From the lab to the library

Vermont author Rebecca Rupp started out in science, and ended up as an acclaimed childrens’ writer

DOVER — Author Rebecca Rupp has a doctorate in biochemistry and a passion for the written word. With interests as varied as biology, home-school education, and gardening, she doesn't lack for inspiration.

“My problem as a writer is that practically everything interests me,” Rupp told The Commons recently in an interview from her home in Swanton.

Rupp has published more than 20 critically acclaimed fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children. Her most recent work, “After Eli,” is a young adult novel about a boy who struggles with the death of his older brother, won a Dorothy Canfield Fisher (DCF) Children's Book Award this year.

She will be the Dover Public Library's special guest during its annual dessert social fundraiser on Aug. 8.

Rupp said her real writing career started after her first son was born. She'd published several research articles for science journals, but hadn't seriously considered other types of writing.

With an undergraduate degree in biology from Mount Holyoke College, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Georgetown University, Rupp viewed her writing as something she could pursue on her own.

“For science, you need laboratories and expensive machines,” Rupp said.

Seeking more flexibility and a new challenge, Rupp published articles on the history and science of topics as varied as butter, squirrels, the color indigo, and even long underwear, for national magazines such as Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Natural History, and Country Life Journal.

Though new to non-scientific writing, Rupp said she found comfort in research-driven nonfiction – and enjoyed weaving rich narratives out of the seemingly ordinary.

Freelance writing allowed her freedom her science career could not. “Scientific research is hard to balance with kids,” said Rupp. “It's wonderful, satisfying, fascinating, but it's simply not a 9-to-5 job.”

As her children grew, Rupp became interested in alternative education. She published several reference guides for home-schoolers and educators, as well as a variety of other nonfiction books for teens and children, on everything from the science of weather to an encyclopedia of little-known facts about birds.

She now publishes a personal educational resource blog geared to librarians, home educators, and teachers (, and consults on home-school materials for the American Library Association's BookLink program.

Rupp made what she calls her jump into children's fiction with her 2006 publication of “Dragon of Lonely Island,” a fantasy novel about children who stumble upon the discovery of a wise dragon.

Through writing, Rupp explores both the creative and intellectual aspects of writing. In either genre, research is a key component of her work.

“I've always loved finding all the resources and projects tied to a topic,” she said.

Rupp said she sees the connections between her background in science and writing. “Everything ties into everything. Disciplines have unexpected connections,” she said.

An avid gardener, she lives with her husband, Randy, on her grandfather's property, a former turkey farm. She shares anecdotes about the history and origin of popular garden varieties as a monthly contributor to “Your Livable Garden,” a Houston-based public radio show.

In her latest project, a college science textbook for textbook and technical writing publisher Wiley, Inc., which recruited her after seeing her work, she has been given the task of making vegetables come alive to students.

“They were looking for a biology textbook with personality,” Rupp explained.

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