‘How long do you reckon it’d take to fry an egg on Matilda’s bonnet?’
Scruff is looking longingly at our car, which is already boiling hot in the 44-degree heat – and it’s only nine a.m.
‘Fifty-two seconds!’ Bert rises to the challenge. ‘Do it, Scruffy boy, come on. Anything would be better than Kick’s cooking.’ She shoots a glance at me, knowing I’ll take the bait. Which I most certainly do.
‘Just you try being a mum plus a dad around here, young lady.’ I poke out my tongue. Everyone knows that any experiment at being a grown-up ended months ago. ‘Twenty-nine seconds,’ I exclaim, ‘and not a fly’s fart more!’
My attempts at breakfast – a frypan with a rug of eggs tastefully congealed on its bottom – is grabbed and said eggs are flung wid into the yard. They spin like a dinner plate. Land – plop! – in the red dust.
Cooking. Pah. I give up. I’ve had enough of it.
Kick (13) and her three siblings, Scruff (11), Bert (9) and Pin (4), live in the middle of Australia. Their mother died some years ago, and their father is on an expedition somewhere and the children look after themselves. WWII is over and the world is gearing up for the first post-war Christmas. When it appears that their father may be lost forever, a solicitor arrives to take this wild foursome to London to stay with their father’s brother, Uncle Basti. They have not met their new guardian before, and he seems to much prefer the company of his extensive collection of reptiles. And as if that is not enough, it seems that the local neighbourhood is less than happy about the goings-on at the Kensington Reptilarium and would be happy to see them all gone.
It’s hard to imagine two worlds more different than outback Australia and inner-city, post-war London. But despite their dislocation, the four Australian children in ‘The Kensington Reptilarium’ stick together and determine to find a way to adjust to their new circumstances. They have to face the possibility they may never see their father again, and in that case, it’s important to convince their reluctant uncle that family stick together, no matter what. The Kensington Reptilarium is full of hilarity and innocence, role-reversals and secrets. It speeds towards Christmas with the joy and trepidation of riding a wave all the way to shore. The characters are rapscallions one and all, and this is a wonderful wild ride. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
The Kensington Reptilarium, N J Gemmell, Random House Australia 2013 ISBN: 9780857980502
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
Available from good bookstores or online.