirky homes. No two buildings are alike, and this fact forms the basis of a maths investigation for your children to undertake using Multilink cubes.

With each cube representing one room, investigate systematically how many different homes can be made depending on the number of rooms a house has.

Begin with a one-room house and continue increasing in size each time the number of possibilities has been exhausted.

It is important to discuss with children at the start of the investigation whether translations of the same design will be accepted or not – for example a three-storey tower house versus a three-room interconnecting bungalow (they are the same shape, only one is 3 blocks x 1 block, and the other 1x3).

Use photographs to capture the practical learning, and support children in recording their findings in a table to look for patterns and make predictions.

This work could be extended into numbers by providing guidelines for determining cost of homes. For example: It costs £50 for the first room; £20 each for additional rooms; and all rooms above ground level have an additional premium of £15. Perhaps the children could become ‘Neverbelieve Estate Agents’.

Neither fish nor fowl

Norman Messenger’s ‘of marsh and stream’ observations provide an introduction to the interdependence of different species.

Together, read through this section and begin identifying food chains, for example the fisher bird is disguised as a fish, which allows it to quietly sneak up on its prey before viciously striking with phenomenal speed.

The big mouth fish cunningly hides at the edge of the stream, its mouth permanently open waiting for smaller fish to swim straight in. But what of the other creatures in the stream and marsh? What do they prey upon and who do they run, swim or skuttle away from to avoid?

Use features they have in common with more familiar residents of our own streams to make logical assertions about this. Then instigate a pond or stream study in your locality and apply the skills learnt from Norman Messenger in working out the relationships between the creatures that dwell there.

Branching out

Wandering around the island, Norman Messenger was able to catalogue an amazing array of curious and extraordinary trees, some more useful than others.

The tree of horrible hands reaches out towards anyone that approaches – its sharp fingers capable of capturing those who stray too close.

The cutlery tree is altogether more pleasant – when its buds break open it reveals pluckable knives, forks and spoons.

Challenge children to use these and other examples from the book to act as inspiration to design and build a tree of their own invention.

Medium-fine wire makes a good material for this – twisting together a good handful of strands to create the trunk and then fanning out the ends at the base to form the roots of the tree, the upper ends can then be twisted together in small groups to form differently sized branches to attach embellishments such as beads or ‘leaves’ cut from other materials.

Alternatively, cardboard can be ‘jigsawed’ to form a 3D tree – cut two identical trees from a sheet of cardboard, then draw a vertical line down the centre of both trees, cut halfway up one tree from the bottom, and halfway down from the top on the second, then slide the two cuts into each another so that the trees are perpendicular.


4 | Living in a dreamworld

Now that the children each have a clear picture in their mind of their own Land of Neverbelieve, they are ready to write the introduction to the journals they have been collating.

Use the opening of Norman Messenger’s book as a model for this writing – how did they discover their island? What mementos would they bring back?

Finally, issue invitations to an exhibition for parents, carers and pupils from other classes to view the class’s extraordinary findings. Put on display the island models the children have created as part of their homework, their individual journals and gather together the trees created to form a fantastical forest.


Model behaviour

Give your class a challenging project that will bring out the best of their imagination and artistic creativity…

Challenge each child to create a model of her own island, which she will be expected to present at the end of the project as part of the exhibition.

Provide a list of key features which they will need to include to ensure a sufficient level of challenge in the construction, and spend time discussing as a class how different materials could be used.


Exploring Further

Be inspired by these other fantastical imagined worlds…

  • Get inspiration from Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to study the creatures and landscape of another extraordinary world.
  • Use a short clip of the Whomping Willow (which you can view on YouTube) from the Harry Potter films when coming up with ideas for curious and extraordinary trees.
  • Use extracts from a simplified version of Gulliver’s Travels to illustrate a different style of journal entry.

Clare Pearson is deputy headteacher at Summerbank Primary School in Stoke. Previously, Clare was the Primary Advisory English Teacher for Stoke-on-Trent.


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