Book by Katie Burke
Reviewed by John O’Grady
All of us are neck-deep, nearly drowning, in the volume of daily messaging. Yet, the internet must think we want more, pumping out a vast sea of digital content faster than we can navigate.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to close the lid on the laptop. But it shouldn’t take a pandemic—I’m pleased to report that, for me, it did not—to switch it up entirely. I reached for the newly published paperback, “Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco,” written by family law colleague Katie Burke.
And so, for a little while, I escaped into the land that little ones inhabit. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a kid in San Francisco? How distinctly refreshing it is to see the city all around us through fifty sweet and curious pairs of eyes belonging to children ages five to nine who have nothing to sell us.
You’ll meet J.P, aged nine, from Visitacion Valley, who thinks all orange-colored foods (except carrots) are terrific, and the same goes for the Golden State Warriors and the Golden Gate Bridge. And there’s Alex, who’s five, and can walk from home in NoPa to Golden Gate Park to examine insects…when he’s not too busy exploring Japantown. Seven-year-old Kimaya loves the library; she can speak Spanish and English and navigates the city in a wheelchair, always on the lookout for ice cream.
Intrigued by the book’s preface, I caught up with Katie Burke to ask a few questions from her perspective as the author.
Q: Why did you write the book?
I’ve been a writer since 2004, almost as long as I’ve been a lawyer. Throughout my writing career, I’ve written a lot about San Francisco and its real-life characters, all non-fiction. (You can’t make this stuff up, as they say!) A few years ago, I started writing to and for kids, starting with my six nieces and two nephews. In February 2017, my mom told me she had an idea for my upcoming birthday, which was that she would buy a subscription to StoryWorth so that I could write weekly stories for my nieces and nephews. Only my mom could put me to work and call it a birthday present!
But since I am a writer and I love my little nieces and nephews, I immediately said yes and spent the next year writing stories, all of which StoryWorth packaged into a beautiful three-volume set of books at the end of one year. Two years ago, I began writing a monthly column for The Noe Valley Voice with a feature story on a different child or set of siblings living in Noe Valley. Then I met my book publisher, who suggested I interview fifty San Francisco kids about growing up in the city and turn it into a book.
Q: What did you learn in writing it?
I already knew this, so it’s more a reinforced belief than a lesson, but so important to emphasize: All kids thrive on attention and our curiosity about them. Almost every child I interviewed asked me, “I’m going to be in a BOOK?” They felt so privileged to have their voices heard and validated in print. And I felt so honored to spotlight their lives and perspectives.
Q: What was your biggest surprise?
My biggest surprise was the surprise of many interviewees’ parents. For each interview, I left it to the child and their parent(s) whether to have the parent(s) listen in. Many parents who opted to attend were so enchanted with and amused by their children’s stories. A few told me afterward, “I had no idea about that” or “I knew about that but didn’t realize my kid was still thinking about it.”
I felt happy to foster conversational threads between these kids and their parents. That was my purpose in writing the book. That’s why I wrote five discussion questions after each profile, based on that child’s unique life circumstances, so kids and their significant adults can learn more about each other as they read the book together.
Dedicated to the children of San Francisco, “Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco,” by Katie Burke, is available through your local independent bookseller or on Amazon. By the way, all the children interviewed between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019 have one more thing in common…they got older.
John O’Grady leads a full-service estate and trust law firm in San Francisco. His practice includes estate planning & administration, probate, and trust litigation.