San Francisco columnist tells tales of the city through the eyes of its youngest residents in ‘Urban Playground’


“Urban Playground is an entertaining introduction to San Francisco thanks to the charm, sense of wonder, and joy of its participants.”

Foreword-Clarion Reviews

SAN FRANCISCO –– To outsiders, the Bay Area is intrinsically linked to tech hubs and counterculture. But what about San Francisco’s kid culture? In her new book, “Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco,” Katie Burke explores the experience of kids ages five to nine living in one of the country’s most iconic cultural hubs.
The book also includes thoughtful discussion questions designed to draw laughs, explore various topics from silly to serious, and facilitate discussion.

Writer of Noe Kids, a column of kid profiles for San Francisco neighborhood newspaper The Noe Valley Voice, Katie Burke brings city kids’ personalities and perspectives to the page, leading readers to see the joys and challenges to being a San Francisco kid.
One five-year-old tries to articulate the city’s aroma, “I smell a delicious smell, and it always smells like San Francisco. I don’t know what the smell is, so I can’t really tell it to people, but it smells different from ice cream.”

But it isn’t all about parks and ice cream. Drawing on her experience being an aunt to six nieces and two nephews (all of whom grew up in major cities), Burke unearths an often hidden and unasked perspective on the city’s more complicated subjects –– from homelessness to immigrant parents. By leaning in and crouching down to see a child’s point of view, Burke shows us a part of San Francisco we never knew.

More about Urban Playground

Have you ever wondered what it’s like being a kid in San Francisco? Are you raising a kid in this or another urban center? San Francisco life is full of thrills and bummers, both for kids and the adults who love them.

In Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco, Katie Burke explores the experience of kids ages five to nine living in this place—what makes San Francisco special for kids and why some are over it.

Writer of Noe Kids, her column of kid profiles for San Francisco neighborhood newspaper The Noe Valley Voice, Katie Burke brings city kids’ personalities and perspectives to the page, leading readers to see the joys and challenges inherent to being a San Francisco kid.

Just when the book suggests that parks and ice cream are all any kid needs, you will turn the page to find a child’s appreciation for the Golden Gate Bridge or the Ferry Building Farmers Market.

The picture isn’t all aglow: the significant homeless population weighs on San Francisco children’s hearts, and the city is too noisy for some. But for the most part, they will tell you it is a pretty great place to live.

Urban Playground
What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco
Katie Burke | April 7, 2020 | SparkPress
Paperback | 978-1-68463-016-5 | $16.95
E-Book | 978-1-68463-017-2 | $9.95
Family & Relationships, Juvenile Nonfiction, and Social Science

Praise for Urban Playground

“In this charming, warm-hearted, often very funny book, Katie Burke takes us into the minds of children–a place we should all spend more time! Not only a wonderfully insightful kid’s eye guide to San Francisco, Urban Playground is also an interactive manual for getting into the minds of your own—and your friends’—children. Reading its sweet—and sometimes quirky—interviews , is to see San Francisco with the freshest eyes possible.”

Janis Cooke Newman, author of A Master Plan for Rescue

“San Francisco as seen through the eyes of its youngest denizens. More than just an insider’s guide to places parents should take their kids in the city, Katie Burke’s stories are a revelation about the lives, imaginations and dreams of our future generation. Kids really do say the darndest things.”

Scott James, journalist and author of San Francisco Chronicle bestsellers SoMa and The Sower

“If you’re seeking the honest truth from kids, you will find few better resources than Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco, by San Francisco writer Katie Burke. Burke’s StoryCorps-like interviews, quoting kids on everything from pupusas to Pride Week, reveal that the Bay Area remains a fertile ground for smart, confident, and fun-loving kids. Says a seven-year-old girl who’s on the road to becoming an archaeologist, “It usually takes about maybe a month or a year to dig up one dinosaur.” After reading this book, I wouldn’t be surprised if she or another San Francisco kid figured out how to dig one up sooner!”

Sally Smith, Editor and Co-Publisher, Noe Valley Voice

“Children make the best tour guides. In Katie Burke’s lively Urban Playground series, young city-dwellers share how they experience all aspects of city life, from restaurants, holidays, people and parks to pets, schools, sports, shops and activities. Their observations are moving and thought-provoking, and reveal what makes a city interesting and unique. This book will appeal to adults and kids who wish to see (and re-see) San Francisco.”

Christina Clancy, author of The Second Home

“A fascinating peek into the minds of San Francisco’s children. They are more insightful, creative and weird—in the best of ways! — than I’d ever imagined.”

Julia Scheeres, author of A Thousand Lives

“Katie Burke is a gifted writer. This book, about and partly told by San Francisco children, chronicles San Francisco and what makes the city special, but it also reminds us what it is like to be young, excited, open-minded, and curious. The children’s insights on holidays to heroes to homework apply to children and adults alike. A wonderful book for adults and children.”

Will Marks, San Francisco parent

“With an inviting cover, Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco, invites a multi-generational exchange on the joys and hardships of living in one of America’s greatest cities. Author Katie Burke introduces the reader to a multicultural point-of-view that is current and insightful, as each chapter introduces a new voice, followed by discussion questions. What makes this an important work is its honest recording of children’s voices, their fears and dreams. It is a poignant reminder that family is defined in many ways.”

Johnnie Bernhard, author of A Good Girl, How We Came to Be, and Sisters of the Undertow

“How can we ask our children to walk a mile in another’s shoes without insight into other kids’ lives? And how can we teach empathy without them walking that mile in their mind? This book provides a window into the lives of children and, through them, into a city. The stories are relatable and paired with fun questions to get a conversation started.”

Amy Baker, San Francisco parent

This delightful book of interviews of important San Franciscans — grade-school kids — works on so many levels because it is by, about, and for them and speaks in their voices. Interlocutor and wordsmith Katie Burke introduces herself as Aunt Katie. She is not, however, the auntie with apron and spoon in hand, but rather an imaginative, zany and fun friend who coaxes, respects and reflects the whimsy and honesty of the kids.

Joanna Biggar, author of Melanie’s Song

“With so much to see and do, it’s easy for anyone to fall in love with San Francisco. Katie Burke’s new book beautifully captures the wonder of this great city through the lens of San Francisco’s most inquisitive residents—our children.”

Rafael Mandelman, District 8 Supervisor

As the parent of two small kids, I cannot wait to explore San Francisco with them after reading Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco. Katie Burke’s writing captures the unique voice of each child she interviews, truly bringing to life the diversity of the city and giving the reader tons of ideas for things to do. Every guidebook features sites like the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39, but now my itinerary will include the Mission Pool, Bi-Rite for ice cream, Green Apple Books, Japantown for sushi, Hop Oast Brew Pub for hot dogs and hamburgers—and maybe even a day trip to Treasure Island! Even if a trip to San Francisco isn’t in the future, this book is still a fantastic resource for parents due to the discussion questions at the end of each interview. I’ve already used a couple of them with my own kids, and it’s been eye-opening to hear their answers to questions I would have never thought to ask. Every city needs a book like this one, which allows reader of all ages to experience it through the eyes of a child.

Megan Holt, Ph.D., Executive Director of One Book One New Orleans

“When I was going through teacher training, one of our instructors urged us not to ask children who they wanted to be when they grew up. The only appropriate response to such a question would be ‘I already am.’ Urban Playground shows that one does not need to come of age to have a strong personality. The fifty kids interviewed live with single parents or split time between two parents, have two moms, two dads, or one of each. Some have special needs. All kids are all presented in their own terms without any sense of ‘othering.’ The kids in this book just are, in all their silly, poignant, and very own specifics. One has a parrot named Gobble. One invents not just a new holiday, but what names will be in different countries. They come from neighborhoods all over San Francisco; readers will delight in recognizing common landmarks shared by disparate personalities. The wonderfully illogical and insightful things they say will fuel delight and introspection.”

Monya Baker, San Francisco science editor

More about Katie Burke

Katie Burke is the author of Urban Playground (SparkPress, 2020), a book featuring San Francisco kids ages five to nine. She writes Noe Kids, a monthly column for The Noe Valley Voice, featuring kids ages four to twelve who live in Noe Valley. Katie has taught creative writing to children and adults in Kenya, South Africa, and San Francisco. She travels annually to New Orleans, and her writing expresses her appreciation for San Francisco and New Orleans’ eccentric characters. Also a family law attorney, Katie writes quarterly judicial and attorney profiles for San Francisco Attorney Magazine. Her other publications include HarperCollins, the L.A. Times, KQED Perspectives, and SoMa Literary Review.


In an interview, KATIE BURKE can discuss:

  • How you can relate to children in your own life and hear their stories
  • The unique challenges of conveying a child’s perspective
  • The value of a child’s perspective, on everything from ice cream to the Golden Gate Bridge

An Interview with KATIE BURKE

1. Why do you love talking with kids? How did you realize this was something you wanted to do?

Kids have such a fresh way of looking at the world. They are so hilarious because they are mostly unfiltered, calling everything as they see it with their observations and immense feelings. For example, I still laugh out loud every time I recall my niece Molly, five years old at the time, looking up at me as I was opening and closing web browsers, and saying in a surprised tone, “You’re a smart girl, Katie!”

I knew I wanted to write a book featuring city kids when my publisher and then-writing coach, Brooke Warner, came up with the concept. She had read some of my other writing, some of which centered around characters I’d encountered in San Francisco and New Orleans, and some of which I’d written for and about city kids. Brooke thought it would be great to put a book out that featured city kids and invited children everywhere to read about these city kids with their significant adults. We started in San Francisco, since that is where I live.

2. Are there certain answers that stand out more to you than others? How so? Do you have a favorite “kid response” you received while working on this book?

I laughed so hard when Liam, five years old at the time, answered that he was moving to Michigan after living in San Francisco “for two weeks” (he’d actually lived here for a year) because “my mom wants to move there, and I always agree with my mom.” His interview topic was heroes, whom he identified as people who save the city. He said he used to save the entire city, but “I’m not that guy anymore.” I just love it when little ones give earnest answers without any clue how funny they are.

3. What do you think most adults don’t understand about kids? Do you have any advice for how to communicate with them better?

Well, as someone who is childless by choice, I am always the first to say I don’t judge most parents, since parenting is an impossible job. But I do think that as a doting aunt to eight children and a writer who regularly interviews children, I can say that adults would do best by the children in their lives if they listened more and considered their children wise. When kids speak, I know they are generally revealing the truth, with some exceptions where an adult has groomed the child to mimic prepared statements. My experience with children overwhelmingly reveals their purity of thought and feeling. Like all of us, they just want to love and be loved, and they are better at showing that than adults are.

4. What makes the kids you interview uniquely San Franciscan? How do they differ from other kids in the same age group, potentially living in other cities or even the country?

San Francisco kids are sophisticated in a way that you’ll see in other urban centers like New York City, but where you don’t find in most places. Unless otherwise conditioned by an adult, all children are natural truth tellers, often eager to share their observations and ask questions to help clarify the world as they discover it.

For San Francisco kids, this means they know and share a lot about cultural events, technology, and serious issues like homelessness. They just seem to know things well beyond their years. For example, when I asked Brad, nine years old at the time, whether there was anything he didn’t like about San Francisco, he answered, “Well, it’s super expensive. Whenever I want to buy something from my allowance, I have to use up most of my allowance. But I like Amazon because it makes everything cheap.”

5. What brought you to San Francisco? We know it was a childhood dream for you to live in the city––did it live up to your kid expectations? How has your relationship with the city changed throughout working on this book and seeing San Francisco through the eyes of its young residents?

When my Aunt Nancy took me to dinner on my tenth birthday and we spoke about my love of San Francisco and my desire to live here someday, I don’t think I had ever been here. I have no idea what I had in mind then. I just know I’d been telling people I wanted to live here when I grew up, and she was the first to say she could see me being very happy in San Francisco, since the culture and the politics felt aligned with who I was at that age, living in conservative Phoenix, Arizona.

As I grew up, I began developing more specific expectations of San Francisco, though they still hovered mostly around a gut feeling that it was just “my place,” so to speak—home in a way Phoenix never was or could be. In 1999, when I was living back in Phoenix after completing college in Connecticut and a master’s degree at Arizona State University, I was within months of moving to San Francisco when I said to my friend James, “I’ve built up this city in my mind for fifteen years. What if it doesn’t live up to my dreams?” He replied, “Your love of San Francisco will make it the city of your dreams.” That’s exactly right, although the city is a phenomenal place all on its own, with or without my dreams to boost it.

Speaking with San Francisco kids hasn’t changed my view of the city, but it has made me realize that for all the city’s cultural appeal and educational opportunities, what most kids love most about San Francisco is the park closest to their home and their favorite ice cream shop. Also, many are distressed about homelessness and neighborhoods that they consider dirty. Being low to the ground seems to give kids a unique perspective on both. This hasn’t changed my view of the city, but it is sobering to hear children share their fears and displeasure over some of our city’s less glamorous features.

6. If you had to move to another city, where would you go and why?

It’s hard for me to imagine living anywhere except San Francisco, but if I had to live elsewhere, I could see myself being very happy in New York City. Though Brooklyn is on trend, I still love Manhattan best—mostly because that’s where I spend most of my time when I’m in New York, and it is where three of my nieces and one nephew live, but also because I thrive in dense urban centers. I like the pace and options cities like New York and San Francisco provide.

I spend a lot of time in New Orleans, and I love that city and will likely be a continuing regular visitor, but I don’t think I would want to live in Louisiana or in any place, like New Orleans, where you really need a car to live optimally.