European studies blog

23 October 2020

Gianni Rodari, the logic of fantasy (part 2)

This is the second blog post in a two-part series to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Italian children’s writer Gianni Rodari (1920-1980). You can read part 1 here.

“Tutti gli usi della parola a tutti”: mi sembra un buon motto, dal bel suono democratico. Non perché tutti siano artisti, ma perché nessuno sia schiavo (G. Rodari, Grammatica della fantasia)

“Words are for everybody to use” seems a good motto to me, with a nice democratic sound. Not so that everyone might be a poet or an artist, but so that nobody might be a slave (author's translation)

Learning through playing with words is one of the most important techniques to foster a meaningful cognitive development of children’s linguistic ability, as many educational approaches have already demonstrated internationally. Gianni Rodari’s pioneering merit was to recognize and reinforce this technique through literature almost 50 years ago, when some Italian educators started to reinvent teaching using modern methodologies. “Power to imagination!” seems the right slogan to summarize Grammatica della fantasia. This captivating essay on imagination serves both as a theoretical exposition and as a textbook offering exercises on the art of storytelling ready to implement in classrooms.

Front cover of Grammatica della fantasia

Front cover of Grammatica della fantasia. Introduzione all’arte di inventare storie, illustrated by Bruno Munari (Turin, 1973) X.907/13373.

Passionate about the mechanisms of language, which deeply shape the human mind and imagination, Rodari had promoted creative writing ever since his first job as a school teacher. According to Rodari, fantastica or fantasy – i.e. the imaginative skill – is not in conflict with logic. On the contrary, it is the key to creatively mastering the logic of language. The power of fantasy lies in the possibility of breaking linguistic rules in order to invent a language that enables children to feel creative, to explore lateral thinking and, most importantly, to enjoy learning. In the logic of fantasy, then, mistakes are opportunities to enhance the children’s linguistic skills. Rodari’s attempt to theorize fantasy as an important cognitive ability in his Grammatica della fantasia aimed consequently to promote the children’s right to be protagonists of their education for the first time in the history of Italian pedagogy.

During the 1960s, Rodari’s dedication and commitment to children’s education increased exponentially. He took part in many collaborations and children’s workshops all over Italy. In the documentary Gianni Rodari, il profeta della fantasia, teachers and educators recall the pleasure and excitement of taking part in Rodari’s 1972 “fantastic” training workshop in Reggio Emilia. From the 1960s, Rodari worked hand in hand with teachers of the Movimento di Cooperazione Educativa (MCE), a movement inspired by Célestin Freinet’s pédagogie populaire. The pillars of MCE education are cooperative learning and learning by doing, democratic and inclusive techniques based on a fair exchange of knowledge between teachers and students. This idea of reinventing education to reinvent society was the backbone of all Rodari’s intellectual activities.

Many conferences dedicated to Grammatica della fantasia have followed since 1973, proving it to be an inspiring milestone in education, still able to produce meaningful thought and criticism today. The British Library holds some of those proceedings that offer not only an insight into Rodari’s revolutionary approach to writing and education, but also some other of his critical writings.

Front cover of Il cane di Magonza

Front cover of Il cane di Magonza (Rome, 1982; YA.1988.a.5756)

In his acceptance speech for the 1970 Hans Christian Andersen Award, Rodari disclosed his passion for fantasy three years before the publication of Grammatica della fantasia:

Occorre una grande fantasia, una forte immaginazione per essere un vero scienziato, per immaginare cose che non esistono ancora e scoprirle, per immaginare un mondo migliore di quello in cui viviamo e mettersi a lavorare per costruirlo.

A great deal of creativity, a strong imagination is necessary to be a true scientist, to imagine things that don’t yet exist and to discover them, to imagine a better world than that in which we live and to start working towards building it (author's translation).

As a summary of Rodari’s extensive advocacy of children’s creativity, Grammatica della fantasia represents his cutting-edge contribution not only to education, but also to creative writing by utterly reshaping the approach to children’s literature in Italy.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing Team

Further reading:

A tutto Rodari: tutti gli usi della parola a tutti, a cura di Maria Carmen Sulis e Agnese Onnis (Cagliari, 2003) YF.2017.a.23460

Il cavaliere che ruppe il calamaio: l’attualità di Gianni Rodari: atti del convegno, Ortona 25-26 novembre 2005, a cura di Francesco Lullo e Tito Vezio Viola (Novara, 2007) YF.2008.a.31837

Carmine De Luca, Gianni Rodari: la gaia scienza della fantasia (Catanzaro, 1991) YA.1993.a.15088.

H.M. Fardoun et al., ‘Applying Gianni Rodari Techniques to Develop Creative Educational Environments’, Journal on data semantics, 2014, pp. 388-397; 5180.185000

Maria Grazia Ferraris, Vado via coi gatti…: la voce multiforme e multi sonante di Gianni Rodari: interventi critici (2004-2018) (Francavilla Marittima, 2019) YF.2019.a.16341.

Le provocazioni della fantasia: Gianni Rodari scrittore e educatore, a cura di Marcello Argilli, Carmine De Luca e Lucio Del Cornò (Rome, 1993) YA.1995.a.6443

Gianni Rodari, The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories, translated by Jack Zipes. To be published in April 2021

Se la fantasia cavalca con la ragione: prolungamenti degli itinerari suggeriti dall’opera di Gianni Rodari: convegno nel decennale della ‘Grammatica della fantasia’…, a cura di Carmine De Luca (Bergamo, 1983) YA.1990.b.3732. if you are able to add the book cover as Image 10, please take this title out from here.

Un secchiello e il mare: Gianni Rodari, i saperi, la nuova scuola a cura di Mario Piatti (Pisa, 2001) X29/5868.

C. Torriani, ‘Il teatro di Gianni Rodari: la fantasia al servizio dell’apprendimento della lingua’, Tuttitalia: the Italian journal of the Association for Language Learning, no. 39, 2010, pp. 11-17; 9076.178300