June Mottershead was four when her father, George, moved his family to Upton, two miles from Chester, to begin the process of turning his dream into a reality. With no other children around to play with – her sister Muriel was ten years older – June’s friends became the animals. Her closest friends became the animals. Her closest companion was an orphaned chimpanzee which she 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 cubs soon graced the front pages of British newspapers. She was 13 when war was declared in 1939 and, with the backbone of the staff headed to the front, it fell to June to take over as head keeper.
June is now in her eighties, is the guardian of her families legacy and in Our Zoo, she tells the fascinating story of a working class family with a very unusual home. This story of how her father set out to build a zoo without bars was turned into a six-part drama series currently airing on the BBC.
Stories about animals are basically my kryptonite and this book had many of them. There are plenty stories of hand-reared wild animals and the photographs of chimpanzees helping to build their own enclosure will melt your heart. This is a fascinating story of the every-day struggles and make-do attitude by the entire Mottershead family.
The story was told in chronological order with a few anecdotes outwith the timeline which was slightly confusing. I did feel that the story ended very abruptly and I turned the page expecting there would be more. But overall I loved this story and the only problem I had with it was the length. I would have quite happily read another 100 pages.
If you like these sorts of books I would also recommend Jeremy and Amy by Jeremy Keeling. This is the true story of a zoo keeper, an orangutan and one mans dream of turning a derelict pig farm in Dorset into a cageless sanctuary for primates.
*I received a copy of this book from Headline in exchange for an honest review.