Rodari was born in Omegna, a small town in the province of Novara (Northern Italy). After three years at the seminary in Soveso, Rodari received his teacher's diploma at the age of seventeen and began to teach elementary classes in rural schools of the Varesotto district. He had interest in music (three years of violin lessons) and literature (discovered the works of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Lenin and Trotsky which sharpened his critical sense).
During World War II, Rodari had a deferrement from the army due to his ill health. Due to his precarious financial situation, he applied for a work at the Casa del Fascio and was forced to join the Fascist Party. Traumatized by the loss of his two best friends and his favorite brother Cesare's incarceration in a German concentration camp, Rodari joined the Italian Communist Party in 1944 and participated in the Italian resistance movement.
In 1948, as a journalist for the Communist periodical "L'Unità", he began writing books for children. In 1950 the Party installed him as editor of the new weekly children's magazine "Il Pioniere" in Rome. In 1951, Rodari published his first books, "Il Libro delle Filastrocche" and "Il Romanzo di Cipollino".
Rodari spent the years 1966-1969 working intensively on collaborative projects with children. In 1970 Rodari was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children's literature, which gained him a wider, international reputation as the best modern children's writer in Italian. His works have been translated into numerous languages around the world.
In 1979, after another trip to the USSR, his health, never very robust, declined and his productivity diminished.
He died in Rome, on an operating table, in 1980.