*Narrators 1, 2, 3 (N1, N2, N3)
Crowd, the whole class
*Ani, a 12-year-old girl who just moved to New York City
*Rose, Sully, Boots, newsies— kids who sell newspapers
Meet the gutsy working kids who fought back against their bosses—and won!
Based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899
Learning Objective: Students will read a historical fiction play about a newsboys’ strike in 1899 and identify how kids’ voices can be powerful.
🗞 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.
🗞 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.
🗞 Scene 3 🗞
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.
Sully: Did they?
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.
🗞 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!
🗞 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.
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.
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
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).
The concept of a strike and the negotiations on the price of the newspapers might be challenging for some readers.
1. Preparing to Read
Engage Students, Preview Text Features, and Watch a Video
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)
3. SEL Focus
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
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).
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.
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.