In “Sauerkraut,” author Kelly Jones continues to show her expertise in writing clever and touching stories that include a bit of ghostly action. In this story, Hans Dieter Schenk, also known as HD. His dad was Hans Peter Schenk, his grandfather Hans Gerhard Schenk, and before him Hans Franz Schenk. Until HD, all the Hans’ looked pretty much the same with pale skin, hair and blue eyes. But HD is different. While his skin is lighter than his mothers, his dark locs (dreadlocks) are longer than hers. And people sometimes confuse his father with his best friend Eli’s father “Just because they’re both white. It’s … awkward.”
HD loves building things and thinks of himself as a “maker,” an inventor. He is determined to spend summer vacation building a computer from scratch and entering it into the county fair. To finance the components, he got the job of emptying his Uncle Gregor’s basement. The basement is filled with all of the belongings from his Grandma Schenk who died a few years before, and HD will decide what should be saved and what should be thrown out. There are more than 50 boxes, but with the money that Uncle Gregor will pay him, he will have enough for the computer parts.
His best friend Eli will be spending a lot of time with HD over the summer because the summer tech camp that the two were supposed to attend was cancelled. So Eli goes with HD to check out the basement and get the lay of the land, so to speak. The basement is dark and creepy. The first box HD opens has a big brown pottery jar and he takes it out.
When a voice asks who he is, HD takes off up the stairs with Eli following. When HD explains that he heard a voice, Eli doesn’t believe him. What HD does next will give readers wonderful insight into who HD is as a person, and shows the author’s ability to show, not tell, when it comes to character traits.
In fact, the whole story including how HD takes care of goats, is a wonderful best friend, and a good great-great grandson is shown through HD’s actions. He’s a wonderful role model, and the story is filled with diverse characters from HD himself who is biracial, to his father who lost a leg and wears a prosthesis, to his Uncle Gregor and his boyfriend.
The ghost turns out to be HD’s grandfather’s grandmother, and she is obsessed with cooking. Her favorite thing to make is sauerkraut, and her greatest desire is to enter it into the county fair and win 1st place so she can be the Pickle Queen.
HD and his friend learn how to make sauerkraut, and they learn a lot of other important things over the course of the summer, including deciding on priorities, the value of family, and hard work. Do they solve the mystery of why Oma is still attached to her sauerkraut jar? Read this clever, touching, and insightful middle grade story to find out.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.