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Eva Ibbotson was born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner in Vienna, Austria, in 1925. Her father, Berthold Wiesner, was a physiologist and her mother, Anna Gmeyner, a writer. Her parents separated in 1928 and after remaining in Vienna in a church orphanage she joined her father, a Jew who had left Austria to work in Scotland just before Hitler and the Nazi party came into power.
She attended Bedford College, London, graduating in 1945; Cambridge University from 1946-47; and the University of Durham, from which she graduated with a diploma in education in 1965.
Ibbotson had intended to be a physiologist, but was put off by the amount of animal testing that she would have to do. Instead, she married and raised a family, returning to school to become a teacher in the 1960s.
Ibbotson is widowed with three sons and a daughter.