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If a prolific award-winning local children's author and TV scriptwriter hadn't run out of fruit flies, she might never have heard the fascinating true stories about a celebrity jackdaw and a prisoner-of-war in Nazi Germany, recounted by a former head keeper at London Zoo, that she retells in her new book, out this week.

jeanne willis and mick carman at london zoo with jeannes new book jacko

Local author Jeanne Willis with Mick Carman at London Zoo, where he was once a head keeper (Source: ITV London News)

The book's themes? Flight and freedom.

The author? Jeanne Willis, who's had more than 80 books published (and, if you wish to visit her website, requests you to first whirl your tentacles with Dr Xargle - once you've overcome that hurdle, be sure to visit the About Me page).

The fruit flies? For feeding praying mantis nymphs, of course, what else?

A former head keeper at the Zoo? Mick Carman, these day a stalwart volunteer with the Friends of Broomfield Park.

The prisoner-of-war? Mick's father.

mick carman with jacko on his shoulder in the 1950s

Mick with Jacko in the 1950s

The celebrity jackdaw? Jacko, a bird that Mick rescued in 1957 and whose exploits became well known in the south west London suburb where Mick grew up, even making the pages of the Daily Mirror. Jeanne's new book is named in his honour.

As the publisher's blurb explains:

"When Mick rescues an injured baby jackdaw in the park, little does he know that the bird is about to change his childhood for ever. Jacko soon recovers, and Mick teaches him how to fly. It’s not long before Jacko becomes a beloved member of the community, amusing the punters in the family pub and guiding the trains into the station. As Jacko’s adventures gain greater fame, Mick has to face whether he can ever bear to say goodbye to his beloved pet jackdaw..."

How Jeanne came to hear the story of Jacko is where the fruit flies come in. Mick recounted it when he visited Jeanne on a rescue mission, taking with him a fresh supply of the tiny insects for her to feed to her pet praying mantis nymphs.

Jeanne says: "At first, Jacko was going to be a simple story about a baby jackdaw rescued by my mate Mick when he was a boy – fascinating, funny and endearing enough, but over tea Mick casually mentioned that his dad had been a member of the Caterpillar Club, saved by a parachute when his plane was shot down in World War II, only to be captured by Nazis. Suddenly, I had two paths to navigate, handed to me on a plate along with the chocolate digestives: flight, freedom and what that really means to certain birds and men. It has a been a joy and a privilege to write - some of it I had to imagine, but I can’t take any credit for the truth."


cover of jacko by jeanne willis


by Jeanne Willis

Published by Andersen Press

EAN/UPC: 9781839133220

Order from

( supports independent bricks-and-mortar bookshops in the UK)

Download the ebook from (the alternative to Amazon)

Jeanne Willis

Jeanne Willis is an award-winning children's author and scriptwriter. She had her first picture book published by Andersen at the age of 21, and has won the Silver Medal Smarties Prize (Tadpole's Promise), the Nasen Special Needs Award (Susan Laughs), the Sheffield Children's Book Award (Who’s in The Loo) and the Red House Children's Book Award (Bottoms Up).

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