Review: Our Zoo by June Mottershead

Our Zoo: The real story of my life at Chester Zoo. - June Mottershead

Publication date: 9th October 2014


Publisher: Headline


ISBN: 9781472226358


Source: Publisher, via bobookbridgr/netgalley


Marks: 4½/5



A wonderfully nostalgic memoir detailing the fascinating lives of the working class family behind the phenomenally successful Chester Zoo.

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.


My review:

I was so looking forward to reading this account of how Chester Zoo began, as an animal lover, I'd been enthralled by the TV series of the same name. The book is a little different to the series, which was adapted for TV audiences, but this original account by the youngest Mottershead is equally enchanting.


This memoir focuses very much on the animals and how the grounds of Oakfield were turned into the first zoo without bars, which I found fascinating. The attention to detail is fantastic, the recount captivating.


My only criticism is that I didn't really like so much focus on the war details, which I'm afraid I found a little boring. Obviously the war had a great impact on the zoo so I totally understand it's inclusion; I just prefer reading about the animals.