Robert Joseph Burch was born on June 26, 1925, in Inman, Georgia. The seventh of eight children born to John Ambrose and Nell Graham Burch, he grew up on his mother's family farm in Fayetteville, Georgia, near Atlanta. Burch attended public schools and, following graduation from high school, joined the U.S. Army. During World War II, he served in New Guinea and Brisbane, Australia. After his discharge, he attended college at the University of Georgia, receiving a degree in agriculture with a specialization in horticulture. Unhappy as a horticulturist, he took a civil service job as a clerical worker. His duties involved a visit to Japan, from which point he began a trip around the world aboard a Danish freighter. When Burch returned to the United States, he took up residence in New York City, where he studied writing under Dr. William Lipkind at Hunter College.
Burch began his writing career when he was thirty years old, and in 1960 he received a fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. His books have received many awards, and Queenie Peavy alone earned the Jane Addams Book Award, the Child Study Association of America's Children's Book Award in 1967, the Georgia Children's Book Award, and recognition as an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book in 1971. Queenie Peavy was also selected for the George G. Stone Award in 1974 and the Children's Literature Association's Phoenix Award in 1986. A Jungle in the Wheat Field (1960) was an Honor Book in the New York Herald Tribune's Spring Book Festival, and Skinny earned the Georgia Children's Book Award in 1964. The Boston Globe-Horn Book: Award was given to Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain, which was also an ALA Notable Book.
In 1962 Burch returned to the South. He now resides in Fayetteville, Georgia, in the home where five generations of his family have lived. He is best known for his stories of young people who live ordinary, yet eventful lives in historic rural Georgia. Writing is Burch's fulltime profession, but he also enjoys traveling, fishing, gardening, and raising his saluki dogs.