Black & white photo of children selling newspapers
Granger, NYC/The Granger Collection

The Newsies

Meet the gutsy working kids who fought back against their bosses—and won! 

Based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899

By Mack Lewis

Learning Objective: Students will read a historical fiction play about a newsboys’ strike in 1899 and identify how kids’ voices can be powerful. 

Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50


This play shows that kids can be powerful. As you read, look for what the characters do to bring about important changes.

🗞 Prologue 🗞

N1: In 1898, there were no radios, TVs, or computers.

N2: Newspapers were the only way to find out what was going on in the world. 

N3: New York’s two big papers were the New York World and the New York Journal

N1: Every day, these papers were sold on the street by kids called “newsies.” 

N2: Newsies worked from morning to night. 

N3: They were poor and often homeless. 

N1: Newsies worked to feed themselves and their families. 

N2: When newspaper owners stopped treating them fairly—

Crowd: —the newsies stood up for their rights.

  🗞 Scene 1 🗞

A newspaper office, New York City, April 1898

Ani: Is this where you sign up? 

N3: The newsies look her over. 

Rose: Why ain’t you at school? 

Ani: I have to help my family.

Sully: Don’t we all. 

Ani: How do I sell these?

Boots: You buy two newspapers for a penny, but then sell them for a penny apiece.

Rose: You double your money. 

N1: Boots goes to the window. 

Manager: How many?

Boots: I’ll take 100.

N2: Boots hands over 50 cents. 

Manager: Sorry, kid. Price for 100 papers is now 60 cents. 

Boots: I won’t earn as much! 

Manager: But these papers will sell like hotcakes. Look at the headline: “America Declares War!” 

Boots: Then give me 200!

N3: Ani and Rose buy some too.

Library of Congress

Kids at work 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of children went to work. They earned money to help support their families. Some sold newspapers, flowers, or candy on the street. Others took dangerous jobs in factories and mines.

🗞 Scene 2 🗞

Later that day

Boots: These’ll be easy to sell.

Ani: How do you know?

Rose: Cuz the news is good. 

Boots (shouting): Hot off the press! America at war! 

Ani: How is war good news? 

Rose: It’s good news for us. Boring news doesn’t sell papers. 

Boots: Get your papers here! War with Spain! 

Man 1: War? I’ll buy one.

N1: Another person walks up.

Woman: I’ll take two!

N2: In just a few minutes, Boots sells a dozen papers.

Rose: Now you try, Ani. 

Ani: Read all about it! War with Spain!

Worker 1: I’ll take one. 

Ani: Here you go.

Bettmann/Getty Images

Packed with people 

In the late 1800s, many farmers and immigrants came to New York City in search of better jobs. The smells of food and factory smoke hung in the air. The streets were always very crowded—and often filthy. 

🗞 Scene 3 🗞

July 1899

N3: The war has ended. 

N1: The newsies stand on a bustling street corner. People walk right past them.

Ani: No one’s buying papers.

Boots: There’s no more war. 

Rose: People don’t care when the big news is a cat up a tree. 

Boots: I’m callin’ it quits.

Ani: I still have 40 papers left. If I stop now, I’ll lose money!

Rose: Sorry, Ani.

N2: Ani stands alone and dejected on the street. Nobody buys her papers.

🗞 Scene 4 🗞

The next morning

N3: Rose and Boots enter a room packed with newsies. 

N1: Sully speaks to the crowd.

Sully: The newspaper owners said they would drop the price once the war was over. 

Crowd: Yeah!

Sully: Did they? 

Crowd: No! 

Sully: The time has come to take a stand. I say we strike! 

Crowd: Strike! Strike! Strike!

Sully: Stick together. Nobody sells papers. If you see anyone selling papers, tear the papers up!

🗞 Scene 5 🗞

A few hours later

N2: Rose looks for Ani. 

N3: She finds her in a deserted alley.

Rose: Where have you been?

Ani: I was out all night trying to sell my papers. 

N1: Ani begins to cry. 

Ani: I still have 32 left. 

Rose: There’s good news, Ani. We’re going on strike.

Ani: We’re going to stop selling papers?

Rose: Right. We’ll force the newspaper owners to lower our price back to 50 cents. 

Ani: I won’t earn anything!

Rose: Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little up front to get more later.

Jacob A. Riis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nowhere to go 

Many orphaned kids slept on the streets, in empty, unsafe buildings, or in stables.

🗞 Scene 6 🗞

A week later

N2: The Journal was owned by William Randolph Hearst. 

N3: Hearst was one of the most powerful men in New York.

Hearst: What’s the story? 

Assistant: The newsies’ strike is hitting us hard. 

Hearst: We’re not selling as many papers?

Assistant: No. Our sales have dropped.

Hearst: I’ve worked too hard to let this paper be ruined by a bunch of brats!

🗞 Scene 7 🗞

Central Park, August 1899 

N1: Ani and Rose pass out flyers.

Rose: Is that your stomach growling? When was the last time you ate?

N2: Ani shrugs. Rose hands out another flyer. 

Man 2 (reading): “Please don’t buy the World or Journal newspapers.” What’s this?

Rose: We’re on strike. 

N3: The man crumples it up.

Ani: This will never work.

N1: A factory worker passes by and gives them each a penny. 

Worker 2: Stay strong, kids. 

Ani: Thank you! 

N2: Boots runs up, excited. 

Boots: All the newsies have started a protest. Come on!

🗞 Scene 8 🗞

The Brooklyn Bridge

N3: Ani, Rose, and Boots join a crowd of 1,000 children crammed onto the bridge. 

N1: Traffic is at a standstill. 

Crowd: Newsies on strike!

Sully: We demand a fair deal!

N2: A wagon carrying papers tries to get through the crowd.

N3: Newsies swarm the wagon like ants on a hot dog. 

Boots: Get those papers! 

N1: The protesters overturn the wagon. They throw papers over the side of the bridge. 

N2: The driver runs off. 

Sully: You tell Mr. Hearst that we ain’t givin’ up! 

Crowd: Wooo! Woooo! Yeah!

N3: Hearst’s car pulls up. The crowd gets quiet. 

Hearst: Listen up! I’m offering a compromise.The papers will cost the same. But if you go back to work, I’ll buy back every paper you don’t sell. 

N1: The children murmur to one another.

Ani: Is that a good deal?

Boots: Sure it is. When you can’t sell your papers, you’ll get your money back. 

N2: Ani calls out.

Ani: I like it!

Rose: Me too! 

Sully: We’ll take it!

Crowd: Wooooo! Yeah! Yeah!

Bettmann/Getty Images

A changing world 

The newsies were part of a larger change in America. Around that time, all kinds of workers—including many kids—began to demand better treatment from their bosses.

🗞 Epilogue 🗞

Ani: Selling papers saved my family from homelessness. 

Rose: I got to go to school! 

Boots: You’re lucky. I had to work at the docks.

Sully: Life was still hard.

Ani: But the strike gave us power. It showed us that we had rights— 

Boots: —even though we were just kids.

N3: Back then, many children throughout the U.S. worked in unsafe jobs for little pay.

N1: Almost 40 years later, a law was passed to help them.

N2: Today, most kids can’t work until they’re 14 years old, and not more than 18 hours during a school week. 

N3: And all children have the right to an education. 

Boots: Those laws didn’t pass in our lifetime. 

Ani: But our bravery helped pave the way.

This play was originally published in the December 2020 / January 20201 issue.  

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Read two Storyworks articles about workers’ rights.

Our nonfiction article “Out of the Burning Darkness” from the March/April 2020 issue of Storyworks is about a terrible coal mine accident and details how it fueled the movement that banned child labor in the U.S. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is another pivotal event in the history of workers’ rights. Read Out of the Flames,” an article about the event in the February 2019 issue.

View more pictures.

This play’s opening image is a photo by Lewis Hine, a reformer who took thousands of pictures of child laborers working in America. Have your students take a closer look at his powerful work in the Library of Congress collection.  

More About the Story


vocabulary, fluency, key idea, inference, figurative language, cause and effect, key ideas, character, plot, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors


This historical fiction play retells the events of the true Newboys Strike of 1899. It also presents the idea that kids can stand up for their rights when treated unfairly.


The play has eight chronological scenes, a prologue, and an epilogue. Extended captions provide additional information about the time period.


Some language is colloquial, in the voice of the Newsies (e.g. “Why ain’t you at school?”) The play includes some similes and idioms, and a few challenging terms (e.g. sacrifice, compromise).

Knowledge Demands 

The concept of a strike and the negotiations on the price of the newspapers might be challenging for some readers.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Engage Students, Preview Text Features, and Watch a Video

  • Ask students: At what age do you think it’s OK for young people to start working at a job? Whether you are in class or teaching virtually, students can write down what they think and hold up their answers. Call on a few students to explain what they wrote. Then tell the class that a long time ago, some kids had to work instead of going to school. 
  • Invite students to browse through the article in print or online. Have them look at the pictures throughout the play. Ask:
  • Look at the image on pages 22-23. What do you see? Who do you think the “newsies” from the title of this play are? (The image shows a group of kids holding stacks of newspapers. The style of clothes and the fact that the photo is black-and-white show that it is from an earlier time period. The “newsies” were probably kids who sold newspapers a long time ago.)
  • Now look at the images and captions throughout the play. The photos were taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What do they tell you about life in the city back then, especially for kids? (It looks like city life was harsh and difficult back then. The photos show crowded, dirty streets. A child is working in a factory. Young orphans are sleeping outside. Protest signs show that many kids who worked wanted to be treated better and wanted to go to school.)
  • Show or assign the video “In the Time of the Newsies: 1890-1915.” (It's available in your Resources tab.)

Preview Vocabulary

  • Show or assign the Vocabulary Slideshow to preview challenging words in the play. Reinforce learning before or after reading with the Vocabulary Skill Builder (available in your Resources tab). Highlighted words: bustling, dejected, strike, deserted, sacrifice, crammed, swarm, compromise, murmur
  • Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box for the class.

2. Reading the Play

Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class or in groups. Remote learning tip: If students are learning from home, have them video chat to read the play in small groups, doubling up on some of the small roles if necessary. Alternatively, have pairs of students read it aloud with each other on a phone call. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions. 

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • According to the Prologue, who were the newsies, and why were they important? (inference) The newsies were kids who sold newspapers on the streets in the late 1800s. They were important because during this time, the only way to learn what was happening in the world was to read the newspaper–one you could buy from a newsie.
  • In Scene 1, the manager at the newspaper office states that the papers will “sell like hotcakes.” What does he mean? Why does he say this? (Note: Hotcakes are pancakes.) (figurative language) The manager is suggesting the newspapers will be very popular, just like hotcakes, and sell very fast. This is because the newspaper’s headline is “America Declares War!” People would want to buy the newspaper to read about this.
  • In Scene 2, why does Rose say that war is “good news for us”? What change occurs by Scene 3 that’s bad for the newsies? (cause and effect) Rose says the war is good for them because if the news is dramatic, they will be able to sell more newspapers. However, by Scene 3 the war has ended. Because there’s no interesting news, it’s harder for the newsies to sell their newspapers.
  • Why do the newsies decide to strike? What do they hope will happen by going on strike? (key ideas) The newsies decide to strike because the newspaper owners broke their promise to decrease the price newsies paid for the papers once the war ended. The newsies can barely make any money. By striking, they will stop selling newspapers, and the newspaper owners won’t be able to make money. The newsies hope that this will force the owners to pay the newsies fairly to sell newspapers.
  • In Scene 6, what do you learn about William Randolph Hearst? What kind of person do you think he is? (character) William Randolph Hearst is a very powerful newspaper owner. He seems like a mean and greedy person, who thinks the suffering, brave newsies are “a bunch of brats.”
  • In Scene 8, how does the strike end? Why was the strike effective? (plot) The strike ends when Hearst agrees to buy back the papers the newsies haven’t sold by the end of the day so they won’t lose money. The strike was effective because all the newsies stuck together and refused to sell papers. This caused Hearst to lose money. He had to give in and make a deal with the newsies so that sales of newspapers would go back up and he would make more money again.
  • According to the Epilogue, what impact did the strike have on the lives of the newsies? What impact did it have on the future of workers’ rights? (theme) Even though many kids’ lives were still difficult after the strike, the strike gave the newsies power that they didn’t have before. It showed that kids had rights. The newsies’ bravery helped pave the way for kids gaining more protections and rights in the future. Now, most kids have to be at least 14 to work, and all children must attend school.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • In Scene 5, Rose says, “Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little up front to get more later.” What happens in the play that supports this statement? (theme) In the play, the newsies take a big risk by striking. They could lose their jobs or be punished by their employer. They also don’t earn any money while they are striking. Later, their sacrifice pays off, because their strike forces their boss, William Randolph Hearst, to compromise and buy back the unsold papers. 

3. SEL Focus

Young Changemakers

The newsies’ strike in this play shows that kids can be powerful even if they are young. Ask: Can you think of other examples of ways kids have taken action to make changes? Have you ever done something to try to make a change or improve the world around you? Perhaps you’re a committed recycler who cares about the planet, or a good friend who tries to help when someone is having a hard time. Answers will vary. Students might have heard of changemakers like climate activist Greta Thunberg or Marley Dias, who started #1000BlackGirlBooks. Closer to home, they might know of kids who have made changes in their school or community. Finally, kids might talk about ways they have helped others during the pandemic or at other times. Remind your students that even small actions can be powerful.

4. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Theme

Assign the Theme Skill Builder (available in your Resources tab) and have students complete it in class or for homework. This new interactive Skill Builder slide deck will walk students through understanding what theme is and identifying it in the play. They will then be prepared to respond to the writing prompt on page 27. 

Great Ideas for Remote Learning

  • Gather a group in your remote classroom for a virtual play reading. Share the play on your screen and assign parts. To keep track of who is reading which part, students might change their screen names to their character’s name. Then read the play aloud together. Encourage students to be expressive as they read! Repeat with other groups until all students have had a chance to participate.
  • Have students write a draft of their response to the writing prompt on page 27 on a Google doc, then exchange drafts with a partner in the class. They can make suggestions on the doc in “suggesting” mode.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

To help students visualize the different historical settings in which this play takes place and to draw them into the world of the play, show them archival images of outside a New York City newspaper office (Scene 1), Central Park (Scene 7), and the Brooklyn Bridge (Scene 8).

For ELL Students

This play has several words that can be used both as nouns and verbs. Point out these words: strike, protest, swarm, and murmur. Use the words in sentences in both ways. Then go back to the play and ask students to note whether the words are used as nouns or verbs. 

For Advanced Readers

In the epilogue, Ani says that the bravery of the newsies helped pave the way for new rights and laws protecting children. Have students write a thank-you letter to the newsies explaining how different their own lives might be if the newsies hadn’t stood up to the newspaper owners.