Our Zoo – June Mottershead
When George Mottershead moved to the village of Upton-by-Chester in 1930 to realise his dream of opening a zoo without bars, his four-year-old daughter June had no idea how extraordinary her life would become. Soon her best friend was a chimpanzee called Mary, lion cubs and parrots were vying for her attention in the kitchen, and finding a bear tucked up in bed was no more unusual than talking to a tapir about granny’s lemon curd. Pelican, penguin or polar bear – for June, they were simply family.
The early years were not without their obstacles for the Mottersheads. They were shunned by the local community, bankruptcy threatened and then World War Two began. Nightly bombing raids turned the dream into a nightmare and finding food for the animals became a constant challenge. Yet George’s resilience, resourcefulness and tenacity eventually paid off. Now over 80 years since June first set foot in the echoing house, Chester Zoo has achieved worldwide renown.
Here, in her enthralling memoir, June Mottershead chronicles the heartbreak, the humour, the trials and triumphs, above all the characters, both human and animal, who shaped her childhood.
Thank you to Bookbridgr and Headline for providing a copy for review
Start with the confession: I don’t watch much television so I have not seen the BBC dramatization of this story. But this is a positive for review purposes as it means the book stands on its own and I am not influenced why what may or may not have appeared in the television show. I believe this is relevant as in her book June Mottershead notes that chimps are no longer allowed to be used in television shows yet her chimp Mary was a prominent part of her childhood. Already I feel the book is providing a more accurate depiction of June’s life and that I am getting the FULL story.
Our Zoo is written in a delightfully chatty style. You could almost believe that you are sitting with the author as she reminisces over her childhood memories. The love and affection for dozens of the animals that came into the zoo seeps off the page and you laugh and cry with the events that unfold as you too become part of their world.
As Chester Zoo was built to be educational I found reading Our Zoo to be equally informative. The author has a wealth of knowledge which seeps through into her writing. Facts on animal care, trivia on the numerous animals that feature and some social history of 20th Century Britain all find their way into the book and make the reading experience much richer and engaging.
There are amusing anecdotes (monkey on the bus) which had me laughing aloud as I read them. Yet there are stories which horrified and had me questioning the sanity of some people’s actions and trotting out the clichéd ‘you wouldn’t get away with that these days’.
Quick word of warning: try not to get too emotionally invested into this book – so many accidents and deaths which befall beloved animals (and on occasion people) it is an emotional wringer! Such is the love that June bestows upon some of the charges at the Zoo that the sense of loss when they leave her care is tangible for the reader.
A heart-warming story of a small zoo struggling to find its feet and battling to survive – a beautiful story which I would recommend to anyone.