The Kensington Reptilarium

N.J. Gemmell

The Kensington Reptilarium
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The Kensington Reptilarium

N.J. Gemmell

A most unexpected adventure into a world unknown. Enter if you dare …The Caddy kids are home alone and they’re having the best time ever. Until a stranger arrives with news …This is the story of how four loud, grubby urchins from the Australian outback find themselves in London for the first peacetime Christmas after years of war. But their new guardian hates children. He prefers the company of the hundreds of snakes in his house - the Kensington Reptilarium.

Fate lends Kick, Scruff, Bert and Pin a helping hand when outraged citizens call for the Reptilarium to be shut down. With the police about to descend, can the Caddy kids warm Uncle Basti’s heart u and have their Christmas wishes granted - before it’s too late? A feel-good tale that will have you cheering on these four fearless bush kids as they take on the world.


I was drawn to this book by the sweet figures on the cover, which I recognised as being the work of talented Australian illustrator Allison Colpoys. Her artwork perfectly suits this slightly dotty, traditional story. The narrative is told through Kick Caddy, the eldest of four outback kids. She’s been holding the fort in the absence of their much-adored explorer father.

But the story takes us away from Australia early on when the Caddy’s life of outdoor adventure in the blazing heat is turned upside-down: their father is missing so they head for chilly post-World War II London to be looked after by Uncle Basti. Arriving shoeless and hungry, they’re distraught to find that reclusive Basti wants nothing to do with them, but intrigued because his house is an eccentric reptilarium. Desperate for a home, they dig in their heels and try to make Basti love them.

Kick is a lovely mix of resolute tomboy and all-feeling responsible eldest, who dearly loves her siblings. My favourite passage is one we’re made to wait for – the explanation for Basti’s difficult character, which is very moving. Sophisticated language in clipped ‘outback kid’ sentences match a lively plot. This could work well as a family read, and for ages 9 and up.

Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time.

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