Tantrums, tears and fun

The books of Tony Ross are packed with humour and misdeeds that are engaging to young children. Use them to develop Communication and Language skills that involve attentive listening and self-expression.

Tony Ross's Little Princess stories, which started more than 30 years ago, are now regarded as modern children's classics, as with plenty of tears, smiles, tantrums and fun, they explore the world of the royal pre-schooler.

Children and parents will recognise the universal themes of I want my potty, I want my mum, I want to do it by myself and I don't want to go to bed. As author and illustrator, Tony Ross has contributed to over 3,000 books including the Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon, and children's books by David Walliams. There are also four series of animated versions of the Little Princess stories broadcast on Channel 5's early morning Milkshake! programme.

Here I examine Communication and Language skills including listening attentively to stories, responding to what children hear with questions, recognising and repeating refrains, following instructions, making up their own stories, and drawing pictures of themselves in some of the Little Princess scenarios.

Playing and exploring

  • Children enjoy sharing some Tony Ross books together
  • They recognise and join in with repeated refrains
  • They play with rhyming words and phrases.

I want….

Read a selection of stories from the Little Princess series that all start with the words ‘I want…’ such as ‘I want my potty/mum/dummy/tooth/dinner’ or ‘I want to do it by myself/a friend/a tent/a party’ and so on. Help children to join in refrains and repeated phrases in the story. Talk about the different titles and if the children can relate to what the little princess is saying and feeling. Act out some of the stories, wearing crowns of course (see below). Ask children to share which is their favourite story. Can they explain why?

I don't want….

Try some of these Little Princess stories: I don't want to go to bed, I don't want to wash my hands or I don't want to comb my hair. Alternatively, look at Don't Do That! which explores the habit of picking noses. Explain that ‘don't’ is a contraction of ‘do not’. Help the children to list some other things that they ‘do not’ want to do or that they know they shouldn't do.

Little princess/prince for the day

Let children take turns to be crowned little princess or prince for the day on their birthday or other special occasion. Make a special cardboard crown for the birthday girl or boy to wear, based on Tony Ross's illustrations. Everybody must do what the prince or princess ‘wants’ (for a limited time only).

Centipede's 100 Shoes

In this story, Centipede stubs his toe and decides to start wearing shoes. At the shoe shop he has to buy 100 shoes but then to his surprise, his mother points out that he actually only has 42 feet. The story involves several mathematical problems – pairing, halving, counting, subtracting, etc. Ask the children to listen carefully and using the illustrations count up the feet, shoes, and socks that Centipede gives away to his ‘friends with fewer legs’ – five spiders, four beetles, two woodlice, a grasshopper and a pair of worms. Encourage children to play in the role-play shoe shop, sorting shoes and socks.

Naughty Nigel

This funny and slightly subversive story features the character of Naughty Nigel who pretends that he cannot hear properly and is always misunderstanding instructions. When he is asked to ‘wash the dishes’ he ‘washes the fishes’ instead and when he's asked to ‘get his hat’ he decides to ‘paint the cat’. Help children to recognise the rhyming words in the text. Can they think of ways to ‘misunderstand’ some of your instructions? Try ‘bring me a ball’ and see what they come up with.

Rita's Rhino

In this story Rita is desperate for a pet and won't be content with a flea in a jar or a tadpole. She goes to the zoo and invites a rhino to come home with her and live in her very small flat but it's tricky to keep him secret, particularly hiding his poop. Use the story to talk about pets with the children and whether it was fair of Rita to treat the rhino as she did.

Crown children prince or princess for a day on special occasions such as birthdays

Active learning

  • Children choose a favourite book and create a mathematical bar chart
  • They concentrate on learning a rhyme to remind them to wash their hands
  • They are challenged to try to learn to tie their shoe laces

Choose four or five books from the Little Princess series and ask children to vote for their favourite. Remind them that they can only vote once. Record the results on a bar chart.

Washing hands

Use I don't want to wash my hands to explain to children why it is important to wash your hands before eating and so get rid of germs. Take children in small groups to practise washing their hands properly. Teach them this rhyme to encourage effective hand-washing:

Wash your hands, left and right, All the germs are out of sight. Wash your fingers, one by one, Now they're clean, the work is done.

Provide real shoes or a wooden shoe lacing board for children to try and learn to tie their own shoe laces. Challenge them to keep trying and persevere if they find it difficult. Encourage children who can tie shoe laces to help those who are struggling. Talk about other ways to fasten shoes.

Provide real shoes or a wooden shoe lacing board for children to try and learn to tie their own shoe laces. Challenge them to keep trying and persevere if they find it difficult.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children invent some new ‘I want…’ stories for the Little Princess
  • They compare and contrast different books about going to bed
  • They invent a new story character and draw a picture.

Ask children to think of some new things for the Little Princess to ‘want’ or ‘not want’ and write some new adventures. Act out the stories in small groups.

Make a selection of other books about not wanting to go to bed such as I don't want to go to bed by Julie Sykes, Can't you sleep, Little Bear by Martin Waddell and The Baby who wouldn't go to bed by Helen Cooper. Ask the children to compare the stories. Which do they think is the best story? What do they do when they don't want to go to bed?

Challenge children to invent a new character for a story about going to bed. Ask them to draw a picture of their character. Will it be a boy or girl or an animal? Will they look happy, sad or tired? Choose one of the character drawings to star in a new story written together as a class.

Enabling environment

Open a shoe shop inspired by Centipede's 100 Shoes in the role-play area. Provide lots of different types of shoes and socks for children to try on, fasten and walk around in. Add a foot measure borrowed from a shoe shop or make your own using a ruler.

Compare sizes of feet, socks and shoes. Sort the socks and shoes into matching pairs.

Are there enough for Centipede? Let children use shoe boxes and bags to pack shoes and socks away at the end of the day.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

Children will develop an understanding of ‘more’ and ‘fewer’ when comparing sets of numbers as they vote for their favourite Little Princess book and handling mathematical problems as they share Centipede's 100 Shoes (Maths). Learning to wash their hands and fasten shoes will help children to ‘manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully’ and ‘show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements’ (Physical Development).

Key points

  • Children model listening skills by listening to each other and develop two-channelled attention
  • They join in with repeated refrains
  • The activities help encourage children to develop their own narratives and illustrations

Key vocabulary:

  • listen, repeat, want, don't, how, why, rhyme, shoes, laces

Useful resources

  • A collection of books written or illustrated by Tony Ross

  • I can tie my own Shoelaces by Oakley Grahams (Imagine That)

  • Two interesting articles by Tony Ross about how to go about drawing different characters: https://bit.ly/2JdlcBS and https://bit.ly/2VtV6kj

  • Cardboard, scissors, sink, soap, towels, wooden shoe lacing board, paper, pencils, pens, lots of different sizes and types of shoes, shoe measure, ruler, shoe boxes, bags

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