Skip to main content

Debi Gliori

The children's book author and illustrator explains why the teachers who were kind and compassionate drew out the very best in her

The children's book author and illustrator explains why the teachers who were kind and compassionate drew out the very best in her

I started off at a Catholic girls' primary in Glasgow but then my parents went through a protracted period of separation and divorce and my mother and I went slightly peripatetic.

I think I went to about seven different primaries in England; we moved so often I can't remember any teachers. The most peculiar period was when my mum, who had been a senior civil servant, took a job as the housekeeper for a woman in Pinner, outside London. I got chauffeured to school in this rich woman's Rolls-Royce. I would pop out of this thing with a Scottish accent and the other children assumed I was this unbelievably rich child.

It was a period of misery and the teachers never made the slightest bit of difference. When we returned to Glasgow that's when teachers began to have an impact and that's when I got the sweetest, kindest, most lovely teacher who was just incredibly gentle, Mrs Clarence.

I really believe it's not the most inspirational or wonderful teachers who make stuff stick but the ones who know how to be kind to children. Having been taught various things over the course of school and art college by a succession of shouty, old men I know I tended to shut down and not take stuff in, but a very gentle teacher can achieve a great deal by being encouraging and kind.

Mrs Clarence allowed us to bring our dolls into school, which was terribly sweet. She knew she was dealing with very little girls and she allowed us to put them to bed in a corner of the classroom. We could go and do our lessons safe in the knowledge our dolls were tucked up near by. We also knew we had these comforting dolls in a corner of the classroom should we have the need for a quick hug but we didn't, because we knew they were there.

In primary, there was also a lovely art teacher called Miss Linn who believed in giving children half-decent art materials. When she took over as the art teacher at the school she threw most of the stuff out, going "this is rubbish" and re-supplied us.

Miss Linn got us out of the classroom and took us down to the art gallery and museum and made us do drawings. It doesn't sound revolutionary but before that we were sitting doing potato prints.

I got really, really excited about high school, wondering what the art department would be like. I was just so looking forward to the first time I got to go into these hallowed rooms.

I remember walking in and the head of department was wearing this mini-dress composed of hundreds of little white daisies. It was a Mary Quant-like shift dress that was uber-fashionable and incredibly short. This was a Catholic girls' school and most of the teachers invented the term dowdy. This amazing woman, with long, grey, streaked hair, pulled up in a bun, was Molly Hutchison.

She must have been late fortiesearly fifties, so the dress was quite inappropriate but it looked sensational. She had long, long legs and was very thin and must have smoked like a lum because she had one of those really deep Glasgow voices, which was just gorgeous. It was not a voice you would expect from a woman, so it was really "wow".

We all got stuck in, doing some pieces of narrative illustration, and I was just thoroughly enjoying myself. She and her fellow teacher were working the room and making appropriate comments. They came to me, stopped and said: "Well, I think we've got art college material here". I just sat there glowing under her regard as she said everything I could ever possibly have wanted to hear. It was just absolute bliss, totally heavenly. But in the end I did not do art at school, because my parents said I'd never make a living at it.

Debi Gliori's latest children's book is What's the Time, Mr Wolf? For more information about her work, visit She was speaking to Emma Seith


Born: Glasgow, 1959

Education: All over the place but mainly Notre Dame Primary and Notre Dame Secondary in Glasgow, followed by Edinburgh College of Art

Career: Author and illustrator.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you