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Rodari Gianni
The Adventures of Cipollino, the Little Onion
Il Romanzo di Cipollino

Rodari Gianni (19201980) The Adventures of Cipollino, the Little OnionIl Romanzo di Cipollino

Gianni Rodari was the most distinguished and original of writers for children in Italy in the 20th century; he has been widely translated abroad and is greatly respected among scholars and cognoscenti. While his subject matter is unequivocally identifiable with the 20th century, his connection with the fairy tale resides in the markedly fantastic inclination of his work and in his (often parody) reuse of traditional forms and devices. Brought up in the era of fascism in Italy, Rodari began reading philosophers, including Marx, while still at school and was always drawn to novel and radical ideas. Musically gifted, his career was begun as a teacher, but towards the end of World War II he joined the Communist Party and participated in the Italian Resistance movement. Like so many Italian intellectuals, he saw utopian marxism as the country's political salvation, a guarantee against future authoritarian oppression. After the war he committed himself full‐time to the communist cause, launching a new Party journal, L'ordine nuovo, in 1945. So began his lifelong work as a journalist.

In 1947 he began to write for the leading communist daily newspaper, L'Unità, in Milan, one assignment being the composition of some pieces for children. In 1950 the Party sent him to Rome to co edit Il pioniere (The Pioneer), a weekly paper for the young, whose future he was dedicated to improving. The 1950s were an intensely creative time for Rodari, during which he published hundreds of poems and stories for children, as a journalist moving away from communist control but still working for the press of the Left.

His first book, The Book of Rhymes (1950), contained comic verses in the manner of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and the second, Il romanzo di Cipollino (1951), was a fantastic narrative about a tyrant prince, but for him Nonsense and fantasy were methods of addressing the political and social evils of the time. Throughout the decade the Church saw him as a threat to youthful minds and urged the banning of his books in schools. The eminent publisher Einaudi of Turin first handled Rodari's work in 1960, a turning point, and during the 1960s Rodari worked in close contact with both children and teachers through the Educational Cooperation Movement. In the same period he helped to advance educational reforms.

Some of his most noted and popular works now began to appear; Telephone Tales (1962; a selection, 1965), the brief stories of a commercial traveler nightly phoning his family, illustrates both Rodari's concern with contemporary reality and the surreal quality of his humor. The Book of Errors (1964), A Pie in the Sky (1966; 1971), and Tales Told by a Machine (1973; a selection, 1976) followed amongst many others. In 1973 he published an important personal statement and wittily probing exploration in The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories, in which he illustrates the power and riches of the imagination and elucidates his own ideas and methodology; he shows language to be as important as imagination, and sometimes synonymous with it. The work was to become a touchstone handbook for teachers and parents. In it Rodari repeatedly discusses the pleasures and uses of familiar fairy tales, ancient and modern, from Little Red Riding Hood to Pinocchio. He refers to Italo Calvino, whose life and work exhibited some significant parallels with his own.

From the 1950s, this eminent close contemporary had been evolving new approaches to fantasy and fairy tale narratives in his major works for adults, as well as minor pieces for children, thus establishing a liberating alternative to the prevailing literary mood of neo-realism. Calvino had been responsible, too, for the first compendious national collection of folk tales, rewritten from their regional dialects into Italian (Fiabe italiane, 1956), a revelatory work for Rodari as for the cultural establishment. Some of Rodari's later titles clearly demonstrate his kinships within the fairy tale family tree: Marionettes at liberty (1974), Pinocchio's Rhyme (1974), Twice Upon a Time There was Baron Lamberto (1978), and The Phantom Gondola (1978). The imaginative inheritance which Rodari elaborated and enriched did not, for him, provide a diverting escape route but instead an empowering and liberating approach to civilized modern life. Rodari's purpose was not to disguise and sweeten through fantasy, but to use imagination to teach children the truth about reality.

Russia, 1992, Cipollino

Russia, 2004, Cipollino on car

Russia, 2006, 50th Anniv of Fanny Pictures magasine

USSR, 1960, Characters from children's book and pupil

USSR, 1961.12.08, Characters from children's book and pupils


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