Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Our Zoo - June Mottershead - full of animal magic

From Goodreads:

Until I brought friends back from school I didn't realise that most people didn't have baby lions in their bedrooms when they were sick, or bring parrots into the house so they wouldn't catch cold.'

Chester Zoo is counted among the top 10 zoos in the world and, with over 11,000 animals and 400 species, it is the most visited wildlife attraction in Britain. Unlike other zoos that owe their existence to philanthropists, explorers or big game hunters, Chester Zoo was the brainchild of one working-class man with a dream he had nurtured since he was a boy: to build a zoo without bars.

June Mottorshead was four years old when her father, George, moved his family to Upton, two miles out Chester, to begin the process of turning his dream into a reality. With no other children around to play with - her sister Muriel was 10 years older - June's friends became the animals. Her closest companion was an orphaned chimpanzee which her sister hadshe hand reared, and for six years the two were inseparable. June soon became the poster girl for Chester Zoo and photographs of her cuddling lion clubs, head-butting a goat or opening the beak of a pelican soon graced the front pages of British newspapers. She was 13 when war was declared on 1939 and, with the backbone of the staff headed for the front, it fell to June to take over as head keeper. Keeping the zoo running while the war waged was no easy task. Despite rationing the animals had to be fed and all of them - penguins, elephants, leopards, tigers, lions, kangaroos and polar bears - needed to be moved into secure locked quarters inside as soon as the air raid siren sounded.

June, now in her eighties, is the guardian of her family's legacy.

My review:

I loved the tv series based on this book. When I was offered a copy to review through Bookbridgr I thought it would take over where the tv series left off, however it's quite different to the dramatisation which I now realise was rather loosely based on the events around the creation and building of Chester zoo.

This book narrates the true memoirs and reminiscences of June Mottershead, youngest daughter of the zoo family who was only 4 years old when the family moved to Upton to turn a run down staley home and its grounds into what developed into Chester zoo.

Most of it is based around what family life was like when you share your home with a menagerie of wild creatures and the difficulties faced by the family and presented by the breakout of world war 2. Obviously the early memories are a little sketchy as June was so young when it all began. 

Although the story takes us forward chronologically from the beginning, it is narrated exactly as if the author is reminiscing about her past talking to us, occasionally she gets sidetracked and sometimes she doesn't explain fully who everyone is or how things came about but as a 4 or 5 year old she probably doesn't remember the early stuff too clearly. Her sister Mew (Muriel) was the main zoo keeper, whilst June was going about the business of growing up in a very unusual set up.

Its a lovely, gentle read, perfect for animal lovers and people who like memoirs set in WW2 and would make an ideal christmas gift for anyone who liked the TV series.

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