His books are constantly reprinted, and he has been the subject of several books in Italy, most recently a biography by the historian Vanessa Roghi. “He’s a timely author,” she said.
Born in a working-class family, Rodari briefly taught in a primary school. During World War II, he joined the Resistance and Italy’s Communist Party, and in 1947 he began working for L’Unità, the party’s newspaper, as a political reporter. There editors asked him to write the children’s section, because he was the only staff member who had ever worked with children.
His breakthrough came in 1960, with a collection of nursery rhymes that reached far beyond his typical politicized, leftist readership. “Telephone Tales,” published two years later, was an instant success. In 1971, the publisher Einaudi released a new edition of the “Telephone Tales” in its most prestigious book series, the Struzzi, dedicated to classics, placing Rodari side by side with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Italo Calvino.
Rodari worked at a pivotal moment for Italy’s education system and took a serious interest in pedagogy. In the 1960s, Italy’s schools were reformed to be more inclusive of poor and working-class children, but the changes sparked a conservative backlash. Rodari’s books, with their accessible style and jokes built around grammatical mistakes, were intended to empower disadvantaged children who weren’t exposed to books and formal speech at home.
“He wanted kids not to feel intimidated, to see mistakes as a tool to grow and as a creative moment,” Roghi, his biographer, said. She added that Rodari also contributed to the development of the Reggio approach, the educational philosophy born in Reggio Emilia after World War II, that saw the classroom as a self-educating community.