“I know quite well that the future will not be as beautiful as it is in a fairy tale. But that is not what counts. When they are little, children must stock up on optimism and trust for the challenge of life.” —Gianni Rodari
Gianni Rodari (1920-1980), who wrote hundreds of stories, poems, and songs for children, was born in 1920 in the town of Omegna in northern Italy. Over the course of his life, he worked as a teacher, an editor, and especially, as a journalist. Spared army service on account of ill health during WWII, he joined the Resistance and became a Communist Party member, and began writing for children in party-affiliated outlets in the 1950s. A Communist until the revelations about Stalin surfaced, Rodari maintained an interest in utopias.
Despite the fact that his books were banned by the Catholic Church, he won wide recognition, and in 1960 he collaborated with the Education Cooperation Movement to develop numerous games and exercises — helping children to compose riddles, to imagine what happens after the end of a familiar story, or what possibilities open up when a new ingredient is introduced. (For example, what a helicopter could mean for “Little Red Riding Hood.”)
His great respect for the intelligence of children is evinced in every aspect of his writing. Commenting on the child’s game peekaboo and how infants like to disappear the world by putting their hands over their eyes, he writes: “The philosopher who investigates the question of Being and Nothingness, using the capital letters that these respectable and profound concepts deserve, does not do anything substantially different than continue that children’s game at a higher level.”
As regards his stories, it’s unclear whether they’re intended for adults, teenagers, or precocious children, an ambiguity that attests to the universality of his work. He is remembered and loved in Italy the way English-speakers cherish Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak, and William Steig.
Telephone Tales (Coming Soon!)